Wherefore art thou, Mito?
Alfa‘s two-cylinder commuter has sporting-compact-prestige claims
THE good, the bad and the ugly all vie for attention in the updated “Series 2” Alfa Romeo MiTo.
The good news is the new entry-level twin-cylinder engine; the bad is the carry-over chassis/suspension setup and the ugly is the upgraded interior plastic still can’t rival the Audi A1 or a Renault Clio.
Alfa continues to cut prices and add content, making the MiTo the cheapest prestige compact on the market.
The 875cc turbo twincylinder engine starts at $22,500, which is $4000 under the A1 Sportback entry price and $3000 less than the Mini Ray. The downside (for lazy drivers) is that it’s manual only.
Moving up to the 1.4-litre turbo engine and Progression trim costs $24,500 with a fivespeed manual or $26,500 with the dual-clutch auto.
The top-spec Distinctive variant costs $28K.
Fiat-Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment job slots into the dash and brings the functionality of voice-activated Bluetooth with audio streaming. It can read turn-byturn directions from smartphone navigation apps.
The interface is child’s play to operate and the resolution is first rate.
The engines are likewise smart. The twin-cylinder uses a claimed 4.2L of fuel every 100km and won the 2011 international engine of the year award. The 1.4 won the same accolade the year before.
The shield-shaped Alfa grille is now chromed to help link it to the 8C Competizione and the lower air intakes are covered with a honeycomb-style mesh.
Upgraded interior plastics still are far from class-leading and just don’t reflect the sporty, prestige image Alfa is trying to convey.
Top marks here, though it should be noted the car was crash-tested in 2009 and the standards have lifted since then.
An ANCAP score of 36.1/37 puts the MiTo near the top of the small car pile. Seven airbags are fitted and there are seat belt reminders on all seats, along with the full suite of electronic safety aids.
The gruff, rorty burble of the twin-cylinder donk is a delight. Trouble is, just when it really starts to warble, the MiTo hits its soft cut-out at 6000rpm and the driver is grabbing for another gear.
Given the displacement and limited performance spread of the powerplant — little happens below 3000rpm — the six-speed manual has to be stirred early and often, which will put off all but the most committed Alfisti.
Fuel use is similarly problematic. Hypermilers John and Helen Taylor must have set the official fuel use figure — Carsguide nearly doubled it just trying to keep up with the traffic.
The TwinAir engine is a perfect fit for a Fiat 500; drop it into an 1130kg MiTo and it just can’t cope with the weight unless you row the manual like an Olympic champion. This from a company that ostensibly builds “driver’s cars”.
The steering likewise lacks Alfa heritage. Light and vague straight-on, it loads up appreciably around corners with the Alfa “DNA” switch set to D(ynamic) but doesn’t have the feedback of some rivals. Switch to N(atural) and the responses from tiller and accelerator are spongier than a CWA stall.
The suspension is overly firm for city driving — the base car is the only one to miss out on adaptive damping, yet the firmer suspension is probably the priority.
Again, the firm fore and aft movement doesn’t translate into lateral stability. The MiTo’s body rolls more than a compact
“sports coupe” should, robbing drivers of confidence through corners.
That’s a shame, given the MiTo isn’t horrible at the limit — progressive understeer lets drivers know they’ve reached the tyre and suspension thresholds but it unsettles the passengers well before then.
The 1.4 litre engine is much better, given the wide torque spread and option of the dualclutch transmission. The body roll is still-there but it is a more capable car in any situation.
As a city commuter, the MiTo has the benefit of distinctive looks, reasonable space and a willing pair of engines. Spend a little more and there are better options available, including the five-door Alfa Giulietta.