Could Alfa's MultiAir technology do for petrol engines what common-rail injection did for diesel? Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the Mito MultiAir.
Ten Second Review
Beating the MINI is a thankless task but it's also the one that's been handed to the Alfa Romeo Mito. Alfa's effort has the design flair and the desirability and we're told that a further weapon up its sleeve lies with its two 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol engines. Their advanced technologies vary the combustion process to optimise economy and performance according to the driving conditions. The results are impressive.
Many people would associate Alfa Romeo with beautiful and charismatic cars but would you have the Italian manufacturer down as a leading innovator of groundbreaking engine technologies? Probably not, but that is doing Alfa a major disservice. Not a lot of people know this but the common-rail injection technology that has been crucial in driving the improvement in diesel engines over the last decade first appeared in the Alfa Romeo 156, having been developed within the Fiat Group. Now Alfa claims to be at it again with the 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol engines fitted to its Mito.
The end results of the MultiAir technology are going to be of more interest to customers than the mysterious means by which they are achieved but it is worth noting that the 1.4-litre engines fitted to the Mito differ from the norm in key ways. They make do with just one camshaft. It controls the exhaust valves, with the inlet valves governed by oil pressure. An electro-hydraulic valve management system can then adjust the timing of the valves to vary the parameters of the combustion process according to the way the car is being driven. Conventional variable valve timing engines only have a couple of sets of parameters but MultiAir units have six and the valve timings can be infinitely varied within this framework either to give optimum performance or economy. There are two 1.4-litre MultiAir engines available in the Mito, both matched to TCT auto transmission. Most will opt for the lusty 140bhp turbocharged version, but there's also an even faster 170bhp Cloverleaf range-topper, complete with active suspension. For small capacity petrol engines, both produce a decent amount of torque and do so low down in the rev-range where you can make good use of it. There's 250Nm on offer from both units. Even the 140bhp MultiAir can do the 0-62mph shuffle in 8.1s while the 170bhp version manages the same in 7.5s.
Design and Build
The 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
Alfa has positioned the Mito at the trendy end of the small car market with the express intention of doing a number on the MINI. The MultiAir engines are available only with Alfa's dual-clutch TCT auto transmission and they lie at the heart of this plan to make the car more of a realistic alternative to BMW's baby. The 170bhp engine is being offered only in top Veloce guise, but here we're focusing on the 140bhp version of this unit, offered at prices start from just over £18,000 for 'Super' trim - or around £19,000 if you go for plusher Speciale' spec. As for equipment, buyers can expect to find 17-inch alloy wheels, part-leather seats, aluminium pedals, 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, this 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.
Cost of Ownership
The Mito MultiAir models also come with Alfa's Stop&Start technology which cuts the vehicle's engine when it's stopped, restarting it again automatically when it's time to pull away. Combined with the MultiAir combustion system, this makes for some very attractive fuel economy figures, despite the standardisation of TCT auto transmission. The 140bhp turbocharged engine can achieve an excellent 52.3mpg on the combined cycle with emissions of 124g/km. Go for the fiery 170bhp Mito Veloce and the official figures are still remarkable at 52.3mpg and 124g/km.
We're usually too busy fawning over the looks of Alfa Romeo products to focus on the technological developments the brand has pioneered and as a result, the Italian firm sometimes doesn't get the credit it deserves. The MultiAir technology found in the Mito's crop of 1.4-litre petrol engines has the potential to prove highly significant, giving their trendy supermini a major leg-up in the battle at the top end of the UK's small car market.