There’s a very special Italian car I’d like to get my hands on sometime. Unless you’re a real enthusiast you’ve probably never heard of it, but the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione is a two-seater 4.7-litre V8-engined dream machine which was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in the mid-2000s to echo the dramatic styling of the Alfas of the 50s and 60s. It’s unlikely I’ll ever get to see one, far less drive one, so for the moment I’ll have to fall back on a more practical Alfa which was inspired by it, the MiTo supermini.
The name comes from Milano (Milan) and Torino (Turin) because it was designed in the former and assembled in the latter, but it is also a play on the Italian word “mito” meaning myth or legend. But what’s more significant is that its styling – apparently – is based on its sexy big brother. At first glance that’s hard to imagine and now it seems even more unlikely because the latest version, the MiTo TwinAir comes with one of the smallest engines on the market – less than a fifth of the size of the one in the 8C and with only two cylinders.
Alfa’s flame has been at something of a low peep for a while but there’s some good evidence that the fire is back with some cracking models – not least the Giulietta which has revived some of the sporty and stylish sexiness we used to associate with the name. But these are austere times and we’re all having to tighten our belts while keeping one eye on saving the planet at the same time. That’s why the Italian engineers have come up with a clever piece of technology which can be easy on the pocket and the environment but still return some excitement on the open road. The sporty MiTo, which was launched in 2009, now has a superlight, supersmall 875cc engine. Delivering 85bhp, it is the cleanest and most economical in its class with sub-100g/km CO2 emissions and it runs for almost 70 miles with every gallon.
It’s the first for Alfa of a series of two-cylinder engines being developed by parent company Fiat Powertrain at a cost of £276m over the past two years by a team of more than 200 people. It’s already in Fiat’s 500 and Punto. It may be new, but the engineers say it’s had a huge amount of testing and according to one of the team it’s “bombproof” which is why Alfa are confident about giving it a five-year warranty. Where Alfa have scored a winner though is to incorporate their excellent DNA selector into the car so that as well as All-Weather and Natural (a change from the previous Normal setting), there’s the Dynamic setting which changes the character of the engine and returns lively performance from the same small power unit. Thanks to a high speed turbo the performance is equivalent to that of a four-cylinder 1400cc engine but through the DNA selector you can decide whether you want to drive with economy or performance. On the road in Natural setting the car is pretty subdued with lighter steering for city work but by flicking it up to Dynamic the car leaps into action with an immediate surge in power and altogether better response with higher speed gear changes and stiffer suspension to keep it more firmly on the road.
For such a small engine (10 per cent lighter and 23 per cent smaller than the standard unit) it can certainly deliver the goods with amazing torque at low revs. It will actually pull away happily in third gear at less than 1500rpm. The All Weather setting is for when the conditions deteriorate and adjusts the steering and braking for safety. The only indication of the presence of the small engine is from the outside on tickover where there’s a distinctive two-cylinder firing from the exhaust.
The stylists have done a good job in retaining the Alfa appeal in a small car which should keep the green lobby happy. Inside it looks and feels like a lot more than a small car. It is at the heart of Alfa’s campaign to lower the average age of their customers and to encourage more females into what has been a male dominated brand. With low running costs, tempting tax benefits for company drivers and some of the best residual values, the TwinAir is expected to take more than a third of all MiTo sales. I like it and it’s probably the closest I’ll get to its supercar big brother.
CAR Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir
PERFORMANCE Max speed 108mph; 0-60mph 12.5secs
MPG 67 combined
CO2 EMISSIONS 98g/km
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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