2014 Alfa Romeo MiTo 875cc TwinAir 105bhp Distinctive Review – Chic Italian with Two-Cylinders

Mini-me 8C Competizione looks, tiny engine is sweet, neat & stylish interior, fun handling and drive, surprisingly good cruiser

Absurdly short 1st gear, rear feels claustrophobic

Alfa MiTo?

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Launched in 2008, the little Alfa MiTo made its entrance amid a heap of motoring articles overly concerned with its moniker. Before it was officially launched Alfa Romeo ran a competition where the public had the chance to choose its name. The competition finished, and the winning name of Furiosa… not chosen. Instead, Alfa sacked it off and went with MiTo (Milano-Torino) because it was designed in Milan and built in Turin.

Anyhow, the MiTo is aimed to squeeze itself in the quickly-expanding supermini market place, competing with hugely popular sellers like the now well-established Mini and Audi A1, which itself has waiting lists at the dealers. To compete, as well as having good-looking Italian styling, Alfa are offering some innovative tech on the MiTo… and a tiny two-cylinder engine. So, what’s it like? We were sent the 2014 Alfa MiTo 875ccTB TwinAir 105bhp Distinctive to test for a week and find out…

Exterior. Butt ugly or beauty?

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Well of course the MiTo looks great. It’s an Alfa for goodness’ sake! There’s nothing I dislike about the design of this car. It combines soulful beauty with a modern sports sharpness that’ll make you go all doe-eyed and tug at your heart strings. Truly beautiful cars are a rarity today, unless you want to pay megabucks for a supercar, and in amongst a sea of aggressive-looking Euro hatches, Alfa Romeo have taken a step back and thrown out a rather lovely curveball that visually smacks you clear across the chops demands you look at it.

The MiTo looks like the designers were inspired by many prepossessing things before sketching out the car: I like to think it was drawn on a napkin by a designer sipping espresso at mountainside restaurant on Lake Garda, bathed in the soft glow of a perfect sunset whilst perhaps a Riva Aquarama idles past below. C’mon, it’s possible. Whatever, this is a little stunner that takes styling cues heavily from the rather tasty 8C Competizione.

At the front, there’s a pronounced, muscular V in the bonnet which cuts its way to the recognisable Alfa Romeo slatted triangular grille. At the edges, there are chrome-edged headlights which take their look from Alfa’s of the Sixties, such as the Spider, Guilia TZ, and 33 Stradale. At the bottom there’s a spilt honeycomb-pattern grille with round fog lights housed in yet more triangular trim. It’s a superb frontal design spoilt slightly by the  stupid, ugly registration plate holder. Not Alfa’s fault, though, and the designers must tear their hair out in frustration after producing such a beauty and then having to slap a plastic box over it. Che macello!

2014 Alfa Romeo MiTo 875cc TwinAir 105bhp Distinctive review exterior details

From the side, the MiTo appears squat and brawny. The windscreen sweeps back to a low roofline, and the pillar-less door glass meets the window in the back almost seamlessly to create what looks like one piece of glass, plus there’s a high shoulder line and the side windows are narrow. Definitely a lot of the 8C Competizione mixed in there.

If you look at it from a rear three-quarter angle, you’ll see the MiTo starts narrow at the top, steps out at the shoulderline, and then kicks out again with hugely flared wheel arches. Filling these are either 17 or 18 inch wheels which are all nicely designed and have a typical Italian flair about them – the seventeen-inch ‘Quadrifoglio Verde Sports’ versions fitted to our ‘Distinctive’ spec MiTo being particularly chic.

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Theres’s only one word to describe the MiTo’s rear, and that’s ‘cute’. Two big round rear tail lamps filled with LEDs and featuring a chrome surround stare out of the extreme edges of the C pillars. Sat between is a tiny boot lid with an unusually high lip – style over substance here – while the bottom half of the bare plastic is overly fussy with the saving grace of a small chrome oval exhaust tip poking out to liven things up.

All said, the MiTo is a oozes with wonderful Italian styling that grabs the eye. It’s a cute little thing and really it’s a lot like a mini-me 8C – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

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Slide into the driver’s seat of the MiTo and you immediately get a sense this thing is full of personality. It’s got panache and great styling, and a while it’s definitely grown up enough to be an adults car, there’s also clearly something fun about it too. The ‘Distinctive’ spec model has no less than 11 different interior trims to choose from, and while it’s a £1,000 option, my goodness the natural (tan) leather seats look absolutely exquisite in the MiTo. Expensive, but a must-have in this car.

Our tester had the standard interior trim, with silver, red and black seats and a dash that faded red to black. It was a like/dislike split for passengers, with one stating the seat patterning looked a bit like an Eighties football shirt. He may be right there. Personally, I quite liked the dash colouring though – a bit kitsch, but at least it’s not dully dullard grey and black eh. Anyhow, that’s of little consequence as there are almost a dozen interiors to choose from, so take your pick.

Physically, it’s very nicely laid out and there are lots of things that are pleasing to the eye, such as the metal pedals that look like they’ve been snatched directly from a supercar, or the chrome-ringed circular air vents, or the stubby gearstick, or the wonderful Alfa badge in centre of the steering wheel, or the satin-finished trim in front of both door handles. Lots of positives here, and it’s better put together than I thought it would be, and with decent materials too.

Up front, the seats are comfortable with lots of adjustment, and there’s even a fold-down armrest with a storage compartment (just big enough to hold a sunglasses case) – can’t be really be used unless you’re cruising as it gets in the way of the gear shifter. The seats need to have more bolstering though, as it’s a very chuck-able car and it would be nice to move about less when driving.

Front seats on the 2014 Alfa Romeo MiTo 875cc TwinAir 105bhp Distinctive

Rear seats on the 2014 Alfa Romeo MiTo 875cc TwinAir 105bhp Distinctive

The rear seats are also decent cushioned and soft, and while there’s not exactly a lot of legroom (as you’d expect), it’s not too much of a problem unless you’re really tall. Something I didn’t like was that the rear actually felt a little claustrophobic. I’m fine in almost any car normally, but two things made it feel this way: the sides of the MiTo angle in towards the top making it feel cramped, and the rear windows don’t even crack open to allow air in – if they did it would feel far less stuffy and close in the back.

If you want a few luxuries in the MiTo, it’s definitely worth spending a few hundred kitting it out. Our tester had dual-zone climate control (£450), which also allowed both driver and passenger to direct the flow of air separately too. A great idea! A 5-inch colour touchscreen came standard on the model, and it included voice recognition, Bluetooth plus USB and Aux-in ports. It’s a very ergonomic system, with good graphics and the sound system is pretty decent too. The optional (£550) integrated TomTom sat nav (which adds DAB too) worked okay direction-wise, but it was surprisingly slow to render the roads and maps when flicking between screens. Better to buy a separate system for 1/5th of the price.

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Boot space is quoted as 270 litres with the seats up, which isn’t too bad, and with the rear seats folded there’s around 950 litres to fill. The problem is that the lip of the boot sits high up, and it’s also fairly narrow, meaning it can be tricky loading in something heavy or awkwardly-shaped. Safety-wise the Alfa is well-equipped, coming with 7 airbags altogether for front and rear passengers.

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All said, if you buy a MiTo you’re getting an interior with that’s fun and with character, but still has a grown-up side to it and has plenty of decent equipment as standard. It’s comfortable in the front, but confined and almost claustrophobic in the back and while boot space is okay, it’s awkward getting heavy or bulky items in.

Engine & gearbox

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The MiTo is available with three petrol and two diesel, all of which are turbocharged and have start&stop. Our MiTo tester came with the tiny turbocharged two-cylinder (yes, you read correctly – that’s 2 cylinders, in-line), 8-valve 875cc TB TwinAir, which has been improved for 2014 and now kicks out 20 horsepower more than the last version. The TwinAir produces 105 bhp at 5,500 rpm and 107 lb ft (145 Nm) of torque at a mere 2,000 rpm, driven through the front wheels.

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The key shows just how tiny the turbo is on the Mito TwinAir (bottom of the image)

0 – 62 mph takes 11.4 seconds and you’ll hit the v max at a none-too-shabby 114 mph, while the gearbox is a 6-speed manual only for the TwinAir. Official UK mpg fuel stats are quoted as being: urban: 56.2, extra urban: 74.3, combined: 67.2, and CO2 emissions as 99 g/km which means you’ll be paying exactly zero tax (until the gov. shift the brackets again, which will happen at some point, no doubt). Real life fuel stats? On a run at 50 mph I managed to achieve 63.5 mpg, and around town in light traffic almost 48 mpg.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

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I fully expected the two-cylinder TwinAir engine to be some embarrassing, farty, underpowered thing that’d have about as much go as a moped ridden by a sumo wrestler. Perhaps it’d sound just like the classic Fiat 500 engine from the Sixties too? Could it be seven whole days of pop-pop-pop embarrassment? Firing the engine into life though, I’m greeted with a unit that ticks over quietly and while it is obvious this isn’t a four-cylinder motor and there is a degree of lumpiness at idle, it’s much better than expected.

Into first gear, I pull away and… promptly hit the rev limiter. Surely it can’t have got there that quickly? Yes, it does. At the next set of lights I set off  and again the needle hits about 5,600 rpm whereupon power is lost and I scramble to select 2nd gear and get going again. First is so short, in fact, that you will hit the limiter in just 2.5 seconds and believe me even after you get used to this gearing you’ll still find it happening regularly.

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At first I found this to be simply quirky and slightly funny, but after a while it becomes trying when you’re concentrating on finding a gap in heavy traffic at a junction, only to run out of steam barely after you’ve got out. If you try to jump the gun and change into 2nd gear too early, you’ll then find the car bogs down and lumbers along like in the aforementioned sumo-moped scenario. So, getting the balance just right becomes very much an art and a skill. Is it simply part of the character of the MiTo TwinAir, or something that needs looking at by Alfa Romeo? I’m undecided, but it errs on the side of being irritating at times.

Once you’re into second and upwards it’s all good though, with a light clutch and positive changes from the manual ‘box. The MiTo TwinAir is lots of fun to drive, and in fact reminded me of my 1975 Mini 1275 GT in many ways, except the MiTo will drive more than ten miles without breaking down or rust holes appearing in the floor. The chassis is decent, it handles smartly and you’re guaranteed smiles-a-plenty as you chuck it into a sharp bend, even at lower speeds. While it’s not an overly-stiff setup, the dampers are still noticeably firm over poor road surfaces. Not bad, but could be better.

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Helping things along in this regards is Alfa’s D.N.A driving mode selector, which stands for Dynamic, Natural, All-Weather. The system is standard on all Alfa-Romeos, and adjusts throttle response, power delivery, power steering assistance, VDC stability control and braking Pre-Fill. In brief, Dynamic gives quicker throttle response and a massive 50% more torque in the first 10% of pedal travel, the brake lines are pre-filled for better braking, and the stability control systems (VDC, DST, ASR) loosen up. Natural is the normal setup, and All-Weather makes the VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) system more intrusive, plus the ASR (Anti-Slip Regulator) is lightened to allow the wheels to slip and gain traction.

This said, I left the MiTo in Dynamic mode for almost the entire test period. On motorway runs the motor quickly bogs down on even slight uphill sections, and selecting Dynamic means instantly the power is freed up and there’s way more on tap, giving it much better feel overall, regardless of when it’s used. The acceleration and power comes on in the form of a Nineties Jap sports car, huge turbo lag in other words. There’s nothing… nothing… nothing… HUGE surge… then run out of revs. It’s actually a lot of fun and seems to suit the MiTo really well. 3rd gear was most enjoyable for me, as you’ll hit the torque band at 40 mph and ride it strongly to 65 before having to change up again.

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The exhaust note is worth a mention, as in Dynamic mode it’s fruity and raspy enough to grab attention from pedestrians and other drivers, and actually it’s rather nice that Alfa Romeo have put some thought into it.

While the zero to sixty mph time isn’t exactly mind-blowing, the MiTo TwinAir surprised me hugely by getting up to motorway speeds briskly and without any trouble. Not only that, but it’ll cruise at above 70 mph without issue, and it actually seems quite happy at those speeds. Remember, we are talking 875cc and two cylinders here, so this is mighty impressive stuff. Wind and engine noise are lower than expected, but there’s a fair amount of tyre noise getting into the cabin. However, with the comfortable front seats and cruise control you could do a long run pleasantly.

Price

(prices correct July ’14) The Alfa MiTo starts at £14,870 and tops out at £18,570. Our ‘Distinctive’ spec tester cost around £15.5k, but with a few option boxes ticked came out at £17,000. That seems like a fair old amount of cash for such a small car if I’m honest, and while it’s a lovely-looking thing and has a decent interior and good spec levels, there’s some fiercely-priced competition out there vying for your money, although let’s face it – none of them as anywhere near as pretty.

Rivals include the Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Peugeot 208, Citroen DS3, VW Polo, Renault Clio and Vauxhall Corsa.

2014 Alfa Romeo Mito 875ccTB TwinAir 105bhp Distinctive verdict & score

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I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Alfa Mito TwinAir. It’s a very fun car to drive, and it’ll have you smiling every time you take it out. There are plenty of positives for the interior, and of course there’s the utterly beautiful body too. The improved-for-2014 minuscule 875cc engine is sweet, and now has enough power to keep you happy on even a motorway journey.

While the rest of the gear ratios are decently spaced, 1st is absurdly and overly short and clearly needs to be longer. The MiTo handles itself well and it loves being chucking around bends, but I found that it would benefit from being a little less firm for those low-speed, potholed city roads. I’d like to try the 1.4 MultiAir 170 bhp version of the MiTo to see which suits it more, but at the moment I’m rather impressed with just how well the wee TwinAir goes!

Do you own a 2014> Alfa MiTo? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  9
Interior  7.5
Engine (TwinAir)  8
Gearbox  5.5
Price  6
Handling & ride  7
Drive  8.5
Overall Score  7.5 / 10

Specs

Model (as tested)  2014 Alfa Romeo MiTo 875cc TwinAir 105bhp Distinctive
Spec includes  17″ alloy wheels, tinted rear windows, VDC, DST, ASR, Alfa D.N.A system, 7 airbags, start&stop system, cruise control, manual climate control, 5″ Uconnect touch screen , voice recognition, Bluetooth, USB & Aux, See website for more info
Options you should spec  Natural (tan) leather: £1,000, electric sunroof (more light & airy for rear passengers): £750
The Competition  Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Peugeot 208, Citroen DS3, VW Polo, Renault Clio and Vauxhall Corsa.
Price  (Aug. 2014) £14,870 – £18,570
Engine  Petrol,  875cc, 2-cylinder (in-line), 8-valve, turbocharged
Power, Torque  Power: 105 bhp @ 5,500 rpm | Torque: 107 lb ft (145 Nm) @ 2,000 rpm
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Front wheel drive | 6-speed manual
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed (limited): 114 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 11.4 seconds | Euro NCAP rating: Only 2008 version rated currently. New version not yet rated.
Fuel economy (UK mpg), CO2  Urban: 56.5, Extra urban: 74.3, Combined: 67.2 | CO2: 99 g/km CO2
Weight (kerb)  1,130 (2,491 lbs)
Websites  Alfa Romeo UK, Alfa Romeo Italy, Alfa Romeo global

Words: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

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