Where­fore art thou, Mito?

Alfa‘s two-cylin­der com­muter has sport­ing-com­pact-pres­tige claims

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@carsguide.com.au

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.

VALUE

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.

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

SAFETY

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

VERDICT

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.

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