Alfa Romeo

Zug, Switzerland

Italian Temperament with Hidden Charms

TEXT: Peter Weidenhammer

It’s my first date with an Italian in decades. I remember Grandmother Giulietta, with her sleek Bertone lines that can still enchant today. And I recall passionate episodes with edgy Aunt Giulia and her hot-blooded sister Giulia Sprint GT – all of them legends. Admittedly, that was a long time ago. But nothing makes a greater impression than the passion of one’s early years.

Alfa Romeo – the name brings back the sound of a robust dual-camshaft engine and the scent of uncatalyzed exhaust. And not to forget the images of the merciless Technical Inspection Association (TÜV) inspectors with rust-colored screwdrivers poking around in the innards of the bella macchina.

Today, it’s a different story with the Giulietta. The Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.4 Turbo MultiAir looks good in black. Compact dimensions spiced with the typical Alfa dash of extravagance. Impeccable seats.

I turn the key, glowing red symbols and numbers light up before me. Giulietta awakens.

The four-cylinder engine comes to life quietly with cultivation.

Giulietta’s heart throbs with the typical beat of four cylinders that share the 1.4 liters of piston displacement. Small engines with high performance were always the trademark of these Italian beauties. In 1954, Grandmother Giulietta wore for the first time the legendary 1.3 liter all-aluminum engine with two overhead camshafts under her shapely hood – back then purebred racing technology.

Her grandchild can keep up with that. Thanks to turbocharging, 170 horsepower can be squeezed out of the engine, yielding a power/weight ratio of 8.15 kg/HP. That’s plenty of power.

The modern Giulietta offers a considerable difference between performance and consumption: 170 horsepower for 5.2 liters of premium gasoline per 100 km according to the Euro norm. Not bad.

Hidden charms

I think my fuel consumption today will be quite a bit more. Not so much because I have a copilot who raises the power/weight ratio. More because this young Giulietta has hidden charms that want to be enjoyed. And Ottmar Back isn’t entirely blameless here.

Ottmar Back is HOERBIGER’s proven expert in transmission synchronizers, and one of those engineers whom I deeply respect. They juggle shafts and gears, shift forks and friction disks. In principle, you know how these work.

But with about 150 components – some of which themselves consist of subassemblies – that have to be designed to function together, you need one of the best watchmakers in automotive engineering.

TCT – Giulietta’s new transmission

Hidden deep in the engine compartment, Giulietta guards an ultra-modern gearbox. Alfa Romeo calls it TCT, the initials of the dispassionate, sober Twin Clutch Transmission.

Giulietta's flanks bear a much more appropriate catch-word: Veloce. Fast. Really fast. In the tenth of a second range. That’s quicker than a judge at the finish line can press the button on his stop watch. The shifting speed of the twin-clutch gearbox can’t be beaten.

The speed lies in the nature of this transmission. And that is the reason for its development. The goal: fastest shifting without interrupting traction.

Quick and responsive

It fits. Giulietta traverses the mountains in the Swiss canton of Zug as though she grew up there. Assuming you keep the engine happy – with speed. In the lower range, the 1.4 liter engine conceals its 230 Newton meters quite well, as they’re only effective starting at 2250 RPM. Once the turbocharger kicks in, it’s all business. Although the four-cylinder engine is acoustically shy at cruising speed, in the upper two thirds of its RPM range, it has a strong voice. Giulietta snarls when you let go of the reins.

Ottmar Back knows how to sharpen her senses further. D.N.A. is what Alfa Romeo calls its performance customizing measures, which at the press of a button can change engine, transmission, suspension and steering characteristics at three levels. N ormal is what I use now, A ll-weather is for snow, which now lies alongside the road. It’s time for D like dynamic.

Italian temperament

Giulietta becomes a fiery Italian. Veloce – naturally. I really only need the tiny shift paddles on the steering wheel for downshifting ahead of a curve. Annoyed, Giulietta sometimes howls at this. Ottmar Back keeps his cool. Insignificant?

“No,” he says honestly, skipping two gears or more stresses the friction linings of the synchronizer rings since the speed differences are great. But: HOERBIGER synchronizer rings can handle it.

We cruise N-like back into the city. Giulietta is comfortable even twin-clutched. Not as butter-soft as a transmission with a torque converter, but without hesitation or serious complaints.

That is Alfa today. Agreed.