Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - MiTo - TwinAir
Alfa Romeo models
TwinAir performance, fuel economy, value-for-money, styling, cabin packaging, badge cred
Room for improvement
No auto availability, dating cabin architecture, gearbox not quite as sharp as engine
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17 Nov 2014
Price and equipment
WELCOME to the Alfa Romeo Tipo 995 Furiosa.
OK, have it your way. MiTo, short for Milano-Torino, it is.
But perhaps the Mazda2-sized three-door hatchback with a striking Alfa snout and lovely pillar-less doors would have sold better over the last five years if it had an equally evocative badge to match.
The fact is, the Italians almost named their modern-day Alfasud the Furiosa until it rated poorly with the Spaniards.
In Australia the pre-facelift MiTo didn’t score so well because of ridiculously high pricing and lacklustre performance.
When we last drove one (2009) it kicked off from $31.5K for a dreary 88kW/206Nm 1.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine version mated to a vague five-speed gearbox.
However, post makeover, with fresh chrome grille surrounds, different head and tail-light fittings and – best of all – a new base grade, things have definitely ‘MiTomorphosised’.
Known as the TwinAir, the entry grade now costs $22,500 plus on-road costs, and brings the diminutive but compelling Fiat 900cc two-cylinder engine delivering 77kW of power and 145Nm of torque to the table.
Matched solely with a six-speed manual transmission, it transforms the Mito.
But more on that later.
Introduced at facelift time, the revised cabin’s new five-inch colour touchscreen brings USB/radio/CD audio, Bluetooth phone and music-streaming access, trip-computer info and voice-prompted or steering wheel control options.
Too bad there is no reverse camera or sat-nav.
Other standard items include electric windows with remote-control open and close, air conditioning, cruise control, a split-fold rear seat and a sometimes sluggish idle-stop system.
That TwinAir price, by the way, is the same as the smaller Fiat Panda turbo-twin in (horrid) Dualogic guise, and just $2200 more than the 500 equivalent… all of which seems quite like a bargain for an Italian coupe – even one that is based on a GM platform.
The base MiTo’s cabin is pretty impressive, with a look and feel well beyond its entry-level positioning.
There’s a Germanic weight to the way the doors open and thud-shut, with the Teutonic flavour spreading to the solidity of the dashboard – though that’s beginning to look all of its six years now.
However, Alfa has at least updated the old CD/radio player with a more modern and rather intuitive Bluetooth audio and multimedia system.
There’s also a USB and Aux outlet for additional data such as album artwork to be displayed on the central screen. And even the voice control works OK.
The MiTo’s dials arestereotypically Alfa sporty, and the driving position is an improvement over of the aforementioned Fiats – as well as the Punto that this car is most closely related to.
With a fair amount of space for tall adults up front, the MiTo makes for a competent second family car hauler. It’s larger and more comfortable inside than the pert exterior proportions might suggest.
A well-propped central armrest with hidden storage, tilt/telescopic steering and a multi-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support (for both front pews) certainly help.
Access to the surprisingly roomy rear with proper space for two adults is child’s play, aided by single-step action sliding front seats, on a bench that is perfunctory in its accommodation.
The 270-litre boot, too, is sufficiently commodious, benefitting from a rear cushion that flips forward for the split/fold backrest to sit down low and flush for a deep cargo area.
The deep floor contains a space-saver spare while a trio of child-seat anchorage points conveniently located directly behind the backrests complement the standard ISOFIX fittings.
Downsides include fat pillars that do their best to obscure vision through roundabouts, absolutely no storage for anybody in the rear – not even front-seat map pockets are fitted to this base car – while the dearth of overhead grab handles will not please those stuck with a driver who thinks he or she is a budding Jack Brabham.
Engine and transmission
On paper, a 0.9-litre two-cylinder turbo is a recipe for noise and not much else, but the TwinAir’s terrific ability to deliver 77kW of power and 145Nm of torque is truly supernatural.
It feels far faster than the official (sluggish) zero to 100km/h time of 11.4 seconds suggests – no doubt achieved in the sportiest of the trio of driving modes, Dynamic.
Given the TwinAir’s firecracker nature, why drive it in Natural or All Weather modes? This is, after all, and Alfa.
With the extra oomph that Dynamic unleashes, first gear sees about 35km/h, second 75, and third winds up to a tad over 110 – outstanding results given the size of the terrific little twin-pot belter.
But this is an engine that demands many and rapid gear changes, and while the six-speeder is far better than the rubbery old five-speed ‘box that blighted the 1.4L, it isn’t quite as precise as the razor-sharp powerplant deserves.
Still, there is much to revel in, ripping through the ratios, watching that the needle doesn’t stall on the 6000rpm rev limit. This is a highly-strung engine, after all, with the tacho showing 2600rpm at 100km/h in sixth.
Driving the proverbial out of the TwinAir, we averaged around 7.3L/100km – a fab figure considering how big the smile on our face was doing so. Officially the combined figure is 4.2L/100km – which might be realistic in Natural Mode.
But the Dynamic’s sports rasp is jus so damn addictive. Just try pottering around in any other mode if there’s even just one ounce of girl/boyracer in you. It’s nigh on impossible.
Ride and handling
Beneath the MiTo is Opel’s Corsa/Adam – and by default Holden TM Barina – platform (a hangover from when Alfa custodian Fiat was in bed with GM), with the current Punto sharing most of the underpinnings.
Sharper than any of the above, it is a solid and strong structure that feels stiff and secure over bad roads.
Like the gearbox, the steering isn’t as precise as you might expect from an Alfa, so don’t go chasing your friends in Ford Fiesta STs, Renault Clio RS’ or VW Polo GTIs. There’s too much flailing understeer for those sorts of shenanigans.
Yet the Mito TwinAir is fast and reactive enough for a keen driver to have some fun chucking it through tight turns.
Anything but smooth roads will induce some rack rattle, however, but the suspension does soak up most bumps better than expected. Perhaps that has something to do with the high-walled 185/65 R15 tyres.
Unfortunately there was not a patch of rain for us to test the chassis’ wet-weather performance.
On the dirt in Dynamic, the MiTo is a hoot, thanks to relaxed electronic interference that allows for very controllable slipping and sliding to happen.
Being an Alfa engineered in Turin where the mountains not only provide a pretty backdrop but a severe benchmark for brake testing, the stoppers perform well.
Think of this as a warm hatch with a bee under its bonnet and you’ll be right on the money.
Watch those gutters and bigger speed humps though. Scraping the MiTo’s air dam is a daily occurrence.
Safety and servicing
Alfa Romeo’s warranty period is for three years or 100,000km, and there is no fixed-price servicing offer.
The MiTo achieves a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating and includes seven airbags, hill-hold assist and seatbelt reminders, along with anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, EBD Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist.
Suddenly, from a has-been, the MiTo in new base TwinAir guise is a bit of a must-see if you’re in the market for a low $20,000 sports hatch.
That fresh and futuristic drivetrain transforms what was a solid yet stolid performer into a fiery little runabout, while the minor cabin changes go a long way in making the Alfa feel better, rather than Beta.
Still not Alfasud scalpel-sharp on your favourite roads, but the MiTo nevertheless has character and capability in spades.
Renault Clio Expression TCe 90 (from $17,790 plus on-roads).
In mid-spec Expression guise fitted with the terrific three-pot turbo petrol engine, the Clio remains one of our favourite driving value hatch buys, backed up by a long warranty and capped-price service.
Ford Fiesta Sport (from $20,525 plus on-roads).
Rorty 1.0 turbo EcoBoost should be the standard Fiesta powerplant, imbuing the ageing hatch with lion-hearted performance. Combined with keen steering and a great chassis, this is the driver’s choice.
Mini Ray (from $25,600 plus on-roads).
BMW levels of engineering excellence mixed with appealing retro styling outside make the Mini a modern classics, but the over-styled dash, lacklustre performance and skint equipment levels detract.
MAKE/MODEL: ALFA ROMEO MITO TWINAIRENGINE: 875cc 2-cyl turbo petrol
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 77kW @ 5500rpm
TORQUE: 145Nm @ 2000rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-spd manual
TOP SPEED: 184km/h
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Torsion beam
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $22,500 plus on-roads
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