There’s a common perception amongst the world’s motoring communities that you can’t consider yourself a true petrol head until you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo. They bang on about passion and soul and how you buy an Alfa for the joy of having to fix it when it inevitably breaks down. I’ve never owned an Alfa (yet) but having driven the likes of the 159, the Brera and the GT over the years, I know what they’re like, somewhat.
They started when I turned their keys and they arrived at their destination in the same, working condition they left in. I was confused. Why didn’t I stop at the side of the road in the GT in a cloud of steam? Why didn’t the Brera’s bearings fall out from under the engine, and why didn’t the 159 spear off into a barrier as I thumped it round Kyalami?
Well, because rather secretly, Alfa Romeo set about fixing their problems a few years ago and today, an Alfa is no less reliable than a Coke is at quenching your thirst. Their range all but disappeared recently (along with some of their dealer network) but they are on the up again and the MiTo has been the car to spearhead the operation. Brace yourself, because this is a good one!
First, the name: MiTo. And yes, the capital “T” is on purpose, because “MiTo” is made up of the names of the places where the car is made. Milano and Torino, to be precise. Designed (probably) by someone who is more used to bathing a supermodel in silk, the sketches came to life in Milan. From there they made their way to the factory in Turin, and so the name was born.
Another thing that’s a given when it comes to an Alfa is beauty. Please point out any car ever to bear the Alfa Romeo badge and iconic heart-shaped grille that wasn’t pretty. That said, the MiTo isn’t, in my eyes, pretty though. It’s hot! It’s got the perfect mix of a “screw you” face, a chunky side profile and it’s all ended off in a cheeky, high-waistline arse. And if you go for this, the (deep breath) Quadrifoglio Verde Sportivo version, it’s perfect. If you still want more individuality, there’s a lovely options list with lots of different paint and finish options to make your MiTo stand out a bit more.
QV Sportivo is basically a shouty Italian way of naming this the MiTo “GTI”. It’s got badges with the Alfa four-leaf clover on the sides and a nice blacked-out lower rear bumper, which on the off-white car I tested, was perfection, especially combined with the gunmetal mirrors, rims and light surrounds.
Sportivo? Very-o! Believe it or not, the MiTo QV Sportivo has a 1.4-litre petrol engine. So you won’t be expecting much to come out of it. Happily though, the Alfa boys stuck a turbo to the side of it, so there is some decent torque and power for your right foot to play with. It’s actually ridiculous – the engine puts out a cataclysmic 125kW and 250Nm! From a 1400? That’s basically the same power you get in a MINI Cooper S, and that car is quick! Top speed is a claimed 219km/h and you’ll get to 100 in just 7.5 seconds. It feels like a 2-litre turbo, and had all my passengers wide-eyed in disbelief!
The MiTo’s engine also benefits from Alfa’s clever MultiAir technology, which, in order not to bore you, is basically a built-in wizard that puts a spell on the air the engine sucks in. Just take my word for it, it’s brilliant! And just when you thought “my goodness, Alfa Romeo has put a lot of things that can go Alfa-wrong into this car”, you’ll find a section in the brochure that goes on about the DNA system. Just another electrogadget? Not a chance.
Cunningly disguised as a shiny chrome sliding switch next to the gearlever, the DNA settings are literally mind-blowing. Defaulting to “Normal”, the engine actually has quite a bit of lag and offers smooth driving and easy gear changes. Exactly how you want the car to behave on your way home from a drab day at work. Shift it into “All weather” and nothing much happens, so forget about it (if you must ask, the traction control is told to be a little bit more German because you might be driving on a slippery road).
But oh my, taint the lever into “Dynamic” mode and you had better be wide awake (and strapped in) because now, everything changes. Throttle response is vastly improved, steering feel is meatier, the “Q2” electronic dictator comes into play and as a result, the power, oh boy, all the power is just there, waiting for you to poke it with a stick and shout at it! Switching to Dynamic while on the move highlights the change even more as you are physically shoved back into your seat. Put your foot down and the MiTo just wants to eat the road.
You’re probably wondering how bad the fuel consumption is as a result, and I don’t blame you because an engine this small that produces this much power has to have a big turbo. But, and you’ll love this, the MiTo is fitted as standard with Alfa’s Start&Stop engine control, which means that the engine switches off completely when you come to a stop at the lights, without interrupting anything. It only works if you come to a stop in neutral with your foot off the clutch, so you might need to change your driving style as I had to, but you’ll soon get used to it.
And once you see just how much it saves you in petrol, you’ll want it to work all the time. Sure you can catch the system out if you try and pull off too quickly but it is fairly fail-safe and isn’t affected by the odd accidental stall. When in Normal or All-weather mode, there is also a shift indicator to optimise your fuel usage. Alfa claims you’ll do 4.8 litres/100km on the combined cycle, and I think that may be a bit optimistic, if only because you just can’t help but drive the MiTo like an Alfa should be driven – with gusto! I saw the mid-sevens on average, which is acceptable in my book, especially because I drive like a petrol head most of the time.
Couple the maniac driving style to the hairy-chested exhaust note and glorious turbo dump noises and you have actually just been knighted as an official “Alfisti”. Every bit of the seemingly mindless ramblings of those who wear beards and have greasy fingernails at track days have all just come true.
Once your heart rate has calmed down a bit and you’ve regained composure you’ll find yourself sitting in snug comfort; I recommend cloth seats as leather will be a bit slippery for this car’s handling ability. The steering wheel is beautiful and awash with buttons (incidentally they are identical to those in the Fiat 500C and come with the same Microsoft foibles) and the dials are funky, Italian style. If you’re lucky and you can figure out how, you’ll even stumble upon the digital turbo boost gauge in the trip computer screen. The dashboard itself is even artistic, finished in a very realistic fake carbon fibre print.
Space wise, MiTo does fall down a little, though you’ll get enough friends in the back for a moderate trip (probably just to scare them with the car’s power) and the boot is ok-ish. The seats do fold forward, but then you’re not buying this car to start Mini Movers, are you?
At the end of my drive with the MiTo, I battled to sum it up. It was every bit as passionate and soulful and gorgeous as it was supposed to be and, after a week of driving and a decent dose of kilometres, nothing broke or fell off. Alfa is entering the second decade of the 21st century with fantastic new products (I’ll be reviewing the new Giulietta soon) and a new, clean page in its reputation. Couple that to the 30 000km service intervals (the largest in the industry) and Alfa’s improved parts supply in South Africa,