The new entry-level hatch from Italian style queen Alfa Romeo is heavy in features and fancy trimmings and light on fuel. But on the road, it’s also light on substance.
Alfa Romeo MiTo Sport Overview
The long-awaited substitute for the diminutive 147 was unleashed in late 2009, and has much of the current Alfa stable’s quirks and features. There is no mistaking the styling, with a tight, sharp silhouette and interior reminiscent of an aeroplane cockpit – the private jet kind.
In fact, the name MiTo is a mix of Milan and Turin, the home of Alfa design and industry, respectively.
Unfortunately, when the wheels start rolling, it is almost as useless as its forefather, the 147, in the handling and dynamics department. History repeating…
Alfa Romeo MiTo Sport Engine
The Alfa’s 1.4-litre direct-injection four is pushed along nicely by a turbocharger, developing only 99kW at 5250rpm, but more importantly, 230Nm of peak torque from just 1750rpm.
Weighing in at a teeny 1167kg, the light little hatch sips just 5.5L/100km combined, and the green-conscious will be happy with a five-star rating and very small 128g/km CO2. However, it requires 95RON premium fuel to do so.
Alfa Romeo MiTo Sport The Interior
The three-door-five seat hatch is deceptively roomy inside; for the front row at least. But this is typical of a three-door hatch, and the MiTo is on par with its competition as far as the second-row goes. The styling and sloping roof sacrifice some rear headroom, and the rear seats are typically awkward to access for the taller adult.
In the front, however, the trim is lavish. Sporty dials are set in a carbon-fibre fascia, and the little DNA button by the shifter to change the car into different modes (see On The Road).
The stereo has steering wheel buttons, Bluetooth and iPod, and automatic speed/volume adjustment, while auto rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, and cruise control remove the need to really do anything. Or want for anything - leather seats and trimming is the only option on the Sport spec, and may make up for the cloth-trimmed test car’s total lack of side bolstering, which is most noticeable around the bends.
Safety is commendable, with seven airbags (including a driver’s knee ‘bag), ABS, EBD, BA, and traction/stability control, and reverse parking sensors as standard.
Alfa Romeo MiTo Sport Exterior & Styling
It’s all about the styling with Alfa, and this car has it. While you have to like the Alfa look, and get used to those huge doe-eyed headlights, the car certainly stands apart and out on the road.
Sitting on big, scalloped 17-inch alloys with red brake calipers behind the spokes, the Sport lets its namesake known The nose is bulbous and the front grill looks small in comparison, framed by those deer (in) headlights, while the back of the car appears more understated and looks quite pert.
Metallic paint and a sunroof are the only options – what you see is what you get.
Alfa Romeo MiTo Sport On The Road
For a short-wheelbased car, the MiTo feels stable and compliant. The 17-inch rims and rubber do chatter with feedback, but it isn’t uncomfortable or annoying, and the engine is quick enough to respond and wind up when asked.
Unfortunately, the TCT gearbox is still underwhelming. The 2010 MiTo had a six-speed manual transmission, but 2011 model year updates have changed the range - the Sport now comes in TCT only, while a six-speed manual is available in the more powerful QV top-shelf model, and a five-speed manual as well as a TCT is available in the base MiTo.
The manual would be far preferable to the dual-clutch semi-auto gearbox of our test car. It is easily confused on part-throttle, and at low revs or in traffic it’s downright frustrating.
One way to fool it a little is that DNA switch by the shifter that we mentioned earlier. The DNA system (Dynamic, Normal, All-weather) is essentially a driver-selectable electronic map change system, tweaking the electronic programs controlling the steering, suspension and gearbox to match whatever the driver or road demands.
Combined with Alfa’s Active Torque Transfer System, an electronic diff to push or cut power to wheels that either have or are lacking grip, and the Dynamic mode can mask some of the gearbox’s tardiness. But a ‘dynamic’ drive, it is not. Throw it in, and the stability systems crack down like a nun’s ruler at a Catholic school. And despite the tricky diff, it still defaults to pushy understeer every time. Again, we wouldn’t normally be too concerned in a small front-drive luxury hatch, but this is the ‘Sport’ model.
Without the demands of ‘sportiness’ or stop-start traffic, the vehicle is pliable and easy in the higher gears and on the highway. Good cabin soundproofing (NVH), driver aids such as cruise and auto windscreen washers, and the excellent stereo with voice control make the longer hike quite effortless. We are used to cars of this size being hollow, Spartan transport – not anymore.
Alfa Romeo MiTo Sport Challenges
For $35K, you can buy a Commodore or Falcon. While the MiTo has very few optional features and loads of standard goodies, the base line price is still a little wince-worthy. The fuel figure is set on premium fuel, and the car’s urban consumption is nearly 8L/100km – and this is where it will most likely be used. And at nearly eight seconds to 100km/h from standstill, it isn’t fast, either.
Then there’s its face... the MiTo is polarizing in appearance, and while it stands out from the whitegood hatches, you either love or hate its surprised expression and bulbous nose. And WHY have only a dual-clutch gearbox on the Sport model?
Alfa Romeo MiTo Sport Verdict
You either love or hate the Alfa Romeo brand. The marque has many ardent fans and great brand retention in the sports models, and the Italian carmaker has come a long way since such travesties as the Spider. The 159 Diesel is a super car, and the 8C Competizione is stupendous.
But like the beautiful Brera, the Mito Sport is lovely to behold, but bland to drive, and leaves us feeling a little cheated after stepping out of the driver’s seat, with what was promised before you stepped in.
Alfa Romeo MiTo Sport The Competition
Audi has brought out an A1 Sport, which is far superior to the MiTo. Its lovely super/turbocharged engine is sublime, and the standard seven speed dual-clutch semi-automatic blows the Alfa ‘box away, and its electronic LSD is a bit smarter and offers good traction. However, the A1 Sport is $42,500, a $7500 premium over the MiTo.
The other obvious competitor is the Mini Cooper S. Even in the base model, the standard specification rivals the MiTo, and the pricing is on par – however, the S’s turbocharged engine sets the tag at $43,050.
If you’re after Italian flair in a tiny package with a little less punch, a MiTo sibling, the Fiat 500 Sport, runs the same engine and gearbox without the turbo for $26,990.
And then there’s the real killer, the Volkswagen Polo GTI. It shares the same twin-charged engine and gearbox as the Audi A1, comes in three- or five-door configurations, has pretty good spec, and costs just $27,990.