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Alfa banks on Giulietta

Widely praised in Europe where it was launched early last year, the Giulietta will not gain the Fiat Group's twin clutch TCT transmission until the third quarter of this year.  Even then, the topline Quadrifoglio Verde (QV) remains manual only.

Alfa Romeo Australia general manager Andrei Zaitzev admits this is a particular obstacle for a direct competitor to Volkswagen's all-conquering Golf GTI in a market "where three from four buyers choose DSG", VW's version of the increasingly popular twin-clutch auto.

The Giulietta is nevertheless expected to sell 500 units this year, 350 of them being the entry-level 1.4 MultiAir, priced at $36,990 plus charges and options. The QV, with an impressive 173kW/340Nm 1.75-litre turbo petrol engine, is priced from $41,990. Zaitzev says a 2.0-litre diesel variant will arrive later in the year.

Though equipped with cutting edge Euro 5 compliant powertrains, the Giulietta's task of bolstering Alfa's flagging local sales a paltry 914 in 2010 is made more daunting by the local line-up being reduced to three model lines.

With the Spider convertible and Brera coupe in run out, there will remain only the Mito small hatch, the Golf-sized Giulietta and the 159 medium sedan and sportwagon.

Zaitzev says the company is "desperate for new product" but the 159's replacement, the Giulia, has been "pushed back until the 2012 and we won't see it before 2013," by which time the range will be eight years old.  A much-needed SUV would be unlikely to see the light of day before that. Would this be of interest?

"Hell, yes," Zaitzev says. "You'd be mad not to participate in the sector of the market that grows consistently."  Asked if such a gambit would diminish Alfa's image as maker of sporty cars, he says: "It would only erode its image to a very small number of people but introduce it the best selling segment."

The Giulietta is the replacement for the 11-year-old 147 hatch. Though bigger in all dimensions, it weighs in at 1242kg for the 1.4, 1320kg for the QV. The MultiAir returns a claimed 5.6 litres per 100km in combined running, the QV 7.6L.

The QV is distinguishable by its traditional four leaf clover badge, lowered suspension and dark 18-inch alloys. Both variants are well equipped with standard features including the Q2 electronic differential and the DNA selective drive switch that enables drivers to choose between dynamic, normal and all-weather modes.