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The Alfa Romeo Mito is a usable, fun package, even if its DNA drive modes can prove frustrating

Before the Alfa Romeo Mito name was confirmed, Alfa’s new baby went under the codename Junior – a nameplate steeped in Alfa folklore. But at the last minute, Mito was chosen as it represents Milan and Torino where the supermini is designed and built.

Maybe Mito kept the marketing men happy, but Junior would have nicely defined what the Mito is about and what Alfa hopes it will achieve. And it would have satisfied the Alfisti, the legion of Alfa fans which the firm holds dear.

The Mito is a stylish alternative to the Fiat 500 and Mini

The Mito is Alfa Romeo’s first true supermini since the Alfasud, its 33, 145 and 147 models having been aimed at the larger family hatch market. And along with a new segment, Alfa is gunning for a new type of customer, one younger, hipper and, although cognisant of the Alfa brand, perhaps not so tied up in its history. 

Alfa, in short, wanted to produce its own Mini – with which any similarity in the name is purely coincidental. Has it achieved it? Up to a point. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the Mito’s designers have managed to include significant 8C Competizione styling cues in a small package, which is no mean feat. Good practice for when Alfa distilled the 8C's looks for it smaller sibling the 4C.

While the exterior draws generally positive comments, the interior styling is less cohesive, and get closer to the cabin materials and its evident quality is someway off that of the Mini. Or even the latest batch of budget small cars from Korea

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Models produced in late 2013-onwards received a range of dash panels which vary depending on trim level. In 2016, Alfa further refined the Mito's DNA by giving some exterior tweaks, including to the rear bumper and grille up front. Inside was also given a new lease of life with 5.0in touchscreen infotainment system and driving modes synonymous of its more expensive siblings. It seems unlikely that any further updates will arrive, though, with Alfa choosing to concentrate on the Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon and Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUVs instead.

The Fiat Group’s 1.4-litre Multair engines form the mainstay of the line-up, and are available in 138bhp and 168bhp states of tune. The turbocharged, four-cylinder unit suitably flexible and refined. The latter is something that is hard to apply to the TwinAir engine. The two-cylinder unit has plenty of character, but sounds thrashy and requires constant gearchanges to get the best from it. Heading the range is a naturally aspirated 1.4-litre petrol engine followed by a 103bhp, turbocharged 0.9-litre unit.

Better is the diesel unit, which now ships in 94bhp 1.3-litre capacity. This was a 2016 engine update which gave the Mito more power than its predecessor and produces less emissions than before. It is also an adequate performer - in respect of performance, economy and performance – as long as the rev counter doesn’t stretch to the extremities of the rev range.

Ultimately, the Mito’s dynamics are hampered by the standard-fit DNA system which cycles through three drive modes, altering the steering feel and engine outputs. Coupled with an over-firm ride and vague steering, the Mito fails to match the fun demeanour of the Mini.

So the question is, does Alfa Romeo’s flair, character and heritage compensate for a number of obvious shortcomings?

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Alfa Romeo Mito review hero rear

Alfa Romeo was upfront and honest in saying the Alfa Romeo Mito has styling inspired by its 8C Competizione supercar, and there’s nothing wrong in that. 

The hope is clear: that Mito buyers, even those who opt for the lower-powered models, will get just a little of the supercar experience. Whether you buy into that, or whether the Mito shape proves appealing, is entirely subjective, but from our experience it’s at least an eye-catching car.

The badge doubles as the boot release. It helps to keep the lines clean.

The response from people who see it is almost universally positive; anecdotally, women preferred the front, men the rear. Should you wish, there is scope to personalise your Mito from a catalogue of stickers including a range of cloverleaf or Italian flag stickers, á la Fiat 500.

At the back, the badge doubles as the boot release: it’s a nice touch and helps to keep the lines clean. A rear spoiler gives the Mito a slightly more purposeful look, it’s standard on all models too.

A mid-life nip and tuck in late 2013 saw the introduction of a new grille, rear bumper, tinted glass and different coloured light surrounds, a further facelift was carried out in 2016 in a similar vein to the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, which consisted primarily of tweaked interiors and exteriors, and new trim levels.

Underneath the unmistakably Alfa styling, the Mito is based on Fiat’s Punto platform, co-developed with General Motors and used in the Vauxhall Corsa

Although the basic suspension configuration of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the back is unchanged, the Mito runs a wider track front and back, and employs adjustable dampers with coil-over springs.

INTERIOR

Alfa Romeo Mito review cabin

The effort the Alfa Romeo Mito design team put into matching the interior ambience to the kerbside appeal is obvious. Despite the lack of subtlety employed by the red and black dash of the basic trimmed models, it does offer a sense of occasion.

The two-piece dash is not understated, but it at least looks upmarket. However, it doesn’t take long to focus on the confused mix of generally hard plastics that clothe the dash, doors, centre console and A-pillars.

The Blue&Me Bluetooth MP3 and phone system isn't as intuitive as it should be.

Overall, though, the interior is not styled as cohesively as the exterior. Or the Mini’s.

The driving position is generally good, but is spoilt by a few small flaws. Alfa should be applauded for a seat that allows the driver to sit sufficiently low, a rare thing in this class. Its also a feature buyers of sunroof-equipped models will be grateful for – the arrangement robs an inch or two of space. 

Nevertheless, the feeling of sitting in the car rather than on it immediately helps deliver the sporting ambition Alfa is so keen to provide.

More good news is that the steering wheel can be brought close to your chest. But the rake adjustment disappoints by keeping the wheel a touch high, and the mechanism itself feels rather flimsy. Further niggles are an awkward clutch footrest and seats that, although good to look at, could be more supportive.

Rear accommodation is not hugely spacious, but two six-footers can sit in line, although it’s unlikely they would want to travel any great distance.

There’s 270 litres of luggage space, which is over 100 litres more than that of a Mini Cooper S but fractionally less than a Ford Fiesta and some 30 less than a Renault Clio

The Mito's trim levels have been significantly simplified from the past, with four options to choose from - Mito, Super, Speciale and Veloce - essentially mirroring the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Alfa Romeo Giulia ranges.

Entry-level models benefit from 16in alloys, a rear spoiler, chrome exhaust and heated, electrically-adjustable wing mirrors, while inside there is air conditioning and Alfa's 5.0in UConnect infotainment system complete with Bluetooth and DAB radio.

Upgrade to the Super models and you will find bigger alloys, front fog lights, cruise control and rear parking sensors included, while opting for the Lusso pack on top gets you climate control, heated front seats and leather upholstery.

Speciale trimmed Mitos get more sporty details including sports seats clad in Alcantara, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, copious amounts of red stitching throughout the cabin, 17in alloys and red brake calipers.

Opting for the range-topping Veloce Mito gains you Brembo piston brake calipers, sat nav, adaptive suspension, 18in alloy wheels and twin chome exhausts.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

11 Alfa romeo mito review on the road

The Alfa Romeo Mito engines range from an 875cc two-cylinder to two 1.4-litre turbocharged fours and a 1.3-litre turbodiesel.

The range centres around a pair of 1.4-litre TB Multiair petrol engines. The low-power unit develops 135bhp at 5250rpm and 152lb ft at 1750rpm, while the high-power version develops its 170bhp at 5500rpm and 184lb ft at 2500rpm.

Stop-start works really well, especially as the engine is refined on start up.

Both engines offer excellent flexibility and economy. Variable air intake technology means that you can use fifth gear at 30mph around town at just over 1000rpm and the engine never feels as if it is about to stall; it still offers acceleration.

Benchmark performance figures are competitive, with 0-62mph times of 8.4 and 7.4sec and top speeds of 129 and 136mph for the 135 and 170bhp versions respectively. But that high power engine comes with a significant price penalty as it is only offered in the range-topping Veloce model - previously known as the Quadrifoglio Verde.

The other petrol-powered engine is a version of the Fiat Group’s Twinair engine. Tweaks launched in late 2013 saw power climb from 85bhp to 105bhp, with comparable on-paper running costs. To the ears of an enthusiast, the engine sounds characterful and is keen to rev, but to others it is noisy and coarse.

It makes best use of its power high in the rev range (peak power comes at 6500rpm), but it runs into a soft rev limiter shortly after. Changing up drops the car to around 4000rpm, creating a very narrow operational rev band.

The JTDm 1.3-litre diesel was recently revised so now it produces 10bhp than before - now a heady 93bhp and produces lower emissions too. The engine is sufficiently refined until demands are placed on it high in the rev range, when it becomes noisy.

Unfortunately, the abilities of all engines are often masked by Alfa’s DNA system - a creation, we suspect, of Alfa’s marketing men. A toggle switch gives the Mito driver a choice of three modes: Dynamic, Normal and All-weather, each changing the electric power steering, dampers, throttle map, traction control and, on turbocharged models, the boost pressure. 

It is the throttle response that causes most frustration. In normal mode, it is very spongy and requires a lot of travel before the engine finally responds. Dynamic mode improves it dramatically, with a much more immediate response that is easier to modulate. Why the throttle response isn’t always in this setting is a mystery.

RIDE & HANDLING

12 Alfa romeo mito review static front

Dynamically, the Alfa Romeo Mito doesn’t even meet the class standard, let alone our hopes for a brand as illustrious as Alfa. It has some good points: it grips strongly, changes direction well and entertains if pushed. But there are some crashing inadequacies.

First, the ride quality is poor. Over large potholes the Mito is relatively supple. But it takes only the shortest drive for the real problem to become obvious: a restless patter that stays with you regardless of speed. And show the Mito a challenging road and there’s too much rear axle movement.

Torque steer is very evident, especially if accelerating hard from a standstill on wet asphalt.

The second issue is the steering, which is lifeless just off centre. The steering also suffers from two imperfect DNA modes: Normal is too light, while Dynamic feels springy. In either mode there isn’t much in the way of feedback, and the assistance is inconsistent especially a few degrees either side of dead-centre in Dynamic mode.

The third mode, All Weather offers a disconnected feel that is rare in any small car, let alone one that sells on Alfa’s sporting heritage.

In the 170bhp 1.4 TB petrol models, the DNA system also configures the adaptive suspension. Here, oddly, Dynamic mode is preferable to normal, even in town. 

By selecting normal, the car keeps its softer setting unless it senses that the driving style demands otherwise, but its extra suspension rebound actually makes for a less comfortable ride, even if occupants are more isolated from breaks in the road surface. The firmer setting in dynamic helps eliminate the rebound and the dampers still effectively cushion occupants from most of the Tarmac’s imperfections.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Alfa romeo mito review hero front

With base prices that start from well under what it requires to get into a Mini, the Alfa Romeo Mito is positioned as a premium small hatchback. 

Economy of the Multiair engines are impressive, with around 50mpg claimed on the combined cycle depending on trim level and transmission. In any configuration, CO2 emissions are rated at a reasonable 129g/km.

Although our test average of 36.1mpg fell short of the claimed 47.1mpg, it's still a good result given the performance available.

Diesel day-to-day running costs are even more tempting. The 1.3-litre unit boasts a claimed average of 83.1mpg and emissions of 89g/km, while the two-cylinder TwinAir 0.9-litre engine records 67.3mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of 99g/km. 

Running costs are further boosted because service intervals are a generous 18,000 miles, rising to 21,000 miles for the diesels.

All Alfas are well-equipped with most models getting alloys and every one getting air conditioning. The Mito has a decent roster of safety kit and gets a full five star rating from Euro NCAP.

 

VERDICT

Alfa Romeo Mito review static side

The Alfa Romeo Mito has a great deal going for it and a fair amount resting on it. As Mini has shown, the logic behind a small, fun, affordable car from an iconic brand is sound. 

With the Vauxhall Corsa/Punto platform and engine selection there's the basis to create an interesting and rewarding car. And unmistakably Alfa Romeo styling brought bang up to date helps in a market where the key purchase decision is based on its visual impact.

The Mito offers great engines in a usable, fun package, but the DNA system frustrates.

And in some respects it’s a charming car to drive. The DNA system is a nice try, but we’d swap the variability for one setting that works really well. The big disappointments, though, are the damping and steering, both of which are frustratingly unresolved.

More than the problems these issues cause in isolation, it is the fact that they cheapen the overall feel of the car that most damages the Mito’s case.

The use of Fiat’s Multiair engines is also a big plus, you’ll get a perky, refined and economical engine. But there are significant dynamic – and financial – risks with choosing the Twinair. And it’ll take many, many miles before the price premium makes the diesel models pay. 

Still, the Mito is a likable hatch which is also equipped, good looking, cheap to run and practical. But it is those dynamic flaws which make it a class also-ran in a congested segment headed by the Ford Fiesta and Mini.

 

Alfa Romeo Mito 2009-2018 First drives