Stylish, fun car that doesn’t cost the earth

Alfa Romeo
Alfa Romeo

PUTTING an 875cc two-cylinder petrol engine into an Alfa Romeo MiTo might seem a recipe for a woefully underpowered disappointment.

But in fact the TwinAir models are a real hoot to drive with a charismatic engine, a decent chassis and strong fuel economy, if not anything like as strong as it’s manufacturer claims.

You probably don’t give too much thought to your car’s flywheel. I know I don’t.

But if you’re thinking of buying an Alfa MiTo TwinAir, perhaps you should.

In the Alfa, the dual-mass flywheel has fundamentally changed the feel of the TwinAir engine. There’s still the thrum of a two-cylinder engine but there’s not the hard edge of the Fiat installation.

It’s a good deal more refined and better for it, in this sort of car at least. Really mash the throttle and it sounds properly purposeful though and acceleration is smooth, if not hugely vivid, 60mph arriving in about 12 seconds on the way to a 108mph top speed.

The DNA drive system has been tweaked for this model but there’s still the familiar ‘Dynamic’, ‘Normal’ and ‘All-weather’ driving modes.

Dynamics gives the steering some more heft, a fruitier exhaust note and enables the full 84bhp and 107lb ft, while ‘Normal’ and ‘All-weather’ tweak the power and torque back to 78bhp and 77lb ft.

Switching between the settings now provokes a clear change in the car’s nature.

In ‘Dynamic’ mode, the MiTo attacks a corner with sharp turn in and very good body control but there’s some understeer when you really resolve to throttle on.

The front end is 10 per cent lighter than a four-cylinder engine and the steering doesn’t offer a ton of feedback. The long throw manual gearshift feels a little old fashioned but the brakes have a decent amount of bite. The driving position offers plenty of adjustment for both seat and wheel.

It’s a fact that all good Alfa Romeos have a certain element of style and the MiTo is certainly one of the most distinctive models in the small car marketplace. It’s based on the same platform as the Fiat Punto and it shares that car’s fundamentally correct proportioning while adding some attractive detailing of its own.

The interior of the MiTo could well be best in the current Alfa Romeo range. It’s solidly built with plenty of soft-touch plastics, metallic finishes and nods to the marque’s sporting tradition. The rocker switch behind the gear lever that controls the DNA system is particularly well executed.

There’s a lot to be said these days for a car that feels so much faster than it is. It’s relatively easy to buy a car that makes driving fast feel about as exciting as creosoting a fence, but the Alfa MiTo TwinAir is the opposite. It makes travelling at modest speeds fun. The 875cc turbocharged petrol engine is charismatic and technically interesting - and is a whole lot more rewarding to drive than its rather dismal on-paper performance figures would suggest.

Switch the car into Dynamic mode, throw it at a few corners and you’ll realise you’ve got that rare thing, namely a stylish, fun car that doesn’t cost the earth to run. What could have been a really bad idea actually turns out to be a bit of a masterstroke from Alfa Romeo. We’ve seen so many nearly cars from the marque down the years that it’s good to see one that requires no excuses. Don’t get too hung up on the fact that it won’t achieve the published fuel consumption figures and you should have very few causes for complaint.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

CAR: Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir 85

PRICES: £14,150 - £15,350

INSURANCE GROUPS: 8-9

CO2 EMISSIONS: 98g/km

PERFORMANCE: 0-62 12.5s / top speed 108mph

FUEL CONSUMPTION: (urban) 57.6 (extra urban) 74.3 (combined) 67.3mpg

STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: stability control, traction control, ABS with EBA & EBD, twin front and side airbags

WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE? Length/Width/Height mm 4063/1720/1446