Alfa Romeo Mito 1.3 JTD Veloce (2010) review

By Tim Pollard 29 April 2010

By Tim Pollard

29 April 2010

The Alfa Romeo Mito has got under the skin of us here at CAR. We're starting to see them on the road in some numbers – helped no doubt by the smashing £8995 scrappage deal under recent Government incentives – and to these eyes it's the best looking supermini by miles. It's arguably the first car to dislodge the Mini from top-dog status.

We've tested it here in 1.3 diesel form. And first things first, it's not quite so attractively cheap here: £15,785 before options, which spiral to £18,095 with the addition of dual-zone climate control, leather, parking sensors and metallic paint.

So what's all the fuss about? Is the Alfa Mito really good to drive?

First things first. Soak up the stunning looks from all angles and then tug the door open. There are lovely handles that feel crafted from solid chrome (they're not) and the door flops open with none of the technical prowess that a Mini's would. It's a small detail, but a metaphor that keeps resurfacing throughout our week with the Mito.

Sink into the lovely (but optional) ribbed leather seats, fire up the engine and notice the digital Mito graphics that animate the dashboard. The 1.3 JTD engine has a rattly thrum, but soon quietens down once warm. You'll tell by reading dials that have a slightly naff typeface, but the effect of reading Giri and Acqua has a strange effect on many petrolheads...

Perky performance with responsibility

Why would you choose a diesel Mito? Especially one that costs so much? Don't forget our test car in Veloce spec is the top of the range model; the same 95bhp JTD starts at a much more realistic £13,960 in Turismo trim.

The reason you might consider that rarity of things – a diesel supermini – is the extraordinary emissions and fuel consumption it offers. Yes, yes, we know that small, light cars (the Mito pegs in at 1150kg) benefit less from going derv, but there's no arguing with the 112g/km of CO2 and 65.7mpg claimed economy. If you do high mileages, this car will save you a fortune.

Drive off, and the powertrain feels right. Although five speeds seem stingy nowadays, the transmission feels well geared to the engine and the standard stop-start mechanism works unobtrusively once you remember to select neutral at the traffic lights.

And that modest 95bhp is countered by a healthy 147lb ft of torque, percolating to the boil at just 1500rpm. It makes for a relaxed, perky drive. You'll still pick one of the excellent petrol engines, including the rapid, Mini Cooper-rivalling MultiAir, if you want aural thrills, but the diesel makes a strong case for itself.

So it's a new Alfa Romeo. Guess it falls to bits by the first corner?

Sadly, the ride and handling balance appear to fall some way short of the new Giulietta that got CAR's Chris Chilton frothing at the mouth. There's a slightly bobbly ride on the 17in alloys of our test car, but it's no worse than the bouncy, run-flat-shod Mini.

What lets the side down – and it's probably the car's biggest fault, more's the shame – is the communication of the chassis. Everyone who drove it felt the steering was downright strange. Alfa says it's fettled the suspension after the UK press roundly criticised the handling of the first Mitos, but there's still a strange lurching effect as you enter a corner, almost as if the front and rear axles aren't attached to the same car. It just doesn't feel very together.

You can play with the DNA toggle (Dynamic, Normal, All-weather) which tweaks the steering weight and throttle response, but it makes no difference to the inherent balance of the chassis. The Dynamic setting enables a much more urgent call to action from the accelerator that's entirely preferable to the stodgy standard setting.

Is the Mito very mini?

Not at all. The baby Alfa is back on the front foot with its accommodation. The driving position is essentially good (though taller drivers may find the clutch footrest too far forward) and there is a lot more space in every dimension than the cramped Mini.

Two adults can fit comfortably in the back seats (headroom ok, legroom tight for taller drivers) and the 270-litre boot is a good shape and size. In terms of daily practicality, it absolutely trounces the Mini.

Is it well built?

The Alfa Romeo Mito feels as well screwed together as similarly priced superminis. BMW's Mini does have the edge in materials and perceived quality of construction (I lived with one for a year recently), but the design flair of the Mito is light years ahead. This is a cabin that feels special. The only real criticisms in here are the dullard heating controls and some revolting Competizione fake carbonfibre dash trim. Looks cheap, reflects badly.

Verdict

The Mito is a flawed gem. It really gets under your skin and I'd buy one in a flash if were in the market for a supermini. From its offset number plate to its stunning looks, it's thoroughly Italian – just the sort of car Alfa should be building. It's let down chiefly by lacklustre dynamics and a few details (do we really want to hear an aftermarket beep every time we lock up and prime the alarm?).

But they're not enough to stop us loving the Mito. It's a supermini with real character. Bravo Alfa.

Statistics

How much? £15,785
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1248cc four-cylinder TD, 95bhp @ 4000rpm, 147lb ft @ 1500rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 112mph, 11.6sec 0-62mph, 65.7mpg, 112g/km
How heavy / made of? 1150kg/steel
How big (length/width/height in mm)? 4063/1720/1446

Ratings

Handling 3 out of 5
Performance 4 out of 5
Usability 4 out of 5
Feelgood factor 5 out of 5
CAR's Rating 4 out of 5

Rivals

Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • Alfa Romeo Mito. Is there a better looking supermini on sale? We don't think so
  • Alfa Mito prices have risen from the scrappage scheme's giveaway £8995 to a still attractive £12,445 in 2010
  • The cabin of the new Alfa Romeo Mito. A great place to sit, bar a few niggles
  • Shock horror! The back seats of the Alfa Romeo Mito actually fit adults. Try that in a Mini
  • Alfa's DNA switch. Rock back and forth to flit between Dynamic, Normal and All-weather. Wish Turin had picked a single setting that actually worked on the Mito
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  • The Alfa Romeo 1.3 JTD (2010): on CAR road test review
  • Alfa Romeo Mito. Is there a better looking supermini on sale? We don't think so
  • Alfa Mito prices have risen from the scrappage scheme's giveaway £8995 to a still attractive £12,445 in 2010
  • The cabin of the new Alfa Romeo Mito. A great place to sit, bar a few niggles
  • Shock horror! The back seats of the Alfa Romeo Mito actually fit adults. Try that in a Mini
  • Alfa's DNA switch. Rock back and forth to flit between Dynamic, Normal and All-weather. Wish Turin had picked a single setting that actually worked on the Mito