Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - MiTo - TCT Sport 3-dr hatch
Alfa Romeo models
Availability of a self-shifting gearbox, economical engine, stand-out styling
Room for improvement
Overly harsh ride, clunky clutch operation
13 Dec 2010
COMPARE the new TCT twin-clutch transmission of Alfa Romeo's MiTo to the Italian brand's previous robotised manual, the Selespeed, and it is fantastic. View it as a stand-alone automatic and it comes up fairly well, although it is a bit clunky.
Let’s just forget about Selespeed, which like BMW’s SMG, was good in manual mode but terrible as an automatic.
Dual-clutch transmissions – first made popular by Volkswagen – are spreading through the industry, thanks largely to their quick shifting and economic operation.
The new Fiat-developed TCT is better than most twin-clutch transmissions, but not as good as industry leaders.
Importantly, it will likely be good enough for MiTo customers and will now give people who are unable to operate a manual the chance to own the spritely little Italian.
It will generally serve them well, although they will need to get used to some quirks.
All twin-clutch gearboxes this writer has driven are imperfect, especially at low speed. The standard trait is that the clutch take up can be slow or clumsy, especially on an incline.
The Alfa TCT has a creep function to combat this, and it works to an extent. That said, some issues remain. The amount of accelerator applied does not always result in a predictable amount of forward motion.
Most of the time it gets going quickly, but sometimes it seems lethargic, like the clutch is reluctant to release (and no it wasn’t traction control).
The driveline clunks when pulling up to a stop, as the clutch kicks in. This trait is not so noticeable in other DSG gearboxes.
During the launch drive in Sydney, the transmission shifted down on downhill sections a couple of times, sometimes quite aggressively.
The MiTo was also unresponsive to accelerator depression going up a steep hill and simply refused to budge from 1300rpm. We are told that pressing the accelerator down completely (to the kick down point) will resolve this.
We would have to spend more time in the car to see how intrusive these glitches are in everyday driving, but they all seem relatively minor.
The clunking sounds at low speed does not fit with such a premium car, but the fuel economy advantages or a non-torque converter gearbox are considerable.
Also, the TCT is a lot of fun in manual mode, with the blip of the engine on the downshifts adding to the experience.
The idle-stop function is generally good, spoiled only by a slight delay on restart as the TCT releases the clutch. We were told by Alfa staff to give it a fair amount of accelerator to encourage things along.
The idle-stop system also handled the 30-degree day of the launch, shutting off only when the cooling system was fully charged to avoid baking the car’s occupants.
That meant the system hardly turned off on one 120km leg, but that’s good because it means it saves fuel when it can, while ensuring occupant comfort.
As for the engine, it is a competent unit with just enough power for a car with a sporty nature. It isn’t the sweetest sounding engine – you have to be prepared for a thrashy sound – but will rev happily if you get stuck in.
We achieved an average fuel consumption of 8.0 litres per 100km on the final 120km leg, which is not brilliant, but not bad either given it was predominantly stop and start city work with air-conditioning on and a heavy right foot.
The MiTo handles well. It is no BMW, but is sufficiently sporty to travel at the kind of pace its customers could expect to drive. The ride, on the other hand, is unreasonably harsh. Whoever came up with this suspension must not have driven on the roads of Sydney and the surrounding suburbs.
It jolts constantly on imperfections. The odd rut causes a dramatic bang.
The faux carbon fibre interior trim looks impressive, although some cheap plastics remain on areas such as the sound system surround and door handles. A plastic plate, for the passenger to place their feet on, was also poorly secured and moved when pressed.
The instrument cluster lifts the standard, while the optional leather seats add to the impression of a prestige sports model. However, the seats do not offer much lateral support in enthusiastic driving.
Rear seat room is adequate if tight for two adults, with the side of the roof impinging on the head room.
The high level of safety gear is reassuring. In fact, equipment levels are high in the standard car with its $29,990 starting price.
Our Sport TCT test car ended up at $37,500 before on-road costs, thanks to its optional leather seats. That is a lot for a car this size, but it is a sexy prestige car with an automatic transmission so, in that context, it is reasonable value.
All up, the MiTo is a fun little car with stand-out styling. The TCT transmission dramatically widens its appeal. The gearbox, like the car itself, is by no means perfect, but people have put up with more to drive stylish Italian cars in the past.
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