Judging by its bold front end styling, Alfa would certainly have us believe its new MiTo is the 8C’s little brother. And having one of the best-looking supercars in the family stable certainly won't harm the MiTo’s image. But has it got the dynamism and brio to take on the ubiquitous Mini? Time to head to Turin to find out.
I’m still not sure about that front-end treatment…
Nor are we. In much the same way that Jaguar made a pig’s ear of the X-Type by cramming every available XJ styling cue they could think of on a much smaller car, the MiTo’s son-of-8C hooter is going to seriously polarise opinion. For my money, both headlamps and foglamps are too far inboard, unfortunately emphasising verticality rather than width. I can’t help thinking of an Austin A40 whenever I see the car head on.
From other angles, though, the MiTo is a tidy piece of work, and the interior certainly offers the levels of quality and finish to take the fight to the Mini, which Alfa see as the car’s main rival. And that’s also why, though not on Mini scale, the MiTo offers a fairly high degree of personalisation potential through assorted dashboard and upholstery finishes (the soft touch carbon fibre dashboard is a nice touch) and various trims to the headlamp and tail light surrounds.
Cheaper than a Mini?
Certainly, a three trim level model price range of between £10,975 and £14,975 is highly competitive (and, it’s nice to see, very much on a par with European pricing), and there’s a choice of 1.4 16v and 120bhp and 155bhp versions of a 1.4 litre turbocharged petrol engine, as well as 1.3 and 1.6 litre turbodiesels.
Standard equipment and safety levels are suitably high with electric everything and air-conditioning equipping ever the least expensive models, whilst seven airbags fitted as standard signals Alfas intent to garner at least five Euro NCAP stars.
For now, the top of the range 1.4 TB Veloce we drove with 155bhp is a fraction down on the grunt of the most powerful Minis, but there’s a 230bhp GTA MiTo waiting in the wings which, if Alfa can control all that power through the front wheels, should furrow BMW’s brow.
Yes, but, being an Alfa, it’ll surely nail the Mini on the road.
Indeed, that’s a serious twin test waiting in the wings. Initial impressions, however, are somewhat muddied by the raft of new technology which Alfa have lavished on the MiTo, not always to good effect.
Most trumpeted is something called the DNA system, which is another take on the synchronisation of steering effort, stability control, throttle mapping and overboost through Dynamic, Normal and All Weather settings selectable via a rocker switch next to the gear lever. Then there’s a new shock absorber added to the Alfa’s modified Grande Punto undercarriage, which boasts a second, coilover spring within the tube, designed to do away with anti-roll bars, which the MiTo duly does without. Thirdly, there’s a new Q2 Electronic system, activated when you dial in the Dynamic setting, which, in braking the inner wheel under hard cornering to transfer torque to the outer wheel where the grip lies, acts as a form of electronic differential.
I’ll need longer, seriously bullying the car, to make a full assessment of the effectiveness of these systems, but one thing is immediately clear; the electronic power steering makes a poor playmate for the powertrain. It feels over-light, desperately woolly top dead centre, and communicates absolutely nothing to the driver. Even with the artificially added weight of the Dynamic setting it offers the driver no involvement. All those electronics may indeed push the outside of the MiTo’s dynamic envelope to a handsome degree, but if the driver of an Alfa can’t relish that through the helm, then the entire exercise is questionable, at best.
No Alfa soul, then?
There’s the pity, because the engine’s great. It generates 155bhp at 5500rpm and 170lb ft of torque at 3000rpm, chucking the MiTo from 0-62mph in 8 seconds dead and on to a respectable 134mph. Nothing much happens until the turbo wakes up at around the 3000rpm mark, but thereafter acceleration is encouragingly eager and feels nicely long-legged through the gears, whilst the noise, especially once you hit 5000rpm, is entirely pleasing. The gearchange itself is a little baggy and long in throw, but accurate enough to live with, whilst the brakes offer all the power and feedback you need.
So, a verdict?
More time with the car please, and a head to head with the appropriate Mini is essential. But first impressions are of a sporting little Alfa frantically trying to escape from beneath lashings of meddlesome technology which does its utmost to divorce the enthusiastic driver from what should be a thoroughly engaging drive.
I can’t help feeling that Alfa have tried to combine the brand’s core value of ultimate sporting prowess with all the high-tech toys necessary to seduce those currently running around in Minis – and mucked up the mix. That Alfa enthusiasm is in there somewhere, but it just never makes it to the rim of the steering wheel. I certainly can’t see a 230bhp GTA living with this steering system at all happily.