Alfa Romeo MiTo review
Small, stylish and surprisingly fast, the Alfa Romeo MiTo is a desirable supermini - but its firm ride and small cabin won't suit everyone
The Alfa Romeo MiTo is one of the most attractive superminis on the market, and its stylish exterior design makes it a striking alternative to cars like the MINI hatch and Audi A1. Like the MINI, it comes with a wide variety of petrol and diesel engines, including high-performance and low emissions versions. But it's only available in one bodystyle and the three-door layout means it's not the most spacious car in its class by a wide margin. The introduction of the TwinAir two-cylinder turbo engine from the Fiat 500 does mean its claims to be very efficient though - even if it lags behind its rivals somewhat dynamically and in terms of interior quality. The MiTo has been given a facelift for 2014 that includes a new higher-powered TwinAir engine that replaces the previous 84bhp version and drops the 0-62mph time by over a second.
Our choice: MiTo 1.4 TB MultiAir 135bhp Distinctive
Alfa Romeo has always made beautiful cars, and the MiTo is no exception. Taking its styling cues from the Alfa 8C Competizione supercar, its wide wheelarches and squat profile will definitely get you noticed more than conservative rivals like the VW Polo, and it's just as distinctive as premium three-door rivals like the Audi A1 and MINI. Every version comes with alloy wheels as standard, while top-spec Cloverleaf versions come with 18-inch alloys, chrome tipped twin exhausts and a rear spoiler as standard for an even sportier look. New for 2014 are a chrome finish for the grille, grey headlight surrounds and a reprofiled rear bumper, but in truth the design has changed very little in the five years the supermini has been on sale. The interior is less successful though and the cheap, mismatched dark plastics and poorly fitted panels make it feel like a shoddy product and getting comfortable is not easy thanks to the huge steering wheel and lack of proper seat adjustment. A new touchscreen Uconnect infotainment system (with optional sat-nav) drags the MiTo into the modern world, but it feels like too little too late and the Audi A1 and the Vauxhall Adam feel significantly better built inside.
There's a wide range of engines to choose from, in various different states of tune. The smooth 1.4-litre petrol has been tuned to two power outputs, 78bhp, or 135bhp – the latter is turbocharged, giving strong performance. The 875cc two-cylinder TwinAir engine is efficient and responsive but its noisy engine note doesn't really suit the Mito very well and the narrow power band means you have to thrash it hard to make decent progress. Two diesels complete the line-up: a 1.6-litre unit with 120bhp and 320Nm of torque, which is noisy and unrefined, and a smaller 85bhp 1.3-litre that emits just 95g/km, making it tax exempt. Light steering means the MiTo is easy to manoeuvre around town, but doesn't inspire much confidence at higher speeds. Models with larger wheels suffer from a jittery, firm ride that crashes over bumps and potholes, and the six-speed gearbox is notchy and imprecise.
For hot hatch fans, Alfa offers a Quadrifoglio Verde version which uses a 168bhp 1.4-litre engine allied to the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox from the Alfa 4C sports car. If there's a more disappointing hot hatch on sale today, we're yet to drive it. The Mito is much slower than the Ford Fiesta ST or an RS Clio, and numb to drive, while the gearbox hinders rather than encourages fast progress. Plus, its launch price is an extortionate £20,120, rendering it a total non-consideration for all but the most blinkered of Alfa Romeo fans.
In the benchmark Euro NCAP crash test, the MiTo scored an excellent five star rating. Standard safety equipment includes seven airbags, ESP traction control and ISOFIX child seating. Spend a little extra and you can add a tyre pressure monitoring system and bi-xenon headlamps. While the MiTo does seem better built than previous Alfas, the company still has a poor reputation for reliability, which is reflected by its poor showing in our annual Driver Power survey, where it ranked 25th. Not only that but the electrics and shoddy feeling interior plastics are likely to cause more trouble than in the equivalent MINI or Audi models. Of a particular concern are the sharp edges and wide shut lines of some of interior trim pieces.
The Alfa Romeo MiTo's interior layout is simple and easy to use, but the fit and finish is woefully inadequate. All versions are well equipped, with even base models getting air-con, a trip computer, electric windows and stop and start as standard. Like the MINI, the MiTo is only offered as a three-door, and space inside is quite limited. The rear seats are cramped and quite difficult to clamber into, and there isn't much head or legroom. The 270-litre boot is adequate - it's certainly bigger than a MINI's – but the boot opening isn't very wide and the lip of the tailgate is extremely high making loading bulkier items of luggage quite awkward. 60/40 split folding rear seats - which are standard on most rivals - are an option that costs around £500 too.
One of the Mito's biggest strengths is its affordable running costs. The cleanest 1.3-litre diesel engine will return an amazing 78.5mpg combined, and at 95g/km is also road tax and Congestion Charge exempt. Yet even the powerful turbocharged petrol model should manage to return close to 50mpg, thanks to a stop and start system that cuts the engine in stopped traffic, and its cheaper to buy than diesel variants. The TwinAir two-cylinder model promises great economy on paper, but in reality you'll be lucky to return more than mid-thirties mpg. A variety of service plans are available for the MiTo, and the generous standard kit list means that you're less likely to inflate the list price with costly options - often a problem for MINI owners. However the MINI and Audi A1 also has excellent residual values, whereas the Alfa is unlikely to keep much of its value after a few years ownership - so depreciation is a serious issue.