The Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.4 78bhp is small but is it perfectly formed? Jonathan Crouch finds out.
Ten Second Review
The improved Alfa Romeo Mito 1.4 78bhp is a likeable and economical small hatch that fuses high style with a low price. As good as it is though, it's worth springing another £1,600 and landing the pokier and much more efficient two cylinder TwinAir model.
Alfa Romeo is a brand on the up. After a few years spent seemingly uncertain of what it represented, the Italian company has returned to what it knows best - building sleek coupes and saloons and infectiously fun hatchbacks. The entry point into Alfa's revitalised line up is the revised Mito line-up and the first rung of the Mito ladder is this 1.4-litre 78bhp model. Can Alfa Romeo distil all of the brand identity into the cheapest Mito? It's quite an ask but the Mito range has been revised fairly extensively in recent times and there's a completely different trim structure. The eight-valve Mito 1.4 campaigns on a low asking price and stylish looks. Will that be enough?
If, like me, your memory of entry-level Alfas is of a fizzing and parping Alfasud, the Mito will probably come as a bit of a surprise. Despite its cheeky looks, it feels a good deal more grown-up than you might expect. This 78bhp 1.4-litre 8v model long ago replaced the old 95bhp sixteen-valve unit, which operated a little too close to the 105bhp MultiAir version for comfort. A retrograde step? In terms of straight line speed, quite possibly as the eight-valve car reaches 62mph from standstill in 13 seconds, which seems a little tardy given that Alfa Romeos are supposed to be entertaining to drive. Still, this Mito seeks to underline its sporting intentions with its DNA system. The technology can adapt the steering, throttle response and stability control according to the conditions and the driver's preferences. It can be set in Normal, Dynamic or All-Weather modes to help drivers get the most out of their vehicle. In Dynamic mode, the throttle is spikier and the steering weights up markedly but the Normal setting takes the edge off the throttle response for more relaxed driving. The Mito handles competently but can't match the fun factor of BMW's MINI with a ride that's less settled and steering that's not quite so communicative.
Design and Build
The visual changes made to this revised Mito are supposed to bring it into line with the brand's flagship Giulia saloon. Hence the revised front sports grille, the dark-finish headlamp bezels, the smarter rear bumper design and the restyled alloy wheels. Inside, all models get upgraded seat upholsteries, 'Uconnect Live' media services and a smarter finish on the centre console, dashboard and door trims. The touch points in the car are notably better than they used to be and there's a Uconnect five-inch, touch-screen infotainment system with voice recognition, Bluetooth, steering wheel remote controls, USB/AUX-in ports and optional satellite navigation. The driving position in the Mito remains lower and more sporty than you'll encounter in the majority of superminis but there's a good degree of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel so drivers can adapt it to their own tastes. The boot is fairly modest at 270-litres and there's quite a high lip which means items have to be lowered inside.
Market and Model
Although the Mito 1.4 78bhp isn't that quick, ask yourself what, for £13k, is that much quicker. Not a whole lot. A 1.2-litre TSI-engined Skoda Fabia would outdrag it, but these two cars aren't really competing for the same customer. A closer rival would be the MINI One, but that costs £1,000 more. Our preference would be to try and find around £1,600 more and get this car with the 0.9-litre TwinAir 105bhp petrol engine, which gives it the fashionable zip suggested by the arresting ooks. As for equipment, buyers choosing either powerplant can expect to find air conditioning, a leather steering wheel and gear shifter and Alfa Romeo's Uconnect five-inch colour touch screen infotainment system with Bluetooth, voice recognition, USB and aux-in inputs, plus steering wheel remote controls. In terms of safety, this base Mito is equipped with Vehicle Dynamic Control (stability, braking and traction control with hill-holder), TPMS (tyre pressure monitoring) and seven airbags, while its visual appeal is enhanced with 15-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler and titanium grey headlight and rear light surrounds.
Cost of Ownership
The main problem that this model's 1.4 8v unit faces is that its fuel and CO2 figures are fairly easily embarrassed by other powerplants in the range. It manages 50.4mg on the combined cycle and 130g/km of CO2. The 0.9-litre TwinAir Mito, in contrast, returns 67.3mpg and 99g/km and even the 140bhp 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol turbo variant with TCT auto transmission delivers 52.3mpg and 124g/km. Demand for used Mito models has proven strong and the resultant relatively beefy residual values have been a big draw for private buyers, especially when the cost of comparatively mundane rivals such as the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta has steadily crept up to match the Mito's asking price. Suddenly the Alfa looks decent value. Small wonder sales are trending upwards.
I don't think it's unfair to say that the Alfa Romeo Mito isn't best served by a 78bhp 1.4-litre eight-valve engine. While that assertion might sound initially damning, it's worth putting in context. This car is excellent value for money, being a more special place to sit than many comparatively priced rivals. The new trim structure makes sense and putting a bit of daylight between the entry-level engine and the 105bhp TwinAir variant also makes solid sense. Perhaps Alfa's issue with this car is that the TwinAir engine is too good. It really is worth forking out the additional £1,600 to land yourself a car that's transformed in terms of its ability to entertain - and after all isn't that what a small Alfa should do? So in isolation, the Mito 1.4-litre 78bhp isn't a bad choice at all: it's just that Alfa Romeo has a more tempting proposition that's worth saving a little harder for.