A couple of days ago I returned to Balocco, at the Fiat Group Automobiles proving ground, to test drive the new Alfa Romeo Mitos equipped with the very promising “Multiair technology”. In few months there will be three versions: the 1.4 MPI (aspirated) the 1.4 TB 170 HP and the 1.4 TB 136 HP, where TB stands for Turbo Benzina (gasoline). The first two goes on sale in fews days in main European markets. The Quadrifoglio Verde comes in Janaury, when the right hand drive cars will also be ready for export.
I was very keen to witness the impact this technology (comparable to the invention by Fiat’s engineers of the revolutionary Common Rail) will have on the reduction of emission from all sort of internal combustion engines (fuel with gasoline, E85, oil for diesel, CNG, LPG) as well as on their performance.
A few laps on the two of the many circuits created at Balocco (the so-called Langhe for handling, and the regular one for high speed) are very convincing: the 1368cc four cylinder engines in aspirated setting (78 kW) or turbocharged (100 kW for the or 127 kW for the “king of the hill” Quadrifoglio Verde) have all it takes to deserve the label of “truly Alfa Romeo’s Cuore Sportivo”. They are very flexible, very progressive yet very brilliant (prompt in their response at low revs and low gear) and reactive in mid-load and mid gear condition. Out of the track and on twisting mountain road, driving the “100 kW” turbo engined Mito I found myself going most of the time in third gear, with which you can do virtually anything as if it were an automatic. This used to be, and still is, very typical of the Alfa Romeo dynamic cars. What left me a lot more cold and sceptic is the gearbox, not so fast not so precise when you need to shift into first or second gear. Here Fiat Powertrain Technology, the suppliers of the powertrains have many opportunities for improvements.
Nothing, or almost, is changed as far as the design goes and I decided I would add a touch of beauty to my story with a pleasant excursion up North.
The day of my test drive I was very lucky as I was allowed (an unusual concession) to take the new Mito out of the proving ground so that I could go on my own, where I wanted to really test the car and used it to experience an enjoyable drive that I could recommend to you, should you have the chance to be in Balocco (that is mid-way between Milano and Torino) or in Milan and have one day for yourself.
The main destination is a small place called Orta San Giulio, a small town on the Lake Orta. Every good travel guide will recommend a visit. Especially if you are not so keen on shopping in Milano and you have seen its main attractions. A day (or two) out of town may be very refreshing and good for you physical and spiritual health. If you have the time and you are lucky enough to get a room you may even consider to spend one night at Villa Crespi, a rather unique combination of a 4 stars luxury hotel and gourmet restaurant rated with two stars by the most authoritative Michelin Red Guide to restaurants and hotel. Rooms start at 150 euro (which might be a lot cheaper than an equivalent hotel in Milano, especially if you visit a fair there, consider it for the Salone del Mobile, if you are a designer) and a lunch or dinner ranges from 70 to 120 Euros.
The village of Orta and the San Giulio island, with the Monte Sacro (Holy Mount) a World Heritage site of UNESCO, more than justify the journey and can fill up a whole day, walking through the woods of Monte Sacro, strolling though the village and looking at shops, buildings and people, eating a refreshing ice-cream and taking a short boat ride to the San Giulio Island.
Lake Orta lies to the west of Lake Maggiore, in the northern Italy. It is a minor star in the constellation of the subalpine lakes, but all the fascination and the history of the larger lakes seem to be concentrated in this short space.
Do not be ashamed or surprised if you have never heard of Lake Orta and Orta San Giulio. This is not know even by many Italians. Yet it has long been a favourite by discriminating for the quiet beauty of its landscape, its fascinating history and its wealth of artistic treasures – principally Romanesque and Baroque architecture.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, visited the lake in May 1882 and said that the experience changed his life forever. Indeed he inscribed the date “from Orta onwards” as a preface to his masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra. French famous novelist Honoré de Balzac, described the place as “grey pearl in a green jewel-box”.
I have been there few times before and choose to spend just a couple of hours thus taking the time to drive to Milano via the Mottarone pass and down to Stresa where I would reach the motorway.
You have to drive up the Mottarone, especially on a clear day to enjoy a stunning view over seven Alpine lakes of different size, two of them in Switzerland, with the white Alps as a background.
If the air is not absolutely clear you will still see the closest lakes Orta, to the west, and Maggiore to the East, The peak is at an altitude of 1491 metres.
From the pass you can drive downhill along a very entertaining private toll-road (where you will cross into very few cars) with a poorly maintained tartan surface that put to full test the suspension of the Alfa Romeo Mito, rich of hairpins and faster bends that you will love to handle with the agile and dynamic Alfa Romeo. I had a great fun.
Back on the motorway I checked the difference between the “Comfort” and the “Dynamic” driving model that let the driver choose the pace (performance and consumption) at the push (or pull) of a switch.
Well, I had a great day and should you have the chance to share my experience I am sure you will simply love it.