Alfa's Mini rival combines style and performance

What is it?

This, for many, is the spiritual successor to the Alfasud of the ‘70s and ‘80s, a car loved for its driving characteristics, but not for its durability. The name Mito combines the first letters of Milan (where the Alfa Romeo was conceived) and Turin (where the cars are currently made).

Alfa’s long awaited supermini is a sporty three-door hatch which the company claims “packs all of Alfa’s heritage and spirit into a four-metre length”. If all goes to plan it’s also the true beginning of the company’s fight to double its volume to 300,000 in the next couple of years.

Mechanically speaking, this is a car based closely on Fiat’s highly successful Punto (which also has the mechanical relationship with the Vauxhall Corsa) though Alfa have changed most of the permutations that matter: styling, seating, steering, engine spec, suspension bushes and rates, brakes, tyres. These all move right to the sporty end of the scale.

The car also gets a couple of important electronic driver aids: Q2, which delivers the effect of a limited slip diff by using the front brakes to take a spinning driven wheel; and what’s dubbed a ‘DNA’ sports switch, which gives the driver a chance to toggle between three settings - Dynamic, Normal and All Weather – which juggle steering effort, stability control and overboost according to road and driving conditions.

What’s it like?

Taken all round, it’s great-looking, enjoyable sporty little car. The styling strikes us as especially successful: the combination of key details (headlights, tail lights, grille, bonnet) that are directly influenced by the recent 8C Competitzione supercar, together with the naturally cheeky lines of a three-door hatchback, give this all the hallmarks of a car that will be instantly popular.

Alfa Romeo want to build 70,000 a year, with around 8000 earmarked for the ‘emotional car’ buyers of the UK.

The top-spec 155bhp Veloce feels instantly quick – a key Alfa brand requirement for a marque whose claims are based more on power-to-weight than brute horsepower. Kerbweight for the Veloce is 1145kg, 60kg less than the Mini Cooper S, but still nothing special.

The Mito Veloce’s tall sixth gear will take it to 135 mph flat out, and it reaches 62mph from standstill in 8.0 seconds dead. The turbocharged torque (170 lb ft at 3000 rpm) provides decent mid-range shove in every gear, yet the engine still soars sweetly to its 6500rpm redline. It sounds good too.

Indeed this small capacity turbocharged engine, which feels like a smooth and upmarket normally-aspirated 2.0-litre, is one of the Mito’s best features. The six-speed gearbox is serviceable enough, but it isn’t in the same class for speed or precision.

Handling is just what you’d expect, flat and grippy with very good resistance to understeer and stable responses when you suddenly ease the accelerator in corners, though the Mito can still tighten its line enough to make throttle-steering a worthwhile activity.

‘Dynamic’ mode makes the steering firmer and sharpens the engine response, while adding a few seconds of overboost. Torque steer is hardly an issue, but the price for that seems to be a certain disappointing dullness around the straight-ahead, the kind of thing which used to be normal with electric power steering set-ups, but has been eliminated from the best of them.

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Ride comfort is superficially fine. For a sporty car the Veloce is quiet but well controlled over suburban ripples, and demonstrates impressive body rigidity. It doesn’t roll much in hard corners, either, thanks partly to coil-over springs incorporated into its dampers.

But in bigger lateral bumps it occasionally runs out of front suspension travel and produces a resounding crash. More development needed.

As an all-round point-to-point choice, the Mito’s a good choice. It’s nimble, has power right through the rev range, great brakes and it’s small enough to pass people quickly and thread through gaps. And it cruises quietly.

The ride and steering issues disappoint, though, and you won’t find them in a Mini.

Should I buy one?

Looks a good proposition to us. The Mito looks great, has a cheerful simplicity about it and – for once – no major gaffes in its make-up.

It’s a decent choice for either a dyed-in-the-wool Alfisti or the less involved car buyer who just appreciates style and performance. Throw in the impressive standard equipment, big car cruising ability and comfortable cabin and you have an undeniably attractive package.

The new Mito may not take Alfa Romeo right to the pinnacle, but it demonstrates that the company has found the right map and is well advanced on the journey.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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Add a comment…
JimNiceCars 4 December 2008

Re: Alfa Romeo Mito 1.4 T-Jet

Not a nice car for me like many alfas of the past like alfettas or 75.. Best looking Alfa for me remain 156 and 147. In Italian production now I prefeer GPunto and 500 Abarth, and sure new Lancia Delta: hope Fiat give more space for Lancia and return here with that badge

garygrissom 2 December 2008

Re: Alfa Romeo Mito 1.4 T-Jet

Many will buy the Mito for the looks or badge alone, but I'm not holding my breath as to how well it will drive next to the new Fiesta/Mazda2. I think it may have a tough time next to those two cars.

However, I can't complain really - at least it's something different to consider.

Stevievsf 20 November 2008

Re: Alfa Romeo Mito 1.4 T-Jet

I saw the Mito in the flesh for 1st time at the London Motor Show. My 1st impressions were I felt it looked abit bulbous around the lights. I know they try to associate it with the 8c and maybe they didnt want to try to hard!

But on saying that, its a conversation piece and character. Love the rest of the car, pillarless doors always cool. Interior is a nice take seeing its based on the Punto.

Would I buy one? Well i was considering but couldnt wait and I'm just about to take delivery of Punto T-jet (although its taken awhile to be delivered!) which i prefer for its overall package. Plus i did own a 147 a while back and still get alittle retro-frustrated thinking back to dealers and their charges! (but thats why we love Alfas)

As I side, I saw an italian reg'd Mito last sunday at Greta Services in traditional Alfa red and it looked great. I think the small car sector is the most vibrant and interesting of all sectors and i hope the Mito does well.

I will be pleased to see them on the road