Alfa Romeos are not just red!

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Alfa Romeo Mito 2011

Alfa Romeo MitoThe MiTo is the most fuel-efficient turbocharged petrol car on this year’s Total Economy Run

The MiTo is conclusive proof that Alfa Romeo is not just synonymous with the colour red, it’s also bright green. Geoff Mortimer and his co-driver, Gerry Gericke, piloting the Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.4 Progression, returned a staggering fuel consumption of just 6,25 L per 100km in the 35th edition of the Total Economy Run which was held in and around Thaba ‘Nchu in the Free State this past weekend.

Danie Human, who oversaw Team Mortimer, said: “I am very pleased with the result. We might only have achieved a sixth place in our category but it’s worth noting that we were placed in Class B for cars between 1100 and 1400cc – the average output for vehicles we were competing against was half that of the MiTo’s 100kW. Had the competition classified vehicles on the basis of power, the Alfa would have been in Class E with 2.0-litre competitors and we would certainly have palmed in a class win. I have no doubt that with more and more manufacturers going the downsizing route, Total will create a new category for smaller turbocharged vehicles.”

The question is, how did Alfa Romeo achieve the seemingly impossible? How did they manage to deliver high performance and driveability while, at the same time, significantly reducing emissions and fuel consumption? The answer to this engineering conundrum is simple – MultiAir in conjunction with Start&Stop. And this revolutionary technology has been shoe-horned into the world's sportiest hatches: it features across the range on the two-door Alfa Romeo MiTo and selected Giulietta models.

Alfa Romeo Mito 2011

The new Euro 5-ready 1.4-litre MultiAir engine, developed and patented by FPT (Fiat Power Train), is initially offered in two turbocharged petrol forms for the South African market. The 100 kW version of the unit powers the MiTo 1.4 Progression, while the racier 125 kW 1.4 unit powers the MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde flagship as well as Alfa’s new jewel in the crown, the all-new Giulietta (in this instance, the middle-of-the-range Distinctive model).

In addition to MultiAir, the MiTo and Giulietta ranges showcase a broad spectrum of innovative technologies, including, the emission-reducing Start&Stop system (switches off the engine when idling), and Alfa Romeo’s highly acclaimed DNA system. With reference to the latter, it’s derived from Alfa’s racing roots and allows drivers to choose between three driving modes (normal for eco-driving, all-weather and dynamic for when you’re in a heavy-footed mood) by communicating with the engine, brakes, steering and transmission.

So what’s the big deal about MultiAir?

This technology does exactly what it says on the box: it takes precise control of the quantity and characteristics of the air drawn into the cylinders in the combustion cycle. Bear in mind that there are numerous electro-mechanical variable valve timing systems in production today that seek to achieve this, but because they have no more than two operating regimes, they are severely limited by the degree of flexibility they can exercise in the valve opening schedules.

By contrast, MultiAir completely eliminates these compromises by metering the direct air charge at the cylinder inlet ports with an advanced electro-hydraulic actuation and control system that has no fewer than five basic parameters, and the ability to optimally adjust valve timing and lift between them to exactly suit different engine speeds and loads, ensuring strong low- and mid-range torque and vigorous top-end power, combined with good economy and low emissions.

This is a transformational technology comparable to the introduction of FPT’s common rail fueling for diesels (another first for the Fiat Group a few years back), but the principles behind it are as simple as they are ingenious. MultiAir engines have just one camshaft with three lobes allocated to each cylinder. The first two control the two exhaust valves in the conventional way, while the third defines the maximum possible lift and opening duration of the two inlet valves. It also acts on a small piston that sends engine oil, via pressurised hydraulic channels, to additional pistons located just above the inlet valves.

Four solenoid valves - one for each cylinder under individual control from the Magneti Marelli ECU engine management system - can be opened at any point during the inlet valve's movement to bleed off the oil. Varying the oil flow instantly and precisely controls the opening and closing of the valves between the parameter extremes mechanically described by the camshaft lobe for optimum results.

MultiAir can even open the inlet valve twice in one intake stroke, when running at low speeds and loads around town, to create more swirl of the intake mixture, enabling it to burn more completely, thereby lowering fuel consumption.

So, there are three Alfa Romeos with MultiAir engines for now right?
Yup, one Giulietta (the 125kW 1.4 Distinctive) and the whole MiTo range comprising the 100kW Progression and the range-topping 125kW Quadrifoglio Verde. The best news is that performance is not sacrificed on the altar of economy – even the 100kW MiTo Progression will zoot to 100km/h in just 8,4 seconds while posting a combined fuel consumption of just 5.6 l/100km. The MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde will dispatch the same 0-100km/h sprint in an even more impressive 7,5 seconds while only consuming 6,1 L/100km in the combined cycle. And the Giulietta? Despite being a full-sized, five-door family hatch, the middle-of-the-range 125kW Distinctive model still pulls off a 0-100km/h dash in 7,8 seconds while achieving a laudable fuel consumption figure of just 5,8 L/100km. Emissions are a mere 129 g/km for the 100kW powerplant, rising to 139 g/km for the 125kW unit.

Incidentally, the Fiat Group which is responsible for Alfa Romeo along with other sporting Latin brands like Ferrari and Maserati, ranked first amongst car manufacturer groups with the lowest level of CO2 emissions by vehicles sold in Europe in 2010, with an average measurement of just 125.9 g/km. (Sister brand Fiat achieved first place for the fourth year running, recording an average of just 123.1 g/km. These records are certified by JATO Dynamics, the world's leading automotive consultancy and research firm.)

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