Alfa offers a tempting option at the premium end of the supermini market with its MiTo. June Neary investigates.
Will It Suit Me?
Alfa Romeo remains one of the most romantic names in the automotive world. To get a badge that holds a similar kind of emotional bond with enthusiasts, you've usually got to spend a lot more money than Alfa asks for its line-up of small and not-so-small hatchbacks and sportscars. So the image is good: the problem is that the reality has often been less so. Despite massive public goodwill, the Italian marque has rarely performed as well as other less familiar brands when it comes to volume sales. When the little MiTo premium supermini was launched in 2009, the idea was to turn that around. To some extend that's happened. Since then, the MiTo has sold steadily though not spectacularly, but Alfa has persevered with it, first introducing a range of clever MultiAir and TwinAir petrol engines and then, in early 2014, subjecting the line-up to a thorough facelift, inside and out. Personally, I've got to say, I love the idea of a small car from this iconic Milanese maker. If any brand can challenge the dominance of BMW's MINI in the market for trendy small cars, you'd bank on the effortless Italian cool of Alfa Romeo. The car will need to be good though and on first re-acquaintance with it, initial impressions were that it seemed to tick the right boxes. This is a model that looks and feels special, which is half the battle in the fashion-conscious corner of the market where it competes. The fact that it rides on the same underpinnings as the Vauxhall Corsa and Fiat Punto bode well for the rest of the package too.
Under the skin, this car is based on the old Fiat Grande Punto and there's certainly a hint of that surprisingly handsome supermini in this MiTo's profile. From other angles though, it has a look all its own, the three door-only design regularly lauded for its clean flowing lines and neat original detailing. Visual updates introduced into this facelifted version are relatively minor, comprising a revised chromed front grille, titanium grey headlamp and tail lamps surrounds and a sports rear bumper. The stylists' work has not been merely for show either. With a drag coefficient of just 0.29, the MiTo is an extremely aerodynamic vehicle. The interior has been given a rethink too, with improved materials used throughout and a dashboard that addresses some of the ergonomic issues of the old MiTo. The touch points in the car are notably better than before and there's now 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. I think I'd consider the interior of the MiTo to be the best in the current Alfa Romeo range. It seems strongly built and a variety of racy trim materials are employed to impressively up-market effect. The rear seats can accommodate two adults without much drama and the rocker switch in front of the gear lever that controls the DNA system is very nicely designed though the 270-litre boot is on the small side. So-called 'DNA' technology can adapt the MiTo's 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. All MiTo models come with a healthy safety provision that includes seven airbags, while a whole host of electronic driver aids are available on various models. These include ABS brakes, EBD brakeforce distribution, VDC Vehicle Dynamic Control, ASR anti-skid control, CBC Cornering Brake Control and DST Dynamic Steering Torque.
Behind the Wheel
The MiTo is good fun on the road, living up to its Alfa Romeo billing. There's a definite sporty feel to the way it stops, goes and steers but that comes with a ride that's on the firm side and may be too much so for some tastes. I didn't have too much of a problem with it and was impressed with the amount of grip and the lack of body roll when the car corners quickly. You can hear what the engines are up to and this might be off-putting for some, but I felt it was all part of the Alfa experience. The car has character - and there aren't many you can say that about these days. The MiTo range now comprises five turbo-charged engines; three petrol and two diesel units. The 0.9 TwinAir Turbo engine has been given a 20bhp shot in the arm, boosting peak power to 105bhp, translating to a sprint to 62mph that's 1.1 seconds faster than the previous 85hp version. The 1.4 TB MultiAir 135bhp (available with a manual or the Alfa TCT twin dry clutch transmission) and the 1.4 TB MultiAir 170hp QV engine complete the petrol line-up, while the diesel range consists of the 1.3 JTDM-2 85bhp and the 1.6 JTDM-2 120bhp powerplants.
Value For Money
Prices start at just over £14,000, which is more than you'd pay for entry-level versions of the MINI hatch, the Fiat 500 and the Citroen DS3, all boutique models with which the MiTo must outshine if it wants to claim sales. That said, you don't have to ascend too far up the Fiesta or Corsa ranges before you reach £14,000, and the MiTo looks to offer better value and higher equipment levels, model for model, than the mainstream brands. Figure that one out. The range now comprises four trim levels; Sprint, Distinctive, Sportiva and Quadrifoglio Verde (QV). All versions get Start& Stop, air conditioning, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, electric windows and mirrors, seven airbags, front fog lamps, a rear spoiler and alloy wheels.
Could I Live With One?
I like the MiTo. At the very least, it's a more original choice for those seeking a trendy supermini than the ubiquitous MINI. Ultimately, it's probably less accomplished than the MINI but the gap isn't as wide as you might think and the prospect of owning a genuine Alfa Romeo has got to count for something.