The Alfa Romeo MiTo is four-years-old, so the Italians have given their smiley-faced MINI rival a bit of a makeover. When a car is this overtly aimed at glamorous young trend-setters and affluent down-sizers, it’s important to keep it bang-up-to-date, so there’s new tech in the cabin and the introduction of a fuel-sipping TwinAir engine.
Not much has changed on the outside, but we aren’t complaining too much. The MiTo already had a bold design, so fiddling with it would probably have been as successful as giving an ageing rocker some white veneers. There’s now a sport rear bumper as standard, the dark headlight tint from the Quadrifoglio Verde special edition, tinted rear windows and the option of a new Anthracite Grey paint job.
”Imagine the centre console has been dipped in red paint until half submerged…”Inside the MiTo the most shocking development is an ‘Evoluzione’ colour gradient dashboard. Imagine the centre console has been dipped in red paint until half submerged, and then whipped out again, and you get the idea. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but hey, this is an Alfa Romeo, so if you want an all-black interior, you’d probably go for the Audi A1 anyway. There’s also a new range fabrics and finishes for the seats and doors.
While the MiTo might trade some practicality for style, it’s still likely to be most customers’ only car, so it has to perform here too. Seating in the front is spacious, but the rear seats are for occasional use only, with a tight gap to get in and out and not much knee-room. It’s still slightly bigger than the MINI and three-door A1, but the A1 Sportback is more practical thanks to its extra rear doors. The MiTo and A1 share an identical 270 litres of boot space, but the MiTo loses points for having a very high loading lip to heave weighty items over. Both considerably outgun the paltry 160 litre boot in the MINI Hatch.
Performance & handling
“In most cars you’d pull over like a shot and call the breakdown people, praying the engine wasn’t toast.”The new MiTo TwinAir two-cylinder engine has 105bhp, which is impressive given that its 875cc size is more common on motorbike spec sheets than a supermini’s. To the uninitiated the drum-beat from the exhaust as you head off down the road takes some time to adjust to. In most cars you’d pull over like a shot and call the breakdown people, praying the engine wasn’t toast. But, once you are expecting it, the old-school engine rasp gives the MiTo a dash of character.
Revs rise and fall quickly, so you have to be in the right gear and keep the engine singing, particularly if the road is about to head uphill. The sprint to 62mph takes 11.4 seconds, beating the 1.2-litre Audi A1 TFSI, but trailing behind the 98bhp MINI One with its huge 1.6-litre monster truck engine, by one second.
The MiTo has plenty of grip from its 16-inch tyres, but its ride is too uncomfortable, and its steering is still the MiTo’s main weakness, and it’s a shame this couldn’t have been improved further for its refresh. Move the wheel just off centre and there’s a strange hole in its response, so then you turn more and the nose darts as if it’s trying to catch up. The three-driving-mode DNA system also frustrates, making the throttle too woolly in anything other than ‘Dynamic’.
Economy & environment
“With such a small engine, you do tend to give it the beans to travel at a reasonable speed.”The TwinAir is compelling here, with a 67.3mpg combined fuel economy beating the 1.2-litre A1 (55.4mpg), MINI Hatch One (52.3mpg) and even the 1.6-litre JTDM-2 diesel MiTo, which is costlier to buy and fill-up. Its 99g/km of CO2 also makes the MiTo TwinAir free to tax, unlike its main competitors. It’s worth noting, however, that actually achieving that fuel economy figure is difficult. With such a small engine, you do tend to give it the beans to travel at a reasonable speed, which saw the economy readout tumbling during our test drive.
Equipment & value
The big news for gadget fans is the arrival of the Uconnect infotainment system, available with or without TomTom sat-nav. There’s a 5-inch screen for operating the radio and a connected smartphone or media player and it has a USB and Aux-in connection. Bluetooth with audio streaming and SMS text-to-speech are included. The sat-nav in our test car worked faultlessly and even alerted us of Italian speed cameras, but the screen is noticeably less sharp than most decent tablets.
“The sat-nav in our test car worked faultlessly and even alerted us of speed cameras.”There are three trim levels available, Sprint, Distinctive and Sportiva, with the most obvious distinction being a step up from 16-inch alloys to 17- and then 18-inch wheels, as well as the inclusion of a Comfort and Sportiva pack. The Comfort pack has a front armrest, cruise control, rear parking sensors, lumbar adjustment and an extra 12v plug, while the Sportiva pack adds Satin effect door mirrors, headlight surrounds, door handles and a rear spoiler.
With a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, the MiTo is a strong supermini, with seven airbags and seatbelt warning indicators for all occupants, as well as ABS and stability control systems.
With Alfa Romeo revelling in the launch of the stunning 4C sports car, it almost feels as if the MiTo revisions have been a bit half-hearted. Despite the steering, DNA system and ride quality being criticised by the motoring press since its launch, these parts of the car remain its biggest flaws, which is a shame. The interior improvements and Uconnect system are welcome, but will they be enough to compete with a brand new MINI in 2014? The Audi A1 already has a superior cabin. The latest TwinAir motor is impressive, with 20bhp more power for no economy penalty, but the MiTo is still a hard car to recommend when the competition is so strong.
Model tested: Alfa Romeo MiTo Distinctive
Engine: 0.9-litre TwinAir
Acceleration: 0-62 in 11.4 seconds
Top speed: 114mph
Emissions: 99g/km CO2