Alfa Romeo MiTo

The Alfa Romeo MiTo arrived on UK-shores earlier this year and it marks the Italian automaker’s return to the hot-hatch territory.

Starting at just £10,995, getting your foot in the door of your first Alfa isn’t as costly as you would expect, but truth-be-told, the real nature of the MiTo isn’t unleashed until you move up to the 1.4 TB 120 engine, the model featured in this review. This MiTo comes with the Lusso pack in metallic graphite-grey. This puts it right smack bang in the middle of the price range at £13,945.

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Alfa Romeo is pinning the MiTo to be an attractive option for young drivers with its low insurance group, sporty looks and pocket-friendly price. What’s of more interest to those looking at the MiTo is the trickle down of design elements inspired by the Alfa 8C Competizione, Alfa’s limited-edition supercar – so desirable that it was sold-out before the first one was even delivered.

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Put the 8C and the MiTo together and you start to see where some of the similarities can be drawn from the big headlights, rear LED lights and the sporty alloy wheels. Whilst the MiTo is no super-car, the engine options have enough kick to get you from standstill to motorway cruising speed in a very respectable time.

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Turn the ignition halfway and the dashboard springs to life with its bright red LED dials. Start up the engine and you hear the tune that can only belong to the MiTo. The MiTo’s designers have reduced the amount of tacky-plastic that appears in the cabin with the Competizione dashboard (not available on the entry-level MiTo) that adds a premium touch to the interior. But that’s what you expect from an Alfa – a complete driving experience both under the bonnet and in the drivers seat.

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Take a closer look and you start to notice the details. From the chrome DNA switch to the stitching on the leather steering wheel, the interior of the MiTo isn’t about how much tacky plastic or cheap switches you can fit in to the space. Everything from the adjustable steering wheel and air conditioning dials to the indicator and onboard computer controls have a good solid tactile feeling – reassurance for peace of mind.

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Your wheel options start at 16-inches and go right up to the 18’s. So depending on which one you go for you’ll either get a comfy ride or a back-breaking hard one. The Lusso trim comes with 16-inch Sport Alloy wheels – soft enough for bumpy roads and a notch above the standard 15’s you get on other cars. Move up to the Veloce and you get the 17’s which I didn’t find all that comfortable for Britain’s pot-hole filled roads. The ride was noticeably harder thanks to less cushioning from the thinner tyre wall.

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A new Alfa feature that makes its debut in the MiTo is the introduction of the DNA switch. This switch allows drivers to adjust the settings of the car to suit your driving style and weather conditions. The DNA setting comes in three flavours, Dynamic, Normal and All-Weather. Each setting adjusts the steering, throttle response and traction control delivering anything from seat-pushing acceleration in Dynamic to a little extra help with the brakes in All-Weather.

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Given Alfa’s premium sports-car heritage, it’s difficult to see that the MiTo would be geared towards the environmentally-conscious market. For that, you need to go to the Germans. Despite this, the MiTo can achieve an acceptable, 35-40mpg on a combined cycle. Cruising on the motorway will deliver an easy 50mpg but for stop-start city driving, fuel consumption can be as dire as 25-30mpg. But you’re not going to buy the MiTo with the intention of saving the world. So forget about all those numbers because the MiTo is about raw talented performance that brings you a true driving experience.

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With a Turbo Charged 120bhp 1.4-litre engine, you can get from 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds. Go for the 155bhp engine and you’ll get there in 8 seconds, phenomenal performance from a small hatchback and faster performance than other cars of this size and class. What it boils down to at the end of the day is those 8 to 9 seconds of pure enjoyment.

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Air conditioning. Check. CD player. Check. Six speakers. Check. Steering wheel controls. Check. The MiTo comes with a full complement of equipment that you would expect from any new car on sale today. There’s no iPod connectivity as standard on the Lusso trim, and even if you go for the Veloce model which comes with Blue & Me bluetooth and mp3 compatibility, it doesn’t support the iPod or iPhone. For that, you need to spend another £70.

What’s even more painful is the lack of an analogue auxiliary jack. This makes the in-car-entertainment system a huge disappointment for what seems fairly trivial and an obvious decision. What would have made more sense is to include a 3.5mm auxiliary jack for non-Apple devices and to include a USB port for iPod compatibility – even if it is an optional extra.

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An onboard trip computer provides you with vital stats to monitor your mileage in real-time, average mileage, distance travelled and Turbo boost pressure. Switch it to the latter and you get a funky graphical display showing you the peak boost. Most of the time I’m switching between this screen and the real-time mileage monitor.

Make no mistake about it, the MiTo is not going to be ideal as a family car. As a 3-door hatchback, there’s a reasonable amount of leg-room in the back, and the seats can fold down (if you can figure out how to do it) for extra storage but for practicality purposes, it just doesn’t work when you got passengers crawling in and out of the back seats.

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There’s enough storage in the boot for a decent amount of shopping but the boot lip is quite high, which will make it difficult for removing heavy items. Case in point when I brought home several bags of cement the other day – although this is unlikely to be a problem for your typical trip to the supermarket.

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The MiTo is shipping right now and if you’re in the UK, you can take advantage of the £2,000 deal from the Government scrappage scheme – which puts the entry-level MiTo at £8,995. There’s plenty of build-to-order options available on the MiTo but this can add several months to the delivery date with current lead times at 3 months. New Muilti-Air engine models are expected to arrive next year but Alfa aren’t taking any pre-orders for these yet or released pricing for the UK. For the best all-rounder, go for the 1.4 120 TB engine and you’ll be wearing a smug smile for many months to come.

2009-09-15 Onwah Tsang

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