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Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir review (2012 onwards)
What - Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir
Date - July 2012
Where - Thruxton, Hampshire
Price - £15,350
Available - August 2012
We like - Fun to drive, sporty Alfa interior, much improved over original MiTo
We don't like - Disappointing economy, noise can get tiring
Characterful engine gives the MiTo serious charm and considerable driver appeal.
Key rivals - Audi A1, Citroen DS3, MINI hatch
The MiTo is Alfa's MINI, a quirky small car that sits apart from the general field of superminis, existing in a small class of 'premium' models that cost more but offer something a bit special.
This year it gets a new engine, the technologically amazing TwinAir that made its debut in the Fiat 500. A two-cylinder engine seems a slightly bizarre concept these days, but it promises amazing economy and should, in the long run, be much cheaper to build than an engine with four cylinders.
Yet the 875cc MiTo TwinAir is actually more expensive than the four-cylinder MiTo 1.4 8v version. Like for like, a TwinAir costs £945 more than the slightly less powerful 1.4. So it needs to be really good to justify the extra cost.
On paper things aren't that promising. 85hp isn't enough to get anyone excited about performance, even in a small car like the MiTo. The 0-62mph acceleration is 12.5 seconds, worse than the slowest Mondeo.
The little twin thrums happily away
Yet on the road the MiTo far exceeds expectations. The little twin thrums happily away and there is a decent slug of torque at lower revs, which makes performance seem punchy.
It runs out of puff at 6,000rpm, which takes some getting used to as the rev limit is reached relatively quickly in each gear. Before you know it another gear change is called for.
Then there is the Alfa DNA. Dynamic, Natural or All Weather, a flick of the switch on the centre console changes the driving character of the car.
Move down from Dynamic to Natural, and the power drops to 78hp, there's an even greater drop in torque, and the Mito feels instantly stodgier. It's not a choice you'd make unless optimum economy was the target.
Ride and handling
The MiTo came in for some serious criticism for its chassis and suspension when it was launched in the UK in early 2009, so much so that Alfa rushed through engineering changes that same year.
Today you wouldn't know it. The Mio TwinAir rides as firmly as you'd expect, but not too firmly - Alfa is a marque with genuine sporting credentials, after all.
The steering is on a par with most rivals, light enough, with rather more weighting in Dynamic mode. It has the electric power steering curse that removes any true feel of the road through the wheel, but so do its rivals.
Alfa scores some strong marks here. If you are fed up with the cartoonish interior of the Mini, or the characterless fascia of the Audi A1, the MiTo is the answer.
It's rather dark and cramped in the rear
The dashboard has a pleasing design that mixes Alfa values with the odd quirk that gives it some charm. To our way of thinking, the MiTo is easily the nicest of these three.
Seat comfort is good, with lots of adjustment possible - sales of Alfas to female buyers have ramped up on the back of the MiTo, so aspects like this are vitally important. Sideways support from the backrest, with either the cloth or the leather options, is not really enough for spirited driving though.
It's rather dark and cramped in the rear, even though the seats are good here too, and while the boot is a fair size, the sill is very high.
Noise levels could be the cause for some debate. Drivers are likely to enjoy the sound, but it's also easy to imagine passengers commenting simply on the level rather than the quality of the sound. Either way, at motorway speeds there's a noticeable amount of both tyre and wind noise.
Economy and safety
Here's the rub. Alfa quotes a combined economy figure of 67.3mpg, an astoundingly good result that seems to make the need to choose a diesel suddenly obsolete.
But it's impossible to get anywhere near this. On a cross-country drive in 'Dynamic' mode, the trip computer said we averaged 31mpg. That was having some fun but far from extending the TwinAir engine to its maximum.
Exempt from London congestion charges
Switching to 'Natural' mode, with its reduced horsepower and softer accelerator pedal response, and trying exceptionally hard to drive carefully - no more than 3,000rpm or 60mph - the MiTo squeezed just over 40mpg.
On the positive side, the low CO2 figure of 98g/km means the MiTo TwinAir is exempt from road tax and London congestion charges. Benefit-in-kind tax for company car drivers is at the lowest level of 10% and there are big fiscal advantages for companies running sub-100g cars too.
The MiTo is safe for a small car, with the full EuroNCAP five stars.
The MSN Cars verdict
On paper the fuel economy looks amazing but in reality it isn't. On paper the performance looks mediocre and in reality it isn't either.
We really liked the MiTo TwinAir. Both car and engine have character, and if you are prepared to engage positively, there's much fun to be had. It gives positive messages about its build quality too, though Which? says that Alfa reliability and its dealers are still below average.
Need to know
Engine, petrol: 875cc turbocharged two-cylinder
Torque: 107lb ft
0-62 mph: 12.5 secs
Top speed: 108mph
Mpg, combined: 67.3mpg
CO2, Tax: 98g/km, 10%
Specific model rated: Alfa Romeo TwinAir Distinctive
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