Can a tiny 875cc petrol engine work in a sporty supermini? Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the Alfa Romeo Mito TwinAir.
Ten Second Review
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 its manufacturer claims.
The Fiat Group's TwinAir engine is probably familiar to most as a powerplant of quite staggering ingenuity that's fitted to the Fiat 500 citycar. It's less well known as an installation in the model we look at here, Alfa Romeo's little Mito. Is fitment into a premium-badged supermini a step too far for this tiny engine? After all, the Fiat weighs a full 200kg less. Equipping the Mito with this TwinAir unit undoubtedly makes sense, given the current trend for downsizing into smaller engines. And they don't come a great deal smaller in passenger cars than the 875cc two cylinder TwinAir unit. But the Mito has always appealed with its sporty image. Can it work with such a modest powerplant?
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 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. Really mash the throttle and it sounds properly purposeful though and acceleration is smooth, if not hugely vivid, 62mph arriving in 11.4 seconds on the way to a 114mph 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. 'Dynamic' gives the steering some more heft, a fruitier exhaust note and enables the full 105bhp and 145Nm of grunt, while 'Normal' and 'All-weather' tweak the power and torque back a little. Switching between the settings certainly 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 it is in a Mito equipped with the cheaper 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine but 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.
Design and Build
The most recent visual changes made to this revised Mito are supposed to bring it into line with the brand's flagship Giulia saloon. Hence the revised front sports grille, the dark-finish headlamp bezels, the smarter rear bumper design and the restyled alloy wheels. Inside, all models get upgraded seat upholsteries, 'Uconnect Live' media services and a smarter finish on the centre console, dashboard and door trims. The touch points in the car are notably better than they used to be and there's a Uconnect five-inch, touch-screen infotainment system with voice recognition, Bluetooth, steering wheel remote controls, USB/AUX-in ports and optional satellite navigation. The driving position in the Mito remains lower and more sporty than you'll encounter in the majority of superminis but there's a good degree of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel so drivers can adapt it to their own tastes. The boot is fairly modest at 270-litres and there's quite a high lip which means items have to be lowered inside.
Market and Model
There are three trim levels offered to buyers of this variant: 'Mito', 'Super' and 'Speciale'. Prices start at just over £14,500 and rise to just over £17,000. Even with entry-level trim, buyers can expect to find air conditioning, a leather steering wheel and gear shifter and Alfa Romeo's Uconnect five-inch colour touch screen infotainment system with Bluetooth, voice recognition, USB and aux-in inputs, plus steering wheel remote controls. In terms of safety, the base Mito is equipped with Vehicle Dynamic Control (stability, braking and traction control with hill-holder), TPMS (tyre pressure monitoring) and seven airbags, while its visual appeal is enhanced with 15-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler and titanium grey headlight and rear light surrounds. If you really like your Alfas though, the trim level you'll really want is the sporty 'Super' spec. With a Mito Super, you get 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, special upholstery with Eco-Leather side bolstering, aluminium for the sports pedals, footrest and kickplates, plus chrome-effect window sills and satin-effect door handles.
Cost of Ownership
There's been quite a bit of controversy about the TwinAir engine's economy figures. Many accuse the designers of having built an engine that excels at the art of 'cycle-beating' which in layman's terms is the ability to do really well on the automated NEDC fuel economy test but less well in the real world. There's an element of truth in this. Alfa reckon the combined fuel economy figure is 67.3mpg, but many testers have found the average they've returned is a lot less than that. As ever, it'll depend on how you drive. Emissions are pegged at just 99g/km, which is an excellent figure for a petrol car that's this much fun to drive. Residual values are also stacking up quite well and there will always be a ready market for stylish small cars that are economical to run.
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 model 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 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.