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Road Tests

Alfa Romeo MiTo TwinAir

This alternative to mainstream small cars will stand out from the crowd

Engine: 0.9-litre petrol

Transmission: six-speed manual

Power: 85PS at 5,500rpm

Torque: 145Nm at 2,000rpm

Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 67.3mpg

CO2 emissions: 98g/km

Top speed: 108mph

Acceleration (0-62 mph): 12.5 seconds

Fiat’s TwinAir two-cylinder engine caused quite a stir when it appeared two years ago. It gave the first car to which it was fitted, the Fiat 500, a big dose of extra driving character to go with its distinctive appearance and pleased purists too - the 1957 Nuova 500, from which today’s 500 borrows its looks, had a two-cylinder engine as well, and the adoption of the TwinAir added enormously to the modern car’s pedigree.

But Fiat has always made it clear that the engine’s appearance in the 500 marked the beginning, rather than the end of the TwinAir story. One piece of the jigsaw, a less powerful normally-aspirated version of the 85 horsepower turbocharged engine that lives beneath the bonnet of the 500 TwinAir, has been talked about from the start but still hasn’t seen the light of day yet. In the meantime, though, Fiat has been getting on with rolling out the turbo version to its other small cars. First up was the Lancia Ypsilon (sold in the UK as a Chrysler), and this was quickly followed by the Fiat Panda. In those cars, the TwinAir kept its essential character and acquitted itself fairly well.

Now, though, more significant changes are coming through. First, there was the appearance just two weeks ago of a heftier 105 horsepower version of the TwinAir in the new Fiat 500L, a small semi-MPV that shares some of the 500’s design cues. That’s quite a big increase in power (the 875cc capacity of the TwinAir engine remains unchanged) but one that’s soaked up in the 500L by that car’s greater bulk compared with the 500. And the standard 85 horsepower TwinAir makes it into two more cars, the Fiat Punto and the Alfa Romeo MiTo, but with an important difference; these cars are fitted with a dual-mass flywheel.

In the Alfa, the dual-mass flywheel seems to give the TwinAir engine quite a different character; it still has the distinctive two-cylinder thrum, but feels a lot smoother and more grown up. The exhaust note sounds softer but sportier too, and the changes suit the MiTo, a posher car than the 500, rather well. On the road, the TwinAir retains its lively nature, even if the MiTo isn’t that quick in outright terms – as usual, the two-cylinder beat tricks you into thinking that the engine is turning over more slowly than it actually is and it’s easy to hit the rev-limiter even in normal driving. Short shifting to make use of the TwinAir’s torque is the best approach from the point of view of performance and economy, even if this is slightly counter-intuitive.

For the rest, the MiTo is much as before. Its unusual looks have worn well and make it an interesting alternative to mainstream small cars; the TwinAir engine helps it stand out from the crowd even more. And in case you’re wondering, Alfa is being rather cagey about when the more powerful 105-horsepower engine might make it into the MiTo, but the logic of such a move would appear to be irresistible. It looks as if there are a still a few more chapters of the TwinAir story to come.