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WHEREFORE ART THOU ROMEO?
Published on Tuesday 21 May 2013 11:07
Alfa has entered 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 saloons hatchbacks, coupes and convertibles. So the image is good: the problem is that the reality has often been less so. The Italian marque hasn't performed as well as other companies with massively less public goodwill behind them. The hope is that the MiTo supermini can be the car to turn Alfa's heritage into profit.
I've got to say, I love the idea of a small car from Alfa. 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 acquaintance it seems 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.
There is a hint of Grande Punto about the MiTo when it's viewed in profile but the three-door version of that car is regularly lauded for its clean flowing lines and the Alfa inherits these while taking things further with some neat original detailing. Around at the front, Alfa fans will be reminded of a model from the opposite end of the motoring spectrum to any Fiat - the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. The MiTo has a similar nose to Alfa's 450bhp supercar with its protruding grille and teardrop headlights. Apparently, from the inception of the limited run 8C, the plan was always for elements of its striking styling treatment to find their way on to Alfa's volume-selling small car. 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 of the MiTo could well be 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. The 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 has a wide range of engines to call upon, divided into normally-aspirated petrol units, turbocharged petrols and common-rail diesels. The entry-level choice and the most affordable way to get yourself into Alfa's baby is the 1.4-litre 95bhp petrol. Then there's the 1.4-litre TB petrol engine that made its debut in Fiat's Bravo and is offered in 120 or 155bhp forms. These turbocharged options may be small but they're a great solution for a small, fast car in the modern marketplace. They even make a decent stab at following Alfa Romeo's tradition of sweet sounding, high-revving petrol powerplants. The 155bhp unit in particular urges you to close in on the 6,500rpm redline. The diesels are the excellent 1.3-litre 90bhp unit that's found in various Fiats and Vauxhalls, plus a powerful 1.6-litre that has 120bhp and a hefty 320Nm torque rating.
Value For Money
The MiTo is offered in Turismo, Lusso or Veloce trim, in that order of plushness. Even the basic models get air-conditioning, remote central locking, electric windows and a CD stereo but you'll need to upgrade to the Lusso if you want the alloy wheels which are really a must on a car like this. The Veloce model has lots of design touches added on to improve its looks and a Bluetooth hands-free phone kit.
The Mito is predictably priced at a premium over mainstream superminis but not a huge one. From a value perspective, it makes a sound case for itself.
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.