Yes, yes, yes, oh yes: good looking, stylish interior (for a cheaper car) and good handling.

Oh dear me, no: horrible 0.9L twin air, twin clutch not up to par, five-speed in 1.4L and too expensive.

Like all twinks, MiTo is cute and eager, if a little lacking in some areas. Being Italian, he has a certain amount of flair but performance could use a bit of gentle guidance by an experienced hand. He has things almost right, but not quite. He is a little bit Kobayashi Maru if you know what I mean, you just can’t win.

I like MiTo. It is a fun little thing that really wants to do its best to please. The handsome exterior won’t appeal to everyone but I thought it was sweet and unfettered. The front end is cute in a slightly awkward way. Alfa Romeo hasn’t gone down the “great big ugly gaping grill and humungous headlights” route like most other European and Japanese models. Instead, there is a restrained and classy look that manages to include Alfa heritage in the familiar grill and badge. At the same time, modern headlights look crisp and retro. The rear is as simple and efficient as a hatch can be, with a couple of simple round lights and a badge.Alfa Romeo MiTo Distinctive 1.4 MultiAir TCT (3)

For those who like a little chilli with their spag-bol, you might be disappointed. MiTo won’t be breaking land speed records any time soon, especially in the catastrophic two-cylinder guise. What it will do is short city runs because you’ll never get comfy enough to do anything longer. It is a long way from the Alfas of the past. I say this because I fondly remember getting driving lessons in an Alfa Sud, a car of roughly the same size. Like the MiTo, it needed a bit of welly to get it moving, but it went round corners like a fat kid on cake. It never felt like letting go and although you knew there were cars that handled better, you were perfectly happy just as you were. You didn’t have a choice of engines and the trim levels didn’t matter much either, because in those days you were lucky to have heater, non-vinyl seats and carpet.

Things have changed since then and the interior of Alfas has a few bells and whistles just as a modern boy would expect. The seats are nice cloth with leather in the top of the line, and who doesn’t like leather? I was miffed to find no auto wipers/lights or rear sensors on the bottom model since it is meant to be a premium range. Still, I mustn’t grumble, that is of course if I don’t mention the engines.

The new entry level twin-air has a truly diabolical 0.9L two-cylinder turbo engine. It allegedly has 77KW but half of them must be in a gift box hidden under a cabbage leaf somewhere. In order to get it going you have to stick the boot in, and when I say in, I really mean a thorough thrashing. No sooner are you moving, and you hit the rev limiter that doesn’t just stop the revs from going up, but robs you of the power you want. This is very annoying in corners and often very inconvenient as well. Halfway across an intersection is not the time to run out of puff, and because it only comes in a manual, you also have to quickly shove it into the next gear to avoid a bus ramming up your clacker. Annoyingly, because the engine sounds so strange, you can’t tell by ear what the revs are. There is the labouring sound you get when you’re not giving it enough stick, but in fact you are nearing the rev limit. Against your years of driving experience, it’s the time change gears up a cog. Yes it uses bugger-all fuel and yes it emits under 100gs of ugly greenhouse gas, but for god’s sake what good is it if driving it is so unpleasant you’d rather catch a bus?Alfa Romeo MiTo 0.9 TwinAir manual (3)

The entry level .9L model costs $22,500 plus on-roads but for an extra two thousand you get two more cylinders, rear sensors, auto lights, auto wipers, and an electrochromatic rear-view mirror. It is small change considering you get an extra 22KW of power as well. Parking without sensors went out with flared man-made-fibre pants and we were not amused. Sensors should be a safety requirement and cars without them should be cast into the Pacific.

All models have a cosy, if plasticy, interior. All models have the U-connect system common to most Fiat-Chrysler models. The seven-inch touch screen is easy to use and importantly has bluetooth which won’t break your brain trying to connect. I like this design very much but some other aspects of the cabin could use some attention. It is about the same size as a Mini without making you feel cramped as the Mini does. Also, the switches are easy to use and all the dials are in the right place. I like Minis very much but the toggle swtiches and centre dial drive me mad because they are a retro step too far. They weren’t good in the 60s and they aren’t good now.

The MiTo feels classy for a reasonably priced car, but this isn’t a reasonably priced car. It is a premium car from a premium maker. The “Progression” (middle of the range) adds rear sensors, auto wipers, auto lights and an auto-dipping rearview mirror as well as the 1.4 turbo with four cylinders thank you very much. The top model, the “Distinctive” adds leather seats and a better stereo but is $28,500 plus onroads.

The Distinctive only comes in the twin-clutch auto that has the six speeds I require. However, Alfa’s twin clutch feels a bit wrong and that’s all there is to it. Having said that, if I had to live with it I could, but I would always feel like I made a mistake in not taking the next model down to get a proper clutch with which to play. The only way to make the twin clutch bearable is to use the paddles to change up. There’s more: the 1.4 turbo only has a five-speed manual as the other option, so although I get my clutch, I’m short changed by at least one gear. My despair was growing.

Although I enjoyed short drives despite not being able to get the seat right, longer jaunts needed frequent stops. No matter how I fiddled, I just could not get the seat and the steering wheel in the right spot. Like all small Italian cars, MiTo is not made for long legs. The steering wheel needs to come out further or I need to cut at least 10cm off my legs. The steering is okay though not as sharp as the 86/BRZ of VW’s Polo GTi and Ford Fiesta ST. The ride is also firm, just like the Polo GTi and Fiesta ST, but unlike those cars, it gets quite choppy-choppy over bumps.

Alfa Romeo

 I liked the MiTo, I really did. It is, after all, an Alfa. I didn’t write my words until a suitable period of reflection and contemplation had passed, and the Italian sport car haze had cleared. I looked again at my observations and something funny happened. My notes and my memory were at odds. I thought the steering felt okay but that is not what I wrote. I thought the sound from the two-cylinder was okay, but my notes said it sounded like someone starting a cantankerous old diesel genny. I thought the driving position wasn’t that bad, but again my notes differed. I had written “my legs had no room and I felt sick from leaning forward to reach the steering wheel”. I was mystified.

Then the haze cleared some more, and I realised I had focused almost exclusively on the badge for the entire week.

My problem is I wouldn’t buy it. I’d spend less and buy a VW Polo GTi or Ford Fiesta ST. An extra two or three grand would land me the base model 86 which would give years of panty-wetting bliss. My driving position would be excellent, my engine would be superb, and above all I’d never need to make excuses. I’d never need to use the word “but” at dinner parties when inevitably asked what I drive.

I felt even more put out when I remembered Alfas from the recent and distant past like the: Brera, GT, Spyder, and the achingly beautiful V8 Montreal.

Close, but no cigar.

****************

Alfa Romeo MiTo

Price: $22.500 – $28,500 (plus on roads)

Engine: .9L or 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol

Power: 77KW/99KW

Torque: 190Nm at 4500rpm (230Nm at 4500rpm in dynamic)

Transmission: 6speed man (.9L),5 sp man or 6-speed dual-clutch automatic(1.4L)

0-100km/h: 11.2/8.2 seconds

Fuel consumption: 4.2/5.6L/100km

CO2 emissions: 99/128g/km

Weight: 1130kg

 Alfa Romeo MiTo 0.9 TwinAir manual

 

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