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Comparative Test: Alfa Romeo Mito QV vs Opel Corsa OPC vs VW Polo GTI

by CAR magazine on 01/06/2011

Comments: 9

At A Glance

Make ALFA MiTo OPEL Corsa VW Polo
Retail Price R269 585,00 R259 790,00 R293 900,00
kw 125 141 132
Torque 250 230 250
Top Speed 219 225 229

SAY what you will of boxing; call it barbaric or vulgar, but there is something compelling about a hard-fought rivalry coming to blows. In the realm of performance cars, as in the world of pugilism, heavyweight bouts are often dull, one-sided affairs – rivals competing on power alone seldom make for a thrilling contest.

The lightweights, on the other hand, are a different story. Agility and boxing clever – pardon the pun – suddenly come into play and the challenge heats up. So the stage is now set and the new Volkswagen Polo GTI, with its twin-charged engine and dual-clutch transmission, has arrived to take on the stylish Alfa Romeo Mito Quadrifoglio Verde (QV) and an old-school slugger in the Opel Corsa OPC. Yes, there are three opponents. Yes, the inclusion of a third combatant would suggest more of a spandex-clad, theatrical wrestling showdown, but the analogy is set and our challengers are spoiling for a proper punch-up – let the battle commence!

It’s fair to say these three present very different takes on the hot-hatch formula. The go-faster treatment applied to the GTI is about as conservative as it gets. A subtle body kit, honeycomb grilles, a modest smattering of GTI decals, red pin-striping and 17-inch alloy wheels are closely derived from the Golf GTI’s items and merely hint at the performance on offer.

This softly-softly approach is echoed in the cabin, where pianoblack trim inserts, a supremely comfy set of leather/Alcantara sport seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a spot of red stitching are the only go-faster giveaways. Although the cabin is rather sombre and dark, the perceived quality is excellent and the GTI exudes a big-car feeling of solidity. The five-door body shape may not have the same visual impact as the rivals’ three-door layouts, but at least access to the admittedly cramped rear doesn’t demand any gymnastic contortions. What is surprising, however, is that the GTI’s more practical body shape plays host to a boot appreciably smaller than those of its rivals.

There’s something to be said for the GTI’s “speak softly and carry a big stick” approach to hot-hatch execution, as it’s often considered poor form to blatantly advertise the power on offer. It’s neat and upmarket, but it does want for a sense of occasion.

The same could not be said of the Mito QV. Love it or loathe it, the Alfa, with its curvaceous bodywork, pod-like brake lamps and that sweeping nose tapering into the signature shield grille, is an attention-grabbing mite. Much like the GTI, this car also wears its performance credentials in a relatively subtle manner – a neat set of titanium grey 17-inch alloys, gunmetal headlamp surrounds and a brace of Cloverleaf decals on the front wings – but they occupy a more visually engaging canvas than the conservative Polo.

The cabin is something of a mixed bag. The burgundy carbonfibre- effect trim that graces the upper facia and door inserts is a visual treat, as are the sporty dials. Things begin to go awry when that cheap-looking centre facia and door panels, and glitzy gear knob stray into the picture, but at least the cloth-covered sports seats are supportive and look the part. It is graceful and eye-catching, and the slightly dainty air to the Mito’s packaging, which may not endear it to some hot-hatch enthusiasts, could broaden its appeal to an audience potentially put off by the brash connotation that hot hatches traditionally carry.

Then there’s the Corsa OPC – conservatism or grace simply don’t register here. Where the GTI and QV stand as modern iterations of the hot-hatch genre, the OPC is an unashamed anachronism that proudly wears its hot-hatch credentials on its sleeve. The triangular exhaust set amidst the faux rear diffuser, bumper gills fore and aft, 18-inch alloys shod with low-profile rubber and a peaked cap of a rear spoiler make no visual attempt to pander to the softer side of hot-hatch motoring.

It’s brash and bold, concepts that translate into a particularly tasteless interior. There’s something refreshingly obstinate about the Recaro seats – an inclusion that screams “comfort and practicality be damned!” and serve up lowslung and well-bolstered perches. But those high-gloss finishes, gaudy switchgear and a steering wheel/gear knob combo that cater more to sporty looks than ergonomics don’t do the cabin any favours.

The OPC’s hard-hitting persona is complemented by what lies under the bonnet. Serving up 141 kW and 230 N.m of torque, its turbocharged 1,6-litre engine is the most powerful and, arguably, the most vociferous of the trio. That bassy rumble and whoosh of induction noise gives the impression of the car being considerably faster than it actually is, but there is a surprising amount of top-end flexibility that allows you to cleanly accelerate in sixth gear when you’d normally consider dropping a cog.

With 132 kW produced by its 1,4-litre engine, the GTI appears down on power, but it counters the OPC’s noticeable turbo lag by utilising VW’s innovative Twincharger system – a set-up that endows the engine with plenty of low-end grunt when the supercharger is on song before seamlessly switching to the turbocharger higher in the rev range. The result is satisfyingly linear power delivery akin to a normally aspirated engine that helps to shave almost twotenths of a second off the OPC’s 7,85-second 0-100 km/h sprint time. If there is a black mark against the GTI’s engine, it’s the sound; performance-orientated small-displacement powerplants can be vocal, but the coarse engine note permeating the GTI’s cabin doesn’t sound all that appealing.

With 125 kW on tap, the Mito QV appears to have been left in the shade in terms of sheer punching power, but that’s not to say that the turbocharged 1,4-litre unit is a bad engine … far from it. Although it lacks the low-end shove developed by the GTI’s supercharger and the OPC’s additional 208 cm³ of displacement, it has a punchy, eager nature above the 2 300 r/min mark – keep the revs up and it’s happy to play. The MultiAir intake valve-control system also gives the little powerplant a handy 15 per cent hike in torque to the tune of 250 N.m. Alfa fans will also be delighted by the sonorous engine note, which adds to the little Italian’s already considerable character. The six-speed manual gearbox has a short, direct throw and the clutch is easily modulated, making smooth progress the order of the day and contrasting with the baulking action of the OPC’s clutch with its high biting point.

Although the performance figures in the spec boxes suggest that these cars are closely matched, a brief stint at Killarney Raceway in Cape Town did see the Mito driven onto the ropes by its opponents. Our test unit was fitted with optional SDC adaptive suspension which, despite stiffening the dampers, left the Alfa with a lot of body roll (that is perhaps accentuated by a relatively high driving position). The standard dynamic-steering torque system was a similar story; it lent a bit more weight to the otherwise light steering but felt over-assisted when cornering at speed. Combined with strong-acting but relatively soft-feeling brakes, this set-up meant that the QV didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence when tackling more technical sections of track and responded better to a more measured approach, but at least the limited-slip differential provides decent traction.

If the QV felt subdued on the track, the OPC was the polar opposite. Mashing the throttle would see the steering wheel squirm as the car’s copious torquesteer made itself known. The grip served up by the fat 225/35 tyres is impressive, the steering has a satisfyingly meaty feel and there’s hardly any body roll. The OPC feels more at ease with being manhandled than the QV, sitting flatter and more stable in the corners. It’s not the fastest of our trio, but the bellowing engine and stiff suspension impart a feeling of pace that the others can’t replicate.

There is, however, a disconcerting skittishness about the car when barrelling into a bend at high speed – a trait that, combined with the taut chassis and torque steer, acts as a reminder that you have to fi ght with this car to earn the respect it demands.

Neatly straddling the gap between the hard-nosed OPC and soft QV is the clinical GTI. Having dealt with the eccentricities of the former combatants, driving this car in anger is a strange experience. The steering is typically VW, being well weighted but not overly communicative, and the suspension sets just about the perfect attitude between competition and comfort. There’s hardly any body roll; you glide into the bends and appreciate the good grip on offer, and there’s no fight or fright with the steering. In fact, you often think you’re not hoofing it as much as you were in the others until you look at the speedometer and realise that you’re carrying appreciably more speed into corners – it may not feel it, but this Polo is fast. The transmission generally lends itself well to spirited driving – you can stick it in Sport mode and leave the ‘box to hang onto ratios for longer and downshift more aggressively, or tug at the steering-wheelmounted paddles – but most of the team felt that a well-sorted sixspeed manual would give the car a more involving nature. Driven aggressively, the GTI feels effortless and flattering, but also somewhat cold and clinical – a trait that may endear it to those looking for a more forgiving hot-hatch experience but could equally distance it from those after something more stirring.

You’d think the Mito QV’s corner would be ready to throw in the towel at this stage, but, with nine-tenths of your time (in pugilistic parlance, that’s roughly 10 of the 12 rounds) spent on public roads, the Alfa steels itself and comes out swinging. While the QV’s adaptive suspension may not have helped its composure on the track, the on-road experience is a revelation. Its supple, composed ride eclipses the bearably firm GTI and the veritable jackhammer ride served up by the OPC’s stiff springs and low-profile rubber on 18-inch alloys.

The fact that the Opel’s slim Recaro seats offer your posterior little respite from its ride, combined with that ungainly clutch and squirming helm, mean its inability to tone down its loutish nature around town ends up costing it points on the judges’ score cards. As an everyday runner, the OPC is just too demanding.

You could easily drive the GTI on a daily basis – the ride, while stiffer than the Mito QV’s, is comfortable enough and it exhibits the reassuringly solid bigcar feel for which the Polo range is renowned.

The GTI’s seven-speed dualclutch transmission is an unorthodox choice given most manufacturers’ propensity to fit manual gearboxes to their hothatch offerings. As with many dualclutch set-ups (see our technical article on dual-clutch transmissions on page 130), its execution is a mixed success. The gear changes are very smooth but, because the transmission’s software often attempts to speculate what the driver’s next input will be, it can pre-select the wrong gear. A prime example is when you encounter inclines and declines: if your driving style had been quite aggressive in the previous 30 seconds or so and you’d braked hard before the change in inclination, the transmission tends to grab third gear and hang onto it in anticipation of further spirited driving. Gentler braking, or a tug of the upshift paddle, would quickly remedy this, but you get the impression that it’s a transmission to which the driver has to adapt. Given the need for total driver control that this ilk of car demands, it’s perhaps not the ideal set-up. In its defence, the adoption of an auto means you don’t have to wrestle with a heavy clutch and a manual gearshift in traffic.

On the road, the dynamic disparities evidenced at Killarney begin to fade away. The Opel’s brute strength counts for little here and its ungainly low-speed demeanour does it no favours. The Polo’s well-balanced underpinnings and neutral handling mean that everyday driving is a pleasant, albeit uninvolving affair, while the Alfa’s lighter steering and cossetting road manners transform from weak points to major pluses that combine with its character to make the QV the most enjoyable to drive in everyday conditions.

As the cheapest of the threesome, and having taken a few knocks off-track, the OPC looks as though it could fare better in the value-formoney stakes, but you can never call a fight before the final bell.

Being halo models in their respective line-ups, all of the cars are well equipped. The only optional extra available to OPC buyers is metallic paint, but the specification is otherwise comprehensive – there’s even the standard inclusion of a tyre-pressure-warning system, which can’t be had on the others. In terms of fuel efficiency and emissions, the OPC fares the worst with an average consumption figure of 9,5 litres/100 km and CO2 of 190 g/km. The GTI is the second most expensive car here and features a long list of standard kit, including all of the cosmetic go-faster accoutrements (metal pedals, tinted glass, etc.), which are optional on the Mito QV. It returns the best fuel consumption fi gure (7,02 litres/100 km vs the Mito QV’s 7,2 litres/100 km) and beats the Alfa in the emissions stakes with a CO2 figure of 134 g/km.

At this point, conventional wisdom would suggest that the traditionally depreciation-prone Alfa would be on a hiding to nothing, but this is where the gloves come off and the fight gets interesting. To get the Mito to GTI spec will push its price up to around R277 000, but it features Blue&Me Bluetooth with USB interface (not available on either of its rivals), engine start/stop (again, exclusive to the Italian), curtain airbags (a R2 570 option on the Polo and also standard on the Corsa) and dual-zone climate control, as opposed to standard air-con on the others.

These extras may not prove to be enough to make the QV a better buy than the GTI, especially given the VW’s strong brand cachet, but both the Alfa and the OPC have a round in their salvos that hurts the GTI: standard service plans. It’s difficult to believe that VW would sell its range-topping Polo without this feature. The QV’s service plan spans six years/90 000 km and the OPC’s three years/60 000 km. To equip the GTI with an OPC-rivalling five-year/60 000 km service plan would cost R10 160, while a fiveyear/ 90 000 km add-on closer to the QV’s would require an additional R13 158.

It’s difficult to ascertain just how much of its value the GTI will hold second hand but, if the previous model’s track record is anything to go by, it should be strong. The OPC holds a reasonable amount of its value, with twoyear- old models fetching around R210 000. The QV and its lesser siblings seem to be bucking the usual Alfa trend of woeful resale values. In our March 2011 issue’s Buying Used Top 12, respected independent used-car dealer Mark Levin noted that improvements in Fiat’s service network had seen Mito resale values holding firm.

TEST SUMMARY

The OPC is the first to hit the canvas. There’s no denying its power and alluring old-school nature, but it wields its performance at the expense of everyday usability and comfort.

Few would have thought that the QV would run the GTI close, but its combination of character, sound specification and good road manners make it a distinctive proposition. The only area where it falls short is outright power and dynamics, so it emerges from this contest bruised but not disgraced.

The GTI is the last man standing by virtue of its all-round abilities. Its engine possesses enough punch to fend off its rivals, there’s an effortless manner about its ability to handle aggressive driving and enough kit and everyday comfort to make it a pleasure to live with. In fact, its only black eye is the lack of a standard service plan.

One thing that has emerged from this surprisingly hard-fought match is that the definition of a good hot hatch has moved from single-minded performance at any cost to versatility in all fields. It’s a trait neatly summed up by the Polo GTI.

AT A GLANCE
Price 0-100 km/h Power/Torque Top speed CAR fuel index Taxable CO2 rating Fuel route
Polo GTI R259 000 7,68 secs 132 kW/250 N.m 229 km/h 7,02 L/100 km 134 g/km 7,8 L/100 km
Mito QV R265 625 7,89 secs 125 kW/250 N.m 219 km/h 7,2 L/100 km 139 g/km 7,6 L/100 km
Corsa OPC R259 790 7,85 secs 141 kW/250 N.m 225 km/h 9.5 L/100 km 190 g/km 8,3 L/100 km
SCORECARD
Polo GTI Mito QV Corsa OPC
Ride and comfort 12/15 12/15 11/15
Packaging 12/15 11/15 10/15
Performance 15/20 14/20 15/20
Dynamics 15/20 14/20 15/20
Fuel efficiency 7/10 7/10 5/10
Value for money 14/20 15/20 15/20
Total 75 73 71

Prices And Specs

Make ALFA MiTo OPEL Corsa VW Polo
Model MiTo 1.4 MultiAir Quadrofoglio Verde 3-dr Corsa 1.6 OPC 3-dr MY10.5 Polo 1.4 TSI GTI 5-dr DSG
Retail Price R269 585,00 R259 790,00 R293 900,00
kw 125 141 132
Torque 250 230 250
0-100km 7.5 7.2 6.9
Top Speed 219 225 229
Fuel Type Petrol Petrol Petrol
Fuel Consumption 8.1 9.8 7.5
Tyre Size Front 215/45 R17 225/35 R18 215/40 R17
Tyre Size Rear 215/45 R17 225/35 R18 215/40 R17
Rear Tyre Size Width 215 225 215
Rear Tyre Size Profile 45 35 40
Rear Tyre Rim Size 17 18 17
Spare Tyre Size T135/70 R16 N/A - Tyre Repair System Space Saver
Tyre Pressure Monitor No Yes Yes
Wheelbase 2511 2511 2468

Safety And Features

Air Conditioner Automatic Manual Automatic
Audio System CD Frontloader CD Frontloader CD Frontloader
Rev Counter Yes Yes Yes
Gearbox Manual Manual Electronic
ABS Brakes Yes Yes Yes
Power Steering Yes Yes Yes
Seats 4 5 5
Steering Wheel Heated No No No
Speakers 6 7 6
Colour Coded Bumpers Body Colour Body Colour Body Colour
Leather Trim Optional Partial Full
Alarm Yes Yes Yes
Anti Skid Control Yes Yes Yes
Electronic Defferential No No Yes
Gears 6 6 7
Height 1446 1488 1452
Onboard Computer Yes Yes Yes
Immobiliser Yes Yes Yes
Split Rear Seats No Yes Yes
Brake Assist Yes Yes -
Electric Seats - - -
Cup Holders Yes Yes Yes
Electric Mirrors Yes Yes Yes
Electric Windows Front Front Front Rear
Airbag DPS DPS DPS
Doors 3 3 5
Airbag Driver Yes Yes Yes
Airbag Passenger Yes Yes Yes
Navigation System No No -
Park Assistance Optional No Optional
Side Impact Protection Bars Yes Yes Yes
Sunroof Optional No Optional
Fog Lamps Front Yes Yes Yes
Fog Lamps Rear Yes No Yes
Headlight Type Halogen Halogen Halogen
Towbar - No -
Payload - - -
Bull Bar - - -

  • Amupolo ndeshipanda

    Now why is the opel more expensive if its performance is very low?

  • Ruan

    fool. Its only R790 more than the polo, and its performance is, for all practical purposes, the same as the others.

  • Toscanofigueira

    Lets be fair and imparcial! We live in acountry where VW rules in everything… seems that it has shares here! VW monopoly at S.A. Sad!

  • Anonymous

    This looks like a very fair and impartial test to me. Are you perhaps implying that Car magazine is not fair and impartial? Read the last paragraph again and you will see that it was a hard fought match. IOW the win was close but the winner is still the Polo. By deciding that all VW’s are rubbish you may just be the one that’s not fair and impartial. Some VW’s are quite good and some of them (like the Polo GTI) are best in class. And if I remember correctly the current COTY as chosen by the very people whose job it is to evaluate cars is also a Polo(shared with a 530d)

  • Anonymous

    The Polo and Mito are both very good competitors, both of them are welcome in my garage. I would go for the Alfa if it was just about emotions. But the Polo has the looks of a true hot hatch and the performance to go with it. In the end when I have to pay with my own money I would probably opt or the German. That OPC is also not to shabby either.

  • saburger

    Why is the Polo steering wheel not in the middle of the driver’s seat?

  • Joe

    Blablabla…….get off the VWagen!!!!!!

    • Jacque

      It is the best here!!!!

  • http://www.pgti.co.za/pgtiownersclub/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=300 Hendrik Vermaak