Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir review
by David Finlay (20 July 2012)
Fiat Group's excellent, delightful and award-winning two-cylinder TwinAir engine has worked its way through the organisation, finding a place for itself in Fiat's own 500, Panda and Punto, and the related Chrysler Ypsilon, before finally ending up at Alfa Romeo, where it has established yet another new home under the bonnet of the MiTo.
Knowing that little piece of Italian automotive history, you would hardly be persuaded that the 875cc petrol turbo TwinAir was designed specifically for the purpose of being fitted to the MiTo, but if current predictions are correct it will do the little Alfa a whole heap of good. The arrival of TwinAir is said to mean that in the near future more than half as many people will buy MiTos as do now, and the new arrivals are predicted to be generally younger and more likely to be female.
In sober financial terms, the main reason to buy a TwinAir MiTo rather than any other kind is the fact that its official CO2 emissions are 98g/km, which under present circumstances makes it exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty and the London congestion charge.
The same applies to MiTos fitted with the 1.3-litre diesel engine (which, like the TwinAir, produces a maximum of 85bhp), but they're slightly more expensive, and although their combined fuel economy is much better on paper, at 80.7mpg rather than the 67.3mpg of the TwinAirs, diesel costs more to buy than petrol. And, to veer away from the practicalities for a moment, no diesel engine is as cute as a TwinAir, because nothing is.
Whether or not you achieve the official 67.3mpg depends on quite a number of things. One positive aspect is that, although this is the fifth car to receive the TwinAir engine, it's only the second after the Fiat Punto to have in its revised form with a dual-mass flywheel which does a very good job of reducing the low-speed vibration inherent in a two-cylinder engine.
In other TwinAirs this vibration can make you believe that the engine is struggling even when it's operating quite happily, and there's a tendency (well, I suffer from it, at least) to keep the revs up in an attempt to stop it happening, thereby using more fuel than you would have done otherwise. The dual-mass flywheel makes this much less likely.
You'll also get better fuel economy figures if you ignore the Dynamic setting on the DNA system and stick to either Normal (beg pardon, that's the old name - Alfa now calls it "Natural") or All-Weather, for in these the engine becomes tamer and its maximum output is reduced to 78bhp.
Even then, it's not much less fun than it is in 85bhp mode. It's not at all quick, with a 0-62mph time of over 12 seconds, but it handles very nicely, not least because it doesn't have a heavy engine sitting over the front axle and trying to dominate the proceedings. During a country-road part of the media launch I enjoyed whirring along with just 78bhp for a while, though you'll understand that the temptation to lean forward and move the DNA switch towards Dynamic was eventually too much to bear.
The MiTo TwinAir is available in two trim levels called Sprint and Dynamic, costing £14,150 and £15,350 respectively. Distinctives run on 17" wheels with 205/45 tyres, and at first I thought that these were responsible both for a high level of road noise and a certain choppiness over rough surfaces which spoiled an otherwise smooth ride. In fact the Sprints are just the same despite having apparently more sensible 195/55 rubber on 16" alloys.
There is one difference, though: the rear end of the Distinctive can become lively under braking, which I couldn't replicate in the Sprint on exactly the same route. The slightly better behaviour of the Sprint was also apparent during some track driving at Thruxton - not on the full-scale track, most of which a TwinAir MiTo could tackle on full throttle, but on a nearby kart layout with a tremendous number of opportunities for hard braking.
Here again the tail of the Sprint felt very secure. But I don't want to speak too harshly of the Distinctive, since the difference is a minor one and becomes apparent only if you are trying to lose a lot of speed very smartly on a poorly-surfaced road.
A better reason for not buying the Sprint is that it has a puncture repair kit rather than a proper spare wheel, and who knows what trouble that could cause if you damage a tyre beyond repair at 3am in an area with no phone repection? Well, quite.
The Distinctive has a spare wheel, along with the larger wheels and lower-profile tyres, a front armrest with its own storage compartment, a storage pocket in the rear of the front passenger seat, lumbar adjustment for both front seats, rear parking sensors and various styling upgrades such as a different rear bumper, fancier upholstery, aluminium pedals, white dials, red brake calipers and some extra chrome.