Mito 1.6JTDm 120bhp test-drive
Having seen and driven the car before on the Balocco test-track, I was wondering how the car would actually perform during daily road usage, and especially what it would feel like getting from the MiTo into my 147 and the other way around. This saturday, the perfect opportunity presented itself, my 147 needed a check-up. I got a 159 as a replacement car, which clearly feels more grown-up than my 147, but less fun. Picked up a friend, who is also a bit of an Alfa-freak, and drove around a bit. At 1pm, my 147 was ready, so we went back to the dealership, talked a bit with the owner and eventually asked for a test-drive in the MiTo. The car they had there was a full-spec 1.6 diesel in white.
First step was finding a good seating position. This hadn't changed a lot compared to the preproduction model I tested in June, steering wheel position can be customized for about anyone and is absolutely perfect. Same for the seats, and it didn't take long before I felt very comfortable, and a lot better than in the 147 or the 159 to my taste. The dashboard is more "in your face" and a lot closer to you, which feels very sporty. When driving relaxed however you don't get a cramped feeling because there's a good distance between you and the front-window, a lot more than in the 147, which gives the impression that it's lot a bigger car. The steering wheel itself has a really good grip, and really tells you where to put your hands when wanting to drive a bit more sporty. I always liked my 147 sports steering wheel, but this-one is simply better.
The quality feel of a lot of things had seriously improved over the test-cars I drove in June in Balocco. The fake-leather cover behind the steering wheel had been worked on. It's still there, but has been tightened up and doesn't look as messy. The dashboard in general feels a lot more solid than in the preproduction models, the fake carbon feels softer and more durable now. Look in front of you and it all looks great. Mid-console also looked ok, until I slightly bashed my knee against it, which caused the whole thing to move and really didn't leave me with a good impression. The door-finish is still exactly the same as those of the pre-production car I tested in June, which is very poor, only thing that changed was the fake carbon feel. It's sad, because if that would have had a more quality feel to it, the overall impression of the car would be a lot better. Hard plastic that moves when you rest your elbow on it? Not what I'm used to in my 147. In general, certainly a lot of improvements, but the doors, mid-console and Blue&Me USB connection cover give it a cheap feel. Not good for a 'premium' mini-rival.
So the driving. I started off in "Normal" mode, in which the driving is pretty relaxed. Steering is about as light as in my 147, but the throttle response is very poor and feels a bit like putting your foot on a sponge. After a few miles however, you get used to it and it's actually quite relaxing to drive this way in city traffic, you're not tempted to do stupid and risky things. I made the mistake of switching to Dynamic in such traffic. Not a good idea - steering tightens up and becomes a lot heavier - both my hands automaticly went to the steering wheel. The throttle response becomes just a bit too 'enthousiastic' for city traffic, so I quickly switched back to N, and headed for some roads we frequently visit for car-testing. The gear-stick is actually 4-5cm too long I think, it doesn't look or feel like you're driving a more sporty car, and you end up taking the stick a lot lower, even when driving relaxed. The gear-changing itself however is very sharp and direct, and gearbox overall feels very very solid, and probably one of the best I've driven in the last few years. Changing gears could easily be done without the clutch, and if you get to know the engine a bit more this could result in gearbox-raping quick shifts.
Once in less dense traffic, Dynamic mode got a chance. Again, both hands went to the steering wheel immediately, the difference is just too big to handle with one hand. Not that you couldn't handle it with one hand if you wanted to, but just the difference quite big. Throttle response sharpens up, and the sponge feeling is gone completely. Reaching the first corner - no traffic at all - I went for it. I know this corner pretty well, I do this every day. Full throttle to the corner, releasing it at the last moment immediately followed by short and hard braking and steering in. Direct steering response, but indeed lacks some feeling - certainly not bad at all, and the rest of the car clearly says what it's doing. At 1/4th of the corner, the back slightly broke out without a trace of understeer, and this was extremely controllable with both the throttle and steering, and I never felt or seen the electronics kick in to help me. Halfway the corner, pedal to the metal again, and here it clearly said that it could handle a lot more power. We still came out of the corner at a highly illegal speed, a lot faster than I ever could with my 147 - and this was the first time I ever took this corner in this little devil... I was really surprised because in general, it certainly feels (and is) slower and a bit underpowered when you're used to her 150bhp bigger sister. Being lighter doesn't make up for the difference, although it would probably easily beat the my 147 without the remap which originally also had 'only' 120bhp. The little car however feels a lot more confident and controllable in the corner, proves that it's not just for show and screams that it could handle a lot more power. In Dynamic mode, it really feels like a toy which wants to show off what it can handle.
The suspension is a strange thing. Alfa developped a special set of shock absorbers with dual springs of which I got a very nice and technical presentation at Balocco - but there I didn't really notice any of this while driving, since most of the time we were having fun on a racetrack. On normal road however, it feels very comfortable at all times, though while playing with the car, there is almost no bodyroll and really sticks the car to the ground. My friend had the 147 with 'sports' suspension and according to him, the Mito's suspension is at least on-par with what his 147 had, but a lot more comfortable. Offcourse the excellent seats also help - but I can't complain about the 147 on this level. With the release of the GTA, a 'dynamic' suspension, controlled by the DNA system will become available as an option, which should improve this even more.
Then the engine, the 1.4TB certainly is better than the diesel for this toycar, but that doesn't mean the diesel is bad at all, quite the contrary. I did stall it a few times because I expected more torque in lower rpm, but my remapped 147 is a serious torque monster - I can easily take off in 2nd with it without noticing, so don't blame the Mito here. It might also be because the 1.6 diesel feels the same as the 1.9 while actually running at 500rpm less, so you end up driving at 1200 to 1500rpm in the city or when driving relaxed. My 1.9 wouldn't that like at all, it's relaxed range is more 1800 to 2100rpm, where most of the torque is available. The torque in the 1.6 comes at 1700rpm, so it took some getting used to. It redlines at 4500rpm, so you get a wider 1700->4500 powerband compared to the 2100->4500 of my 147. Overall, the impression of the 1.6JTDm was very positive. Although it's a bit noisy when putting your foot down, it's an acceptable agressive growl, not a German TDI diesel-sound. It's also not the "I have a huge engine that's gonna eat you" noise the 1.4TB gives you - which is just raw agressiveness, but for a diesel, it's quite nice and at normal driving speeds it's very quiet. This engine is probably perfect for someone who wants a diesel MiTo, and remapping it would probably make a lot better. I can't believe the 1.3JTDm would be any fun, not even mentioning the 1.4 78bhp petrol, they would be a total waste. If you only buy the car for it's looks and not the fun-factor, they will probably suffice if you look at all the 90bhp Astra's etc driving around, but when you're used to having some power available, it won't. The 1.4TB would be my first choice and while not a bad engine at all, I'd only go for the 1.6JTDm as a lease-car.
So, next stop - the highway. Still in dynamic mode, I quickly ended up driving 160km/h without really noticing it. It didn't take me there as quickly as the 147, but it didn't have a hard time getting there. Noise-levels are acceptable, certainly for such a small car. The interior doesn't make a sound, and we could talk normally at this speed. Then I switched back to Normal mode. Wow - that's a difference. Steering feel changes slowly, but throttle response changes very abrupt. Keeping the throttle position the same, you slow down a lot, the sponge-feel is back - and I switched one lane. Normal mode really isn't suitable for driving more than 130km/h - which is probably a good thing. Highway driving is pretty comfortable, it feels like a bigger car than it actually is, I wouldn't mind doing 100km+ trips with her like I do with my 147.
So the DNA system, does it work? Yes it does, no doubt about it. Some people critisize it because other cars have a better '1 setting fits all', but having driven it in various driving situations, I think it's actually very positive that you consiously have to choose "I want to drive sporty". At Balocco I was demonstrated what it did on the ice-track in "All weather" mode, which would otherwise be very hard to test, which was simply amazing. The normal mode is for relaxed all-day driving - and yes, it feels pretty dull, but relaxed. It might sound irritating, but you very quickly get used to it. I switched back to normal mode when getting somewhat more traffic around me because D mode is just too nervous. I'd probably end up driving in Normal mode most of the time because of this, so the car doesn't push me like my current 147 to quickly overtake someone or shoot in a gap. Public roads are no race-track, so this probably helps to drive safer when you're not aware of it that you're taking risks, and certainly with the younger public they're targetting - this is a good thing.
Some generic behavior of the DNA system might be interesting: when turning off the engine while in Dynamic mode, next time you start it it's Normal mode again. Put it in All weather, next time you start it, it's All weather again. Switching in from Dynamic to Normal in mid-corner, the feel only changes when the steering wheel is straight again, and switching to Dynamic is impossible at speeds higher than 90km/h. The DNA system clearly got a lot of attention and does what it promises. Real Alfisti might not like it, because the car by default absolutely doesn't drive like an Alfa - mostly due to the throttle response, but Dynamic mode transforms the car from a sane small car into a real toy.
A lot of people also seem to be put down by all the electronics, but during the entire (almost 4h) testdrive pushing the car further than I ever did with my 147, I've only seen and felt electronics kick in once - and I'm glad they did. We were just cruising (still in D mode) and we drove through quite a long stretch of road of which one side was flooded a bit, but which was deeper than I expected. The result - some serious aquaplaning. Electronics quickly kicked in and except for the initial splash, I didn't feel a thing. The only thing I noticed was the nervous flashing orange light on the dashboard telling me the electronics didn't like something the car was trying to do. It's a bit scary to feel absolutely nothing on the steering wheel at such a moment, it really felt dead as if I was driving on rock-solid road with loads of grip. It was the only moment in the Mito I really thought "that's not good" about the way it drove. The good thing is, the car keeps a straight line, and still reacted instantly to steering when trying to change lanes, without any hesitation or feeling as if you're driving on water - something I actually was doing. You clearly hear the system correcting what the car is trying to do - the brakes are doing overtime and you get the typical ABS sounds - but the steering wheel feels rock-solid. After seeing and feeling this, it is clear that the car's handling is not built around the electronics, it's just the feel, power and safety that is. Only thing might be the electronic Q2, of which I don't think you get any notification - but even if it kicked in, I didn't notice this at all... Having seen the rear-suspension in the Turin factory (the day after we test-drove it on the track) - I still have trouble believing they could get the handling this good, but no complaining on that level.
So overall - very positive for non-track useage:
+ DNA system
+ Handling in corners
+ the 1.6 JTDm and 1.4TB engines
+ Seats, seating position and 'cockpit' feel.
+ Steering wheel
+ Dashboard build quality and feel
-- Interior door and mid-console build quality feel. 2 times a "-" because of the contrast with the front-dashboard and expectations the car would get
- Steering feel with moments. Improves in D mode, but could be better. Not as bad as most ppl say though.
- Practicality (but who cares when buying such a car)
- Long gearstick
All in all it's a small car with a big fun-factor and 'wanna-have' feel once you took it around a few corners in Dynamic mode. 1.4TB is the way to go for fun, unless you want to wait for the GTA and are willing to spend more money on it.
-- sleep is a poor substitute for coffee --
Last edited by KoFFiE; 04-02-09 at 09:16.