Brief encounter: Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir

New cars Alfa Romeo Reviews
PetrolBlog spends a morning in the company of the Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir. Is it as good as the Fiat 500 TwinAir? Read here to find out.

I guess it was only a matter of time before the Fiat Group added its 875cc TwinAir engine to the Alfa Romeo MiTo. Already available in the Fiat 500 and Punto, as well as the Chrysler Ypsilon, it's now time for Alfa's pretty supermini to grab a slice of the two-cylinder cake.

It's fair to say I loved the Fiat 500 TwinAir when I reviewed it earlier this year, praising its cheeky character and ability to raise a near constant smile when driving it. The almost unrefined nature of the engine seemed to add character to the car and for me at least, made it the only choice of engine for those looking to buy a 500.

Adding it to the Alfa Romeo MiTo is an altogether different proposition. Buyers of Alfa's elegant little supermini will be less forgiving of the TwinAir's wheezy and raucous nature and will demand a little more refinement and finesse for their money.

Rear of Alfa Romeo MiTo at Thruxton during UK launch

It will therefore come at no surprise to discover that the engineers have spent a great deal of time and effort improving the NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness) in the MiTO. Central to this is the development of a dual mass flywheel that isn't available in the 500 TwinAir. This, together with the optimisation of other elements supporting the engine means that, in theory at least, the MiTo TwinAir should be quieter and present a smoother driving experience. But does it work?

In short, yes. But only to a point. The MiTo TwinAir is noticeably quieter and more refined than the 500. It still wheezes, splutters and coughs like the Fiat, but the sound is more muted. It's almost as though the cold and flu remedy is beginning to work its magic on the Alfa Romeo whereas the Fiat is still in the midst of pain and suffering. There's less vibration in the MiTo too, although it hasn't been ruled out completely. Accelerate in a high gear and the gearstick will shake wildly and it will take all your willpower not to down change to a lower gear.

Inside the Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir

And it's the gearbox that's key to life with a TwinAir. For normal driving, the trick is to upshift early by using the gearshift indicator on the dashboard. This will maintain your fuel economy and help you reach the claimed combined MPG figure of 67.3.

For more spirited driving, early upshifts are just as important, although admittedly much further up the rev range. In Dynamic mode, the MiTo TwinAir's peak power of 85bhp comes at 5,500rpm and immediately hits a brick wall beyond this. This can make slip road entries on to a busy dual carriageway a tense and nervous affair as you frantically shift between gears. It's a similar story on a B-road where you'll learn that maintaining momentum is the key to enjoyment.

Face it, you're going to be changing gear a lot in the MiTo, so it's just as well that the 6-speed gearbox is rather good. Changes up and down through the ‘box are a pleasure with a light clutch only adding to the experience. If you don't like manual ‘boxes then the MiTo TwinAir isn't for you, as there's no automatic option.

The ride in the MiTo is noticeably better than the 500, helped in part by its longer wheelbase. But you will still experience a jittery and sometimes bouncy ride over rough and pitted surfaces. On the plus side, there's very little in the way of body roll and the turn in is sharp. Sadly though, the steering offers little in the way of feedback, even in the driver optimised Dynamic setting.

There's also a significant amount of wind noise emanating from the side and rear of the car which I'm guessing is in part down to the admittedly stylish rimless windows.

Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir at Thruxton entrance

And talking of stylish, the Alfa Romeo MiTo really is a great looking little car. Three years since it first went on sale and it still looks as fresh and unique today as it did then. There were a few MiTos chasing around the roads of Thruxton during the launch and they have a great deal of presence on the road. To my eyes they have to be in Alfa Red or Biancospino White for the best effect. However, to support the launch of the TwinAir, Alfa Romeo has also introduced a new colour called Amestia Black. It has a purple tint which looked rather good during some rare British sunshine.

The TwinAir comes in two levels of trim - Sprint and Distinctive. Sprint is priced at £14,150 and comes fitted with 16" alloy wheels, cruise control, front fogs, manual climate control, Alfa DNA (more on this to come) and Blue&Me media system with Bluetooth. Upgrade to the Distinctive at £15,350 and you'll be treated to the likes of 17" Sports alloy wheels, front armrest, sports dials. rear parking sensors, improved seat upholstery, aluminum pedals and a number of additional pieces of chrome on the outside of the car. Having experienced both cars, I have to say that the Distinctive model is well worth the upgrade. Not only does the car look better from the outside, but the interior feels more special and much more ‘Alfa’. The centre arm rest is a bit of pain though and tends to get in the way of the handbrake and when shifting gear.

One small area where the MiTo has been approved is within the clever DNA system. DNA stands for Dynamic, Natural or All Weather and it essentially allows the driver to choose between three different modes of driving. Natural could just as well be called Normal as it's the default setting for the car. Power is restricted to 78bhp and everything is geared towards achieving maximum efficiency at all times. Up to 15% less fuel consumption can be achieved in city traffic, plus the steering is lighter for ease of parking and cornering. All Weather is set up for conditions that demand more grip and control.

Alfa Romeo's DNA system in MiTo TwinAir

But it's the Dynamic mode that's the most interesting. Peak power is increased to 85hp and torque is up from 110Nm at 2000pm to 145Nm at 2500pm. The steering has less assistance and the car immediately feels more focused on driving pleasure. But significantly, unlike the Giulietta I recently tested, the DNA system no longer reverts to Natural when you switch off the engine. So if you're a Dynamic driver, you can stay a Dynamic driver!

However, if you are a Dynamic driver, a word of warning about Alfa Romeo's claimed fuel economy figures for the TwinAir. Although the combined figure of 67.4mpg looks great on paper, in reality you're unlikely to even reach the claimed 57.6 on the urban cycle. To squeeze the best out of the two-cylinder 875cc engine, it needs to be pushed very hard, meaning that your fuel economy will be hit dramatically. The TwinAir unit may indeed offer the same levels of performance of a 1.4 litre petrol unit, but a larger engine requires less stress to make swift progress.

So unless you drive with a very light right foot and stick religiously to the indicated gear shifts in Natural mode, you may be disappointed with the fuel consumption.

But that's not the end of the story, because the Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir creates a rather compelling case for ownership. The intelligent alternator and Start&Stop technology means that the MiTo TwinAir has the lowest CO2 emissions in its segment. The figure of 98g/km means that you'll pay no road tax and no London congestion charge. What's more, the Benefit in Kind (BIK) figure of 10% means that company car drivers could pay as little as £23.49 a month. I can't think of many small cars that offer such an attractive place to hang a coat hanger.

I was also surprised to learn that the MiTo TwinAir also comes with a 5-year/100,000 mile warranty as standard, one thing you won't get with an Audi A1 or Volkswagen Polo. An Alfa Romeo with a five year warranty - who'd have thought it?

Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir alongside Thruxton karting track

And I guess that's a good way to conclude this brief review of the Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir. Today you're just as likely to buy an Alfa with your head as your heart. The more time goes on, the further away we get from that old adage of ‘you're not a true petrolhead until you've owned an Alfa Romeo’. Customers will choose the MiTo TwinAir on the basis of its BIK figure or CO2 emissions. They'll skim read a list of available cars to them before making a few calculations to see what's going to cost the least amount of money over the next three years. They'll then wait for the arrival of their MiTo before promptly posting a photo of their “new Alpha Romeo” on Facebook.

The times they are a changin’ and today Alfa Romeo is a different animal. The company has worked hard to inject life into the brand, opening itself up to new and younger audiences. And I'm pleased to say its working because I don't want Alfa to disappear in the way Lancia did.

Put simply, the Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir is a great little car that looks good, is highly efficient and in my book, tremendous value for money. Plus on paper, it presents a compelling argument to choose it over an Audi, Volkswagen or MINI. I have no doubt that it will sell like warm cupcakes and Alfa's claim that it will represent 38% of total MiTo's sales will come to fruition.

But I buy cars with my heart and during this brief drive, it failed to win me over. The MiTo TwinAir is a great car, but only a good Alfa Romeo. My heart still belongs to the cheaper, cheekier Fiat 500 TwinAir.

PetrolBlog Score:

Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir Distinctive

  • Pint of milk: Perhaps not as enticing as the 500, but still very tempting: 7.
  • Filling station forecourt: An area where it scores better than the 500. Lovely: 8.
  • You don't see many of those: There are going to be an awful lot of these on the road: 3.
  • Bangernomics: The Distinctive costs £15,350 and is the one to go for: 4.
  • Petrolbloggyness: Maybe not a true Alfa Romeo, but a good car all the same: 7.
  • Total for the Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir: 58/100.

Details of scoring can be seen here.