Alfa Romeo automatically attractive
PERHAPS it is testament to our laid-back approach. Maybe it's pure laziness.
Nevertheless, Alfa Romeo is now expecting bigger things from its pint-size MiTo courtesy of a new automatic transmission.
Eighteen months after first going on sale with only a manual box, the semi-automated twin-clutch has arrived and the Australian importer Ateco predicts it will account for three quarters of all its MiTo sales.
The MiTo is aimed at those looking for a premium hatchback with a healthy dose of prestige and style in the mix. It's become a popular genre with an increasing number of big players.
Those fighting it out in this segment aren't so cheap, and the MiTo is no different. When first released the Italian hatch struggled, but a realignment of prices has helped increase the appeal.
The base model with the new auto will set you back about 32 grand plus on roads, which means that with other marques undercutting that figure with similar performance, Alfa is relying on its personality and good looks to woo the buyers.
Since first driving the MiTo about a year ago, first impressions have changed little. It still feels like they are built for people with long arms and short legs.
Getting yourself set up behind the wheel takes some work initially but after that's achieved its relatively smooth sailing.
The cabin appeal is boosted by faux carbon fibre trim. Some plastics remain around the sound system controls and in the console, and there is only one cup holder in the middle, although there are bottle holders in the doors.
Circular air vents can push air in just about any direction, the dials and gauges have a brilliant sporting ambience and are easy to read. With the auto box you can make better use of the folding centre armrest while driving, but it does get in the way of the hand brake.
The seats are supportive in the right places and our test machine was bolstered by the optional leather pews complete with Alfa insignia.
With two average-size front passengers you can handle another two in the back, but the roofline does encroach on headroom.
On the road
While the MiTo has twin clutch technology, it mostly feels like a conventional auto – but a clunky one.
It's not unlike some other offerings we've driven with the same style of self-shifter and takes some time to become accustomed.
Once you are up and running, the gear changes are quick and smooth, and the little donk doesn't mind being revved (although it sounds a little thrashy, rather than sporting).
The TCT is partnered to a 99kW 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine, which is slightly detuned in comparison to the manual version.
Just like in other MiTos and the Guilietta, this model also has the Alfa DNA system which makes adjustments to the throttle and steering depending on your mood. There are three modes: Dynamic, Normal and All Weather.
The best option is Dynamic, which makes the MiTo responsive and provides better steering feedback. The other two are a waste of time in most cases.
It is a fun little car to drive, and especially rewarding is the manual mode where you can change gears via the steering wheel paddles or push and pull the shifter.
The MiTo is also agile in traffic and easy to park given its exterior dimensions.
One bugbear is the automatic stop/start. It can be turned off, but when on it's a feature that can be a major hindrance.
What do you get?
As you would expect for a small hatch costing more than $30,000, it's well kitted out. The base TCT gets cruise, 17-inch alloys, air con, fog lights, Bluetooth connectivity, CD stereo with USB port, as well as a Blue and Me hands free system with voice recognition.
We were in the Sport derivative, and for your extra $3K it also picks up auto wipers, rear parking sensors, rear wing, red brake callipers, Alfa kick plates in the doors and a carbon-fibre finish on the dashboard.
The MiTo has the full airbag allocation and safety technology, as well as hazard lights that flash during emergency braking.
The key competition in this genre comes from Europe. Among the main players are the Mini Cooper ($34,000), Citroen DS3 DStyle ($32,990), Audi A1 1.4 Attraction ($32,250), but the hardest one to beat is the Volkswagen Polo GTI ($28,990).
It's not really family territory, but the MiTo is not completely useless for more than two people.
The boot is small, but the rear seats do fold for extra space.
You can fit four adults as long as they aren't too big and burly.
Insurance costs may vary heavily, so it would be worth shopping around.
Fuel consumption is impressive for a petrol, averaging 5.5 litres for every 100km.
The Italians have squeezed a fair amount of style into this hatchback. Alfas of recent times have been well regarded as good lookers, and the MiTo is no different.
Reeking of exclusivity and with some handy design influence from the breathtaking Competizone, the MiTo stands out in the hatch crowd.
Alfas in recent times have been regarded as cars to look at, not to drive. But the latest breed is beginning to combine good looks with the old-school driveability which made the brand famous the world over.
While the auto box isn't perfect, you can turn off the troublesome stop/start function and you quickly learn how to drive the MiTo smoothly and quickly.
The styling certainly turns heads, and that alone may be enough to win ample hearts.
Model: Alfa Romeo MiTo TCT.
Details: Three-door front-wheel drive sports hatchback.
Engine: Turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol generating maximum power of 99kW and peak torque of 230Nm.
Transmission: Six-speed twin-clutch automatic with steering wheel mounted paddles.
Consumption: 5.5 litres/100km (combined average).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 8.2 seconds; top speed 207 kmh.
Bottom line: $31,990; Sport $34,990 (as tested).