Alfa Romeo MiTo road test: Hitting mainstream target
WHEN Stella McCartney fashions arrived in Target there were queues and crowds.
Those with an eye for style but with small pockets embraced designer looks without the lofty price-tag.
A similar scenario is now unfolding in the motoring world.
Anyone with Italian desires can get themselves into a brand-spanking-new Alfa Romeo for $22,500 plus on-roads.
The Series 2 MiTo has arrived with two turbocharged engine choices and three trims, with the highest retail price capped at $28,000. That represents a saving of nearly seven grand over the previous range-topping model from a few years back.
The MiTo, which gains its name as an abbreviation of the cities Milan (Milano) and Turin (Torino), has received some tweaks inside and out, but it's the realigned pricing that hauls the little Alfa into the mainstream.
Compact dimensions don't translate inside. It may look small, although you don't feel confined within a sculpted cabin.
There is a range of styling features to pique interest although there are some harsh hard plastics over the door tops and console which would be better suited to smoother materials.
For the driver this is old-school Alfa - best suited to those with long arms and short legs. Finding a comfortable position behind the wheel can take some adjustment but you quickly get used to the quirks.
Shapely seats offer good support up front, yet the back bench is relatively flat around the rump. Getting into the rear can take some effort for adults, and while there is not copious amounts of room two people about 170cm can be accommodated.
The driver has four main analogue gauges: the larger speedo left and tacho right, sitting next to the fuel and temperature, while central is the digital display which offers information such as turbo boost, economy and trip advisories.
Taking pride of place in the dash is the new 12.7cm Uconnect touch-screen multimedia display which is easy to use and also has voice recognition so there is no need to take your hands off the wheel.
On the road
Alfa Romeo's new headline act is the 0.9-litre two-cylinder TwinAir. We've seen this little donk in the likes of the Fiat 500 and Panda, and it's amazing how much power this two-potter can deliver.
The TwinAir is mated exclusively to a six-speed manual and it's a whole heap of fun. You really have to drive it to make the most of its performance, and it even has a lovely little exhaust note building from about 3500rpm.
From 4000rpm the TwinAir is at its best. With the redline just shy of 6000rpm it is a narrow band of power, but keep it close to the sweet spot with timely shifts of the nice six-speed box and it rewards the driver with surprising urgency.
Try and push past the redline and the limiter kicks in by depowering, so drivers need to keep a close eye on the revs.
Those who want an automatic transmission have to opt for the larger 1.4-litre four-cylinder MultiAir engine. It also has a manual option, a five-speed, yet neither doesn't feel like a great step up over the base model TwinAir despite being much quicker over the 0-100kmh sprint.
The dual clutch automatic can feel clumsy on occasions, holding gears high into the rev range for no apparent reason, and takes some practice to ensure smooth driving - but it is far easier to live with than the robotised manuals we've experienced in Fiats.
MiTos are also armed with the Alfa DNA system. You can choose between Dynamic, Natural and All-weather driving modes.
Dynamic is the best choice, providing more instant acceleration and sharp steering, whereas Natural is geared toward fuel efficiency and All-weather is designed for maximum traction.
Four adults can fit within the MiTo confines, although long trips would be a challenge for those in the back.
There is one small cup holder in the centre console, where as the two doors can house larger bottles and there are also two similar-sized moulded spots in the rear.
The back pew has a 60-40 split fold, and the seat backs can be dropped flat once the bases are rolled upright.
What do you get?
Basic MiTos come with 15-inch alloys, 12.7cm touch-screen, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity with steering wheel mounted controls, cruise, air con and leather wrapped steering wheel.
Progression models have 16-inch alloys, the 1.4-litre engine along with auto wipers and lights.
Distinctive sits at the top of the range with 17-inch alloys, dual zone air con, red stitching on the steering wheel, special cloth seats, and the option of leather trim and premium sound system.
All MiTos have the same safety specification with seven airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control.
The TwinAir is the most effective of the engine pairing, and it should deliver consumption of about five litres for every 100km. Expect the four-cylinder to be about 1.5 litres thirstier.
Some insurance companies are still behind the times and charging exorbitant premiums on turbocharged models, so it is worth getting a few quotes.
Some of the MiTo's styling inspiration comes from the breathtaking 8C Competizione. It's an attractive little hatch, with a distinctive v-shaped chrome grille
The styling does set it apart from the hatch crowd with ample Italian pizzazz.
Compare the MiTo with other compact hatches for the same coin and it's shadowed in many areas…but many lack the branding power.
Telling your friends that you are driving an Alfa Romeo has a premium allure. And while the brand was once plagued by reliability issues, its new alliances have addressed many of the lingering concerns.
The Alfa Romeo MiTo is a personable alternative for those seeking something outside the hatch box.
What matters most
What we liked: Nice engine note in the TwinAir, has fun Alfa driving personality, premium brand charms.
What we'd like to see: Improved automatic transmission performance, smoother internal plastics, sat nav as an option on Uconnect.
Warranty and servicing: Backed by a three year/150,000km warranty with roadside assist. Maintenance is every six months, with oil and filters at every 15,000km or six months with servicing at 12 months or 30,000km.
Model: Alfa Romeo MiTo Series 2.
Details: Three-door front-wheel drive compact hatchback.
Engines: 0.9-litre TwinAir turbocharged two-cylinder generating maximum power of 77kW @ 5500rpm and peak torque of 145Nm @ 2000rpm; 1.4-litre MultiAir four-cylinder 99kW @ 5000rpm and 206Nm @ 1750rpm.
Transmission: Six speed manual (TwinAir only), five-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 4.2 litres/100km (combined average); 5.6L/100km (m), 5.5L/100km (a).
CO2: 99g/km; 129g/km (m), 123g/km (a).
Bottom line plus on-roads: MiTo (m) $22,500 , Progression (m) $24,500, Progression (a) $26,500, Distinctive (a) $28,000.