It’s red, built in Italy by one of that country’s most romantic brands, and has a two-cylinder, 900cc engine…
If you think I’m talking about a Ducati, you’d be wrong. But only just.
Alfa Romeo’s latest MiTo baby car has more in common with a Ducati motorcycle than just their Italian accent.
The cute-as-a-button MiTo now has a motorcycle-sized engine – the remarkable TwinAir powerplant developed by corporate cousins Fiat and previously seen in cars like the tiny Fiat 500 Bambino.
Unlike the Ducati’s famous V-Twin, the TwinAir uses a turbocharger to boost its performance, punching out a substantial 77 kilowatts from its tiny 875cc capacity.
That might not sound like much but it delivers surprisingly adequate performance in the MiTo – with a top speed of an impressive 183km/h.
Fortunately, the MiTo is a fairly small thing itself – the baby of the celebrated Italian marque and a sales success in its own right, attracting a younger group of buyers who fancy having this famous badge on their bonnet.
This latest version of the MiTo certainly helps in that regard – it can be had for as little as $22,500 – provided you don’t mind the micro-engine.
We drove both the TwinAir entry-level Progression model and the more expensive, more powerful Distinctive variant with a 1.4-litre “MultiAir” turbo engine that costs at least $2-grand more.
And, to be honest, the two-cylinder version was the one we preferred.
The four-cylinder option delivers more power (99 kilowatts) – but driven, as our test machine was, through Alfa’s sometimes quirky TCT transmission it has its limitations.
The TwinAir also has its performance issues – it takes a fairly leisurely 11.4 seconds to reach the speed limit – but it’s an engine full of character and interest and, just as importantly, you feel like you’re doing your share for the planet by just driving it.
The TwinAir sips just 4.2 litres of petrol per 100km on average – although you’ll manage even better than that on the open road.
While it lacks the low-down torque of larger engines, once it’s off and rolling the little engine punches well above its weight with a rather attractive, clattery exhaust note coming along for the ride.
The only time it’s found out is when trying to accelerate up hills – particularly if the MiTo has a decent load of passengers on board – when progress is rather slow.
Beyond that, it skips along and feels perfectly at home in city traffic, with enough power to zip from lane to lane.
The six-speed manual transmission has quite tall gearing, giving the little Alfa surprisingly long legs. Around town, for instance, it will happily reach 60km/h in second gear without the engine screaming its lungs out.
On the open road, that translates to a relaxed, loping gait when it’s in sixth-gear and effortlessly matching the speed limit. Only when climbing steep hills is it necessary to work the gearbox to keep the revs – and the power – on song.
The TwinAir is offered in manual-only configuration – but the six-speeder is slick and the clutch light enough to make self-changing a pleasure.
The higher-spec MiTo was also impressive in its own way – mostly because of the nice level of specification it offers for the $28,000 pricetag. That includes a five-inch colour touch screen with satellite navigation, wireless audio and phone connectivity and music streaming, a dynamic drive-select function to adjust handling and performance characteristics and a full suite of electronic safety aides.
The force-fed four-cylinder is reasonably sweet and free-spinning – as we’ve always expected of Alfa Romeo engines – but it’s very flat at low revs before the turbo cuts in. On more than one occasion we floored the accelerator but, because the semi-automated transmission was stuck in a higher gear, it seemed an eternity before we got any response.
Once revving, though, the engine works well. And it will do plenty of revving if you leave the drive selector in Dynamic mode (by far the preferred setting) – it will cause the little MiTo to scream a bit between upshifts.
My wife, never a fan of baby cars at the best of times, didn’t have much time for the MiTo. That’s probably because to get the best out of it, you need to drive it hard and with some sporting intent. It’s there that the engine and transmission setup is seen to better advantage – the throttle blipping on downshifts and the gearbox smartly ripping through the ratios as you accelerate. In this environment the “bigger” MiTo is quite an engaging thing – although it’s debatable whether it is more fun than the funky TwinAir.
Alfas are invariably known for their great chassis and the MiTo is no exception. It turns in assuredly, always feels flat and composed and, despite its firm ride, and soaks up most road imperfections without issue. When driven forcefully it rarely feels out of its depth.
This second-generation MiTo also features the company’s new UConnect multi-media system – allowing you to connect your iPhone via Bluetooth for hands-free calls as well as audio streaming and, cleverly, a text-to-voice function to read your SMS texts.
Dash layout is functional if not as interesting or evocative as we’ve come to expect from Alfa.
The MiTo is roomy enough inside – it’s a three-door hatch meaning rear-seat passengers aren’t exactly encouraged, although once in there they’ll find reasonable legroom and slightly compromised headroom. It’s fine for the young ones, though.
Cargo space is adequate, although bulky items will require one or both of the rear seats to be folded forward.
That means the MiTo is best suited to younger buyers or perhaps empty-nesters – who don’t require huge amounts of carrying capacity.
But hey, it’s much better than a Ducati.
ALFA ROMEO MITO
DETAILS: Three-door, five-seat micro hatchback with choice of two-cylinder or four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines, five-speed or six-speed manual or six-speed semi-automated transmissions.
TECH STUFF: 875cc two-cylinder turbo-charged TwinAir engine produces 77kW, 145Nm; six-speed manual transmission only; 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged MultiAir engine produces 99kW, 206Nm; choice of five-speed manual or six-speed TCT semi-automated transmission.
FEATURES: 7 airbags; Dynamic Stability Control, ABS with EBD and anti-slip regulation, cornering brake control, adaptive suspension, DNA dynamic performance control; alloy wheels, electric windows and mirrors; cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming.
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h in 11.4 seconds (TwinAir); 8.4 seconds (MultiAir); top speeds 183km/h or 206km/h.
THIRST: 4.2L/100km combined total (TwinAir), 5.5L/100km (MultiAir).
VERDICT: Smaller but smarter.
BOTTOM LINE: $22,500 (TwinAir Progression); MultiAir Progression from $24,500, Distinctive from $28,000.