Alfa Romeo MiTo Series 2 First Drive Car Review
Paul Murrell reviews the new Alfa Romeo MiTo Series 2 with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.
IN A NUTSHELL There’s no cheaper way to get the keys to a new Alfa Romeo. But the MiTo doesn’t quite deliver the full Alfa experience.
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS We wanted to like an Alfa that most people could reasonably afford, but we just couldn’t warm to it. Cheap and dull plastics, flawed and lacklustre dynamics all betray the age of the design and aren’t what you expect of an Alfa Romeo. We hate to say it, but the MiTo may turn out to be the underchiever in Fiat Chrysler’s otherwise stellar-performing stable of makes and models.
EVERY AUSTRALIAN MOTORING ENTHUSIAST is waiting impatiently for the Alfa Romeo 4C to arrive, but the real volume for Alfa’s Fiat Chrysler management will be in more affordable cars, and especially the super-mini MiTo, at least until the new range of rear-wheel drive Alfas are released some time in 2015.
The new-ish MiTo we’re testing here picks up on many of Alfa’s current styling trends and most of the changes to the previous model are, to be honest, very subtle: a little extra chrome around the grille, new surrounds for headlights and tail lights, some new alloy wheels and little else other than a new colour, Magnesio Grey, with a matte finish.
Changes inside are limited to the new multimedia infotainment system, Uconnect as fitted to other marques in the Fiat Chrysler group, with a five-inch colour tough screen and some different trim materials.
The big (or small, if you prefer) news is that the MiTo is now offered with the 875cc TwinAir two-cylinder engine. It puts out a pretty impressive (for two cylinders) 77kW at 5500rpm and 145Nm at 2000rpm, with fuel consumption of 4.2L/100km. The TwinAir is only available with a six-speed manual transmission.
The other powerplant is Alfa’s 1.4-litre MultiAir, producing 99kW and 206Nm. This engine can be had with either a five-speed manual or six-speed TCT dual clutch auto.
Both engines produce a delightful growl. Unfortunately, neither engine fulfils its aural promise. The 875cc TwinAir needs to be stirred along to perform well, and that means you’ll be keeping the engine spinning close to its 6000rpm redline (meaning you’ll never get close to the claimed fuel consumption figure).
It’s something of a trend with small Alfas and Fiats we’ve tested that first and second gears are surprisingly short; you hit the redline earlier than you expect and the rev limiter cuts in.
As you approach peak revs, the engine starts to hesitate at around 5700rpm, almost pre-empting the rev limiter. The gap between second and third is large, so when you grab third, engine revs drop from 6000rpm to 4000rpm, right at the bottom end of the power and torque band and you have to wake it up again. I thought these characteristics may have been due to the minuscule capacity of the TwinAir, but the 1.4-litre isn’t much better. Unless you use the TCT transmission manually, there is a noticeable (and annoying) throttle delay before anything starts happening.
And there’s another oddity: the quoted power output is only on tap when Dynamic mode is selected; in Normal, it’s less, although nobody would tell us how much less. Dynamic mode is activated using the DNA switch on the centre console to vary throttle response and steering weight. Fortunately, the system doesn’t default to Normal (or Natural as Alfa calls it) every time you restart (“a” is for all-weather). Only the top-spec Distinctive gets steering mounted gearshift paddles.
Steering in the MiTo is not particularly Italian in character – it’s weighty (not in a good way) and dull. Body roll is significant and as you’d expect in such a short wheelbase car, ride is fidgety, skipping across surface irregularities and crashing through potholes.
Considering this is the most affordable Alfa Romeo in memory, equipment is quite comprehensive. There’s a tiny spoiler over the tiny rear window, electric heated external mirrors, chrome-plated exhaust, electric windows, air conditioning (dual zone in the Distinctive), trip computer steering wheel adjustable for height and reach, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel (with red stitching in the Distinctive), auto headlights and wipers (excluding entry level model). Sat nav is not available, even as an option (the reasoning being that most buyers will prefer to use the systems in their mobile phones).
The MiTo achieved a five-star ANCAP rating, and this one will too. It gets ESC (hill holder, ABS, ASR, brake assist, MSR and CBC), two side airbags, two window airbags, two front airbags and a driver’s knee airbag.
The MiTo now starts at just $22,500 for the 0.9 TwinAir two-cylinder six-speed manual, rising to $24,500 for the five-speed manual 1.4-litre Progression. Auto in the 1.4-litre adds $2000, a figure we are now assuming manufacturers simply pluck out of thin air. The top-spec Distinctive, auto-only, is $28,000.