By on January 29, 2010

Today’s tester is a Red Alfa Romeo. So I really shouldn’t be telling you how its name is derived from the cities of Milano and Torino. I shouldn’t be revealing that it’s based on the Fiat Punto and I really needn’t elaborate about its underhood gadgetry, because in days of yore, “Red” was all you needed to know about an Alfa Romeo. On the other hand, to paraphrase Dylan, things have changed.

Alfa Romeo exists in that rare pantheon of automotive names that inspire blind devotion from enthusiasts of the world, by virtue of decades building cars that appealed to the soul rather than the mind. But today, everyone wants aircon, power steering and enough safety aids to land on the moon. Everyone cares about the environment, platform sharing, polar bears and electronic driver aids. Perhaps even more importantly, no one wants any of the notorious breakdowns Alfas are renowned for. So we need to talk about the sensible stuff.

Enter the Alfa Romeo MiTo, which along with the Alfa 159 sedan is supposed to give the Germans a good run for their money, and is positioned directly against BMW’s Mini Cooper. Ah, but the Mini already competes with the Fiat 500, you say. But the 500 is a mini-car, significantly undercutting the Cooper in size and price. The MiTo is bigger than the Mini, but it still stickers under the matching Cooper all across Europe. Will it ever land in the US? Time will tell, as Alfa Romeo could return to North America in 2011… provided it survives its “strategic review.”

The MiTo – introduced in late 2008 – is filling a long-gone slot in the Italian company’s offerings: the supermini, also one of the most important car segments in Europe. A spiritual successor to the 70s’ Alfasud? Perhaps, but this Alfa has a lot more to do with Fiat than what you think. Not only does it share its underpinnings with the Punto supermini, but it also shares many of its components – such as engines and transmissions – with other Fiat models. Fortunately, the sporty bits – such as the suspension and brakes – are bespoke.

You certainly can’t call a badge-job judging from the exterior, which is – even by Alfa standards – gorgeous. The front borrows heavily from the Alfa 8C Competitzione – so heavily, in fact, that the result is a nose that’s a little busy for such a small car. Nevertheless, the car in general is simply a treat to the sense of sight with a sexy sloping roof and the world’s first tasteful automotive application of chrome, which surrounds the round LED lights. It really is a car you could park in the driveway and stare at for hours, admiring its sculpted alloys and even the brake calipers, carefully inscribed with ‘Alfa Romeo’ in a beautiful script. A run-of-the-mill Punto? Not so much.

Enter the cabin, and the design festival lingers on. Talk about oxymorons – there’s (optional) dark-red-soft-touch-faux-carbon which looks and feels great. The sculpted dash hides some good looking, orange-glowing dials, and Benzina is surely the sexiest title ever to grace a fuel gauge. Honestly. There’s pleasant attention to details here as well: the air vents are coated with a gentle chrome application, the tachometer displays turbo boost pressure (with no conceivable purpose or measuring units) and the windows are frameless.

On the quality front, not everything is perfect. The faux-aluminum trim on the center console doesn’t look that bad, but that changes once you touch it. Worryingly, when applying slight pressure, it also squeaks. There are some low-rent plastics hiding beneath eyesight, and every left turn something that appeared to be a screw on the run rolled somewhere in the rear of the glove compartment. Small niggles notwithstanding, the MiTo’s cockpit has an air of quality to it, if not as impressive as some of Fiat’s recent products.

In the name of style, of course, the MiTo has only two doors. While it’s roomy up front, the back seats offer little in the way of legroom, and thanks to that great looking roofline, taller individuals may find that their head strikes the ceiling more often than it is socially acceptable. It gets worse in the trunk, which offers a miserly 9-and-a-half cubic feet of displacement. Alfa’s supermini, then, is (thankfully) a win of form over function.

You can have the MiTo with a variety of Fiat Group’s ubiquitous 1.4 gas engines (or MultiJet diesels), starting with a basic 90 bhp unit, but our kitted-out Veloce tester has the top-spec turbocharged version with no less than 155 horses. This isn’t the first time this unit impressed me, and it gets even better in the Alfa, where it has a fantastic, throaty soundtrack that makes it feel considerably larger in displacement than it really is. Even on stops it produces a lofty burble – none of that turbo whistling either.

While turbo lag is barely noticeable, this is still an engine that lives in the mid-range. Sure, it revs happily to 6,500 rpm, but it’s much more at home living on main street, where it oozes with torque. Disappointingly for a supermini with such levels of power, the MiTo completes the sprint to 60 in 8 seconds, but makes up for the spec-sheet disappointment with excellent mid-range performance.

Lo and behold, ladies and gentlemen – this Alfa has a third pedal and a genuine stick between the front seats. Not a Selespeed sequential, semi-automatic devil, but a plain and simple 6 speed manual gearbox that really compliments the MiTo. Thanks to the never ending supply of torque, there’s not much rowing to be done. You can put it in third while in town and forget it. The box itself is a pleasure to use, but it could use a slightly shorter throw.

The thick-bellied steering wheel holds a special meaning for drivers. But I was afraid. Recent Fiat group products left driving experience way down on their wish list. Would the MiTo be a commercialized Alfa – one that’s meant to be a cash cow rather than provide true driving excitement?

It was a relief to find out that the Alfa Romeo MiTo is more than capable of holding itself through the bends. Yes, the steering is numb and lacks feedback, but at least it’s precise. Otherwise, it’s plain, good hearted fun – the MiTo resists understeer beautifully and progressively, so you get sufficient warning before getting into tire-squeal territory. That’s thanks, in part, to the Q2 electronic limited slip front differential. It will even throw its tail out should you ask it nicely. Brakes are good, body roll is well controlled and torque-steer is nowhere to be seen.

The MiTo has Fiat’s variable-assistance electro-hydraulic setup, and in town the steering is alarmingly light – you really could make a u-turn by coughing in its immediate surroundings. In higher speeds, the steering stiffens and becomes acceptably weighted, but still errs on the lighter side and isn’t nearly as communicative as you’d expect from an Alfa.

The MiTo also has one more electronic trick up its sleeve – the DNA system, which allows you to choose between three different modes: Dynamic, Normal and All-Weather. It won’t turn the little Alfa into a giant roaring lion within the flick of a button, but it makes all the right changes in the right places. In Dynamic mode, throttle response becomes sharper, the boost pressure climbs and the steering gets some more rubbery resistance (which contributes nothing to its feedback abilities). Traction control and stability systems are set loose – but unfortunately, although granting a fair degree of freedom, cannot be fully disengaged.

On the open road, the MiTo is a mixed bag. On one hand, the suspension manages to flatten smaller imperfections, but bumps and potholes will bring it out of its serenity. While wind noises are kept at bay, there is constant tire roar in the cabin. Fuel consumption was impressive, with the MiTo averaging 20 MPG [Ed: "enthusiast mileage," not indicative of normal-use mileage] on our vigorous test route.

The Alfa Romeo MiTo isn’t a glorified Punto. Far from it – it is a car in its own right, with a different feel, appeal and character. If you look at it as a transportation method, it’s a surprisingly thorough package – even its major flaws aren’t deal breakers, unless you want extraordinary practicality from your supermini. If you look at it as a car, it’s a quick and fun warm hatch with styling panache and plenty of character – though it’s still not a thoroughly serious driver’s car. And if you look at it as an Alfa, well, it’s red. And that’s all you really need to know.

Vehicle, insurance and one tank of fuel provided by Alfa Romeo.

This review made possible by www.icar.co.il

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59 Comments on “Review: Alfa Romeo MiTo...”


  • avatar
    Morea

    And yet, unavailable for sale in the USA! C’mon Sergio, we’re tired of waiting!

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    It might just reach the US of A as the new Chrysler Neon. Just kidding, hehehe…

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    Wow, wow, wow! The Punto is already a glorious car. So you take a great car, and take that little bit of extra care. And I want one.

    And to be honest, didn’t even have to read the article (as fair and balanced as it is), when I saw this little car, well, it just pushes all the right buttons.

    Did I mention I want one?

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      “The Punto is already a glorious car.”
      Compared to? A Lada? The Tata Nano? It’s a tinny plasticy box. It looks ok granted, but I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the driving experience and spending a week in hired Punto was enough to put me off for life.
      This Alfa admittedly looks sexy as hell, but I just hope it is a tad more classy than it’s cheap and not so cheerful Fiat cousin.

    • 0 avatar
      FromBrazil

      As opposed to tinny plastic boxes from Lada, Dacia etc. It is certainly glorious. Not to mention similar, plasticky boxes from Renault, VW or Ford. Now compaing it to a Ford GT 40, hummm give the Ford!

    • 0 avatar
      ascaritim

      I am sorry but I am from the Uk and haveing looked closely at the Alfa Mito in no way can it be compared to a Dacia or Yugo. Alfa Romeo are well built and have superb interiors – My ten year old Alfa 156 performs excellently and has a rather lovely interior.
      Haveing driven a Grande Punto Diesel and my wifes 9 year old punto I can sey both perform excelently and compaired to a Ford Ka or Fiesta I preffer the Fiat. My Alfa 156 Veloce went to the body repair shop due to a very uncorteous driver I was given a Ford Focus Diesel as a rental car – The focus was new with a few hundred mile on the mileometer but compaired to my Momo Leathered Alfa it was Awful the Focus Plastic interior creaked the seats were unsuportive and the whole package felt cheap.
      I have owned 5 Alfa’s and they are reliable cars. Chrysler Sedan’s have been extremley boring thats the problem ! They couldnt sell then over her before the credit crunch only Jeeps did well – Look up the Jeep VM diesel engine an Italian Engine

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    This is truly the first small car I’d consider buying. It’s a tragedy for us in NA that it’s not available here. Great job Alfa.

  • avatar

    20 MPG is impressive? Typo?

    Must say I’m also confused by the idea of red soft-touch carbon fiber.

    • 0 avatar
      Tal Bronfer

      It is impressive considering the test route itself – twisty mountain roads and a pedal – mostly – to the metal. On a relaxed freeway cruise it shouldn’t have any problems reaching 27 MPG, although I haven’t made exact calculations.

  • avatar
    levi

    I WANT ONE.

    But they’ll never Federalize it.

    The front of that car is surreal.

  • avatar
    Ernie

    People are calling the panamera ugly?

    As soon as they ditch the “Pluto” nose like Subaru did on the “B9″, they’ll be onto something!

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      C’mon – that grille is a long-standing trademark of the brand, and I think they’ve done a really tasteful job of incorporating it into modern, sculpted bodywork. The Tribeca’s grille was a grafted-on nightmare by comparison.
      Actually, having a grille as a trademark had produced jealosy in other carmakers, who try to make their badges (I’m talking to you Peugeot) large enough to scare people.

      Kinda like an Izod shirt with a 4″ long alligator on it.

    • 0 avatar
      Ernie

      Okay okay, I see it now:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfa_Romeo

      But, those aren’t that bad . . . this one is “Tribeca Ugly” . . .

      It IS still better than the Acura “epic fail” corporate beak ;)

      I only know what you’re talking about (izod) because of my wife. If I had one, I’d sew an iguana over it :D

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    U.S. price? To be competitive, I suspect it would have to undercut the Mini.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    it needs fatter tires to ground it and make it more GTI-like in it’s stance, but it’s not bad.

    • 0 avatar
      FromBrazil

      @dswilly: May I beg to differ? Mo it doesn’t need thicker tires. This car is smaller than a Golf. And it’s in a league of its own. No need to replicate GTI. Its buyers want something far different from the Golf. That’s this car’s whole raison d’être. If you copy a VW, get the VW. This cars doesn’t need to, nor it should. When Italian car makers mimic the Germans they flop (see Fiat Stilo). They exist to serve an alternate universe that value ather things. No this is no GTI. And thank God for it. the whole different strokes for diffent folks thing.

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      In fact, it was BMW that copied Alfa’s Guilia in the 1960s and 1970s.

    • 0 avatar
      FromBrazil

      @Morea

      So true, so true.

      Where dou you hail from? You seem to understand the whole Italian car thing…

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      I am one of the small group of Alfa nut cases here in the USA.

      As we say here, “If its not Italian its just transportation.”

  • avatar
    GrandCharles

    lookin’ good! The design is sexy! The dash is a little bit bland but i like it

  • avatar
    NickR

    20mpg? Were you lapping Nurburgring at top speed?

    Anyway, I think it’s gorgeous. It actually managed to exercise restraint, and manages to look almost elegant AND sporty. When was the last time that happened? And I’d like to personally thank someone at Alfa for making the tail lights look like…tail lights, rather than a collection of lights from a pinball machine thrown together under a clear plastic shield.

    • 0 avatar
      Tal Bronfer

      Almost :)

      In all honesty, the test route was pretty fierce. While the official highway figure of 44 MPG is exaggerated, you can definitely clock close to 30 MPG on the freeway without trying too hard.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Nice looking car but what is with 20 mpg from a lightweight subcompact with a 1.4L engine? That is truly ridiculous mileage for this car. Midsize cars with 2.4 & 2.5L engines achieve considerably better city MPG. Before they even consider importing this car it needs about 50% better MPG. Most American consumers buy cars of this class for the MPG. At 20 MPG probably 90% of potential buyers would pass.

    • 0 avatar
      Tal Bronfer

      Please see my responses to NickR and Michael Karesh.

    • 0 avatar
      mtymsi

      Even 27-30 hwy MPG is terrible for this car, it’s again less than current mid size cars with considerably larger engines. The hwy MPG should be closer to 40. If the car is imported with this MPG level I think most potential buyers will pass because of the poor MPG. In the U.S. the vast majority of buyers in this segment place MPG as the #1 priority.

    • 0 avatar
      Tal Bronfer

      The official highway fuel consumption figure is 44 MPG. But official figures are almost exclusively optimistic.

  • avatar
    threeer

    God bless Alfa for maintaining a real sense of style! This would be a vehicle I’d be proud to have parked in my driveway. Always a fan of small, sporty hatchbacks, this one actually looks like so much more than just a practical commuter. A shame that it won’t see the light of day here in America…

  • avatar
    shaker

    This is a car that would have me considering having 2″ of my thigh bones surgically removed so I could tool around comfortably in that little gem – so I’m sorta glad that it’s not here. Of course, there’s the Brera…

    But the fuel mileage seems atrocious, however. We need you to go back and drive it “normally” and report back please. :-)

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    If this car comes to the U.S. and, as in Europe, undercuts the Mini in price then I will buy it. It’s that simple. But I won’t hold my breath. And, by the way, anyone who wants to stick bigger/wider tires on the MiTo clearly doesn’t get this car.

    • 0 avatar
      FromBrazil

      +200

      This is an Italian car. It’s no german or Japanese special edition. It’s a special edition (because it’s an Alfa) Italian car. If you know youur car history ou’ll see Italian car makers have always used the smallest thinnest tyre combos possible. Hey, it’s a way of life!

    • 0 avatar
      Contrarian

      +201. It’s hard enough to get a decent ride out of a small car without putting rubber bands on the wheels.

  • avatar
    hurls

    Not much to say other than, nice writing and….

    I want.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    FromBrazil

    You misunderstood me. I don’t want a “copy” of the GTI but only referenced its stance, but regardless of the cars size I think it would look better if it was grounded with a better wheel/tire relationship. The thing is most small cars do not have good tire to body relationships and look tipsy on their track, very few get this right, VW does with the GTI.

    • 0 avatar
      FromBrazil

      Hey, I get where you’re coming from. But then again smaller wheels have something for them too. Big, fat tire are good on dry asphalt or in the dessert. How often do you come against these conditions? Anyway, I think the Italians are right in resisiting this trend.

      Thou of course bigget tyres look better w/ those huge fender flares so prevalent today.

      Anyway, I don’t like tose huge wheel/tyre combos anyway. One more reason to go the Italian routr (for me anyway).

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      The VW may “look right” and appear to have been built with quality materials, but, for God sake, don’t make the mistake of buying one.

      That is unless you have masochistic tendencies.

  • avatar
    cherrera

    I’m a proud owner of an Alfa 156 2.5 V6, in Rosso Alfa, of course. It’s true, I always keep looking at it while I’m about to drive.

    There are few cars today that still try to appeal to your heart, and I’m glad to see that Alfa insists in this. I hope the brand survives…

  • avatar
    Robstar

    So I guess I don’t get Italian cars….

    0-60 in 8 ? only 155 horse ? only 20mpg? You must be joking. I wouldn’t pay anything for it.

    My sti has more power, significantly better 0-60 and regularly gets ~ 20mpg even when I hoon a bit.

    The only thing this thing might have going for it is MAYBE price….

    • 0 avatar
      FromBrazil

      It’s not the 8 sec. Rather, it’s how you get there. Its not the absolute hp, but how it’s delievered. It’s another state of mind.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      My Focus SVT hardly does any better than an 8s 0-60, but is plenty of fun for me. Drag racers won’t be looking at this type of car in the first place.

      Comparing this MiTo to your STI is like comparing your STI to an Audi R8.

    • 0 avatar
      Robstar

      Isn’ the R8 like > $100k ? Are you telling me my STi is $70k above the price of a Mito?

    • 0 avatar
      gsnfan

      I think he means that the MiTo is in a different league than your STI.

    • 0 avatar
      FromBrazil

      @RObstar

      Like totally different. This car doesn’t come close to the WRX. It’s another league. This car has a 1.4 little banger. And it compromises some performance in name of economy. Afterall it’s a sucompact by US standards. Go up to the big boys if you want a more level comparison. Which, BTW, you’ll never get. These cars compete on their own terms. And yes, the world is going German and Japanese. So be it. For those in the know…

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      Italian cars have something that a Subaru will never have… personality. That the MiTo is beautiful is icing on the cake.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    Fiat tested these in North America beginning in mid-2008. I had the opportunity to look over and test-sit one of these, as well as a 500. I’m 6’2″ and was quite comfortable in it. Surprisingly, its proportions seem much lumpier when viewing it in three dimensions; it actually looks better on the screen. My overall impression was that slots in between a Mini and a 1-series, which would be about perfect for me. Too bad we won’t get it.

    Honestly, I was equally impressed with the cinquecento, which we WILL get. It pulls off most of the Mini’s style with what will certainly be a much more attractive price point.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    I want to want an Alpha but this review has me thinking this is not the Alpha for me. I’m even the type to put up with a car that is “maintenance intensive”, but I want character. I want an Alpha that is beautiful (not sure if the giant overhangs on this qualify) and a real drivers car. If it was between this and a Mini, I’d still take a Mazdaspeed 3.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    it’s ugly… did you guys even look at it? Maybe a girls who is deciding between VW Beetle and this would like it.

    well, looks are subjective, but the round taillight? and Alfa/Fiat quality

    and the asymmetric license plate location?

    I really don’t like the Mini, but would prefer that over the Alfa any day.

    • 0 avatar
      FromBrazil

      To each, his own.

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      From the driver’s seat you can’t see what it looks like on the outside. The driver’s seat is where you should be in an Alfa.

      The “it’s ugly”, “the dash plastics are hard”, “I don’t like the colors” are what’s killing any sense of fun or driving pleasure on the US automotive scene. All the development money is spend on trivial things like the tactile aspects of the switch gear and not enough on driving dynamics.

    • 0 avatar
      Ernie

      If ‘It’s ugly’ stopped Americans from buying cars, Subaru would have very little business ;)

      And I’m saying this as someone who really likes Subaru (but realizes you have to get over some of the looks)

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      Last month I sold our 1998 Legacy. Other than AWD there was nothing (nothing!) to recommend it.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    It’s a marvel! Call it neon, give it a spunky quirky restyle(Dodge’s signature quarter-panel flair: edited a’la 1G neon coupé) and I’d wait in line.

    Chrysler could sell this car with very little restyling needed, and I’d personally call it Argon. What a noble little family!

    Jeep Xenon?

    Reboot the Hi/Yo campaign with a txt message running between the models.

    In this Alfa car, we can witness whimsy and fun being brought back to Chrysler. To this I say: Bravo! It’s about time. Germanic stodginess doesn’t suit them.

  • avatar
    Wheely

    That’s a great example of a small car, along the same lines of why the MINI is one, but this design is more attractive to my eyes. So I find myself wondering how wide I’d open my wallet for said “kitted-out Veloce” with the top-spec turbocharged 155hp engine. Seems to me that somewhere slightly below the Cooper S would be appropriate, say high $21K, low $22K?

  • avatar

    I do not understand the adulation for this car’s styling. It is one of the most hideous things I’ve ever seen, from any angle. I loved the looks of the 159 and 147, but this is just ghastly.

  • avatar

    As long as there isn’t the Alfa reliability (and since it’s a Fiat there shouldn’t be) it shall be mine if it is brought to the US. If it’s a Chrysler with ZERO changes I’d consider it. Hell badge it an Alfa and just Chrysler’s dealer network, whatever. Although it might make all the 300Cs and Sebrings sad to see a car actually selling…….

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    This is on of the most beautiful car on the market today.
    For you who says it´s ugly, look at this mail slot: http://www.lincah.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/2010-chevrolet-camaro-ss-front-angle-588×369.jpg
    That is ugly!

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I have to agree, this is one nice looking car and sounds like it’s quite a nice car to drive as well.
     
    That said, the one thing that has me hemming on Alfa is the front nose design of some of their current offerings. It’s not the grill, but what they do with the rest of the front clip treatment.
     
    That said, this might be something I’d consider if I were in the market for something over $20K.
     
    That said, the mileage figures, if in hard driving getting 20mpg, that seems low, even for spirited driving as stated in the post, I’d expect upper 20′s for spirited driving, unless this is spirited driving that mimics combined cycle at its worst, still, I’d expect mid to upper 30′s highway under more normal conditions.
     
    In any event, I wonder if being turbo’d and pumping out 155hp might have something to do with the mileage to a degree?
     
    One thing I do like is the dash with a hint of dark maroon on the top of it, a nice touch and a sight better than what you usually see, roughly the same color plastic all over in a harmonious, teutonic fashion as found in most cars and sounds like Fiat/Alfa Romeo is working other than our rational senses on this one.

  • avatar

    I’m an American living in Italy. I work in the film industry and we had an advance copy of the Mito before it hit market a few years back while I was on a project. When I first arrived on set I was like WTF and didn’t like the look of it. But the more I looked at it the more it grew on me and the one day I thought to myself “what a gorgeous, inspired and unique design”.

    I have one now and it just hit 10k so after that benchmark I feel that I’ve spent enough time with the car to adequately judge it.

    What can I say…I love it. It’s a blast to drive, mileage is good (about 37/38 on the freeway) and it just puts a smile on my face every time I step into it. I considered a Mini but I wanted something different. After seeing so many on the road the Mini just looked pedestrian.

    It’s well built and I’ve had no issues with it in terms of performance or reliability. No squeaks or rattling at this point. It handles great and the tech package is outstanding. It’s a car that wants to be driven hard which is one of the things that makes it so fun to drive. Only one flaw in the door handle but nothing that wants to make me complain. I was in the states recently and had a Toyota Camry for a month. Even though it’s a different class of car, and theoretically a great car it doesn’t even come close to comparing to my Alfa.

    I always wanted an Alfa but I was reluctant because of all the past problems the builder had. I decided to take the plunge and happy as hell that I did. So if any of you out there are a bit scared based on past performance stick you foot in the water and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how nice it is.


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