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ROAD TEST: Alfa Romeo Mito 1.4 TBi Distinctive TCT
When I entered this game about a decade ago, I was quick to declare my allegiance to the manual gearbox, even after becoming familiar with Johannesburg’s traffic mood swings and having subsequently felt the odd craving for a self-shifting box.
Simply nothing beats the feeling of connection and control that you have with a ‘stick’, as the Americans like to call it. But the past ten years has also seen the advent of the dual-clutch automated manual and I must admit that I’m really starting to love them - especially VW’s DSG.
Now Alfa Romeo is having a crack at the dual-clutch ‘box, and it can only be an improvement on that clunky single-clutch automated abomination of yesteryear that they called Selespeed. Irish invention jokes and helicopters with ejector seats come to mind here. Thank goodness this passionate Italian brand never forgot how to make a good manual gearbox.
But the big question here is how Alfa’s new TCT dual-clutch automated ‘box stacks up.
To find out, I spent a week in the Mito TCT.
There’s only one TCT option in the Mito and it’s attached to the 1.4 TBi Distinctive model. That means you get the least powerful version of the 1.4-litre turbocharged MultiAir petrol engine, which is good for 100kW at 5000rpm and 230Nm at 1730rpm.
The theory behind dual-clutch gearboxes is that you essentially have two gearboxes with alternate gears placed side by side and each with its own clutch so that it can preselect the next gear and ensure a smooth shift.
Like most autoboxes, you can choose to change gears manually via the stick or steering wheel controls or you can leave the car to its own devices in automatic mode. However, unlike the other dual-clutch ‘boxes I’ve tried, TCT is not too happy when given the latter option.
Even when set in ‘normal’ mode, it tended to hold onto the gears for too long even after my pedal movements clearly showed that I was cruising rather than racing. Of course, it works better when you are driving it a bit hard and the gear changes are acceptably quick, but the overall experience in auto mode is not nearly as satisfying as I remember VW’s DSG being.
That said, the Alfa’s ‘box does work rather well when you take the effort to change gears yourself via the paddles.
Performance from its low-pressure turbo engine is acceptable and vaguely fast if you’re prepared to hoof it but it doesn’t even come close to similarly-priced hatches such as the Polo GTI and Corsa OPC.
At the expense of performance the Mito offers you a different kind of satisfaction - Italian style and emotive appeal in just about every aspect. The Mito is a charming car that tugs at the heart strings.
Solid steering and a nimble chassis also make it a joy through the bends and that doesn’t come at the expense of ride quality – which is rather decent.
Shift your bee-hind into its snug and supportive seats and the design and décor leave you in no doubt that you’re in an Alfa - from the carbon fibre-look fascia to those little touches such as the ‘Benzina’ label on the fuel gauge.
The Mito is a charming car, but my overall feeling about the TCT gearbox is that it’s not as smooth or as refined as some of the better dual-clutch gearboxes on the market. This model’s R265 000 price is also on the steep side for a B-segment car that doesn’t run with the hot hatch pack.