Alfa Romeo MiTo MultiAir Cloverleaf

Can new hot-hatch revive badge's glorious past

Although Alfa Romeo has a long and illustrious history of stunning cars, the MiTo won’t go down as one of its classics.

Yes, it’s certainly distinctive, but its most attractive view is from the rear, where the circular LED tail-lights and diffuser-style bumper give it a racy appearance. The rather more controversial front end is dominated by the central Alfa grille and those somewhat bug-eyed headlamps.

Inside, the basics are spot-on. There’s a good range of steering wheel and seat adjustment, so the driving position is excellent. Logically laid-out switchgear and neat instruments mean it’s easy to use. However, the controls for the air-conditioning are mounted too low for our liking.

Importantly, quality is decent, but some of the materials lack the solid feel of the MINI’s, while the interior design isn’t as glitzy as the Citroen’s. In the back, the standard one-piece bench seat accommodates only two passengers, so you need to spend an extra £450 if you want a more versatile three-belt, split-folding layout.

Luggage space in the boot is generous, and the 270-litre load area trumps the 160-litre MINI. With the longest wheelbase of the trio, rear legroom is better in the Alfa than in the Citroen, although we found headroom to be a bit cramped.

The big news lies under the bonnet. Fiat Group’s new MultiAir engines claim to deliver stronger performance with considerably reduced emissions and better fuel consumption. This is achieved by tightly controlling the amount of air drawn into the cylinders. The ability to optimise valve timing to suit different engine speeds and loads ensures strong low-down torque and energetic top-end power, without compromising economy.

However, from behind the wheel, the results are mixed. In 170bhp Cloverleaf trim, the 1.4-litre unit responds quickly, and produces a throaty exhaust note as the revs rise. But peak torque arrives high in the range compared to its rivals, and it’s only in the Dynamic mode of Alfa’s DNA system that you get a truly sporty throttle response.

This set-up allows you to select from Dynamic, Normal or All-Weather modes, via a switch on the centre console. It adjusts the throttle map, steering feel and damper settings.

In corners, Dynamic mode gives the Alfa weightier steering than the Citroen, while grip is reassuringly strong. The MiTo’s stability control system and electronic differential also work hard to keep the nose on line when you approach the limit.

Yet the Italian car’s reliance on electronics means it lacks the more natural feedback and razor-sharp reactions of the MINI. And while the Alfa is fun to drive and composed at speed, the DS3 feels lighter on its feet and more agile. The Alfa also disappointed against the clock. Despite having the lowest kerbweight and highest torque output of our trio, it didn’t record the best performance figures. It took 1.4 seconds longer than the Citroen to sprint from 0-60mph, with a time of 8.1 seconds.

On the plus side, the Cloverleaf’s six-speed gearbox has a shorter throw than the five-speed unit in lesser models, and the brakes are very effective – even though the pedal feels artificially hard. It’s also too easy to activate the sensitive automatic hazard lights.

Adaptive dampers mean the Alfa offers the smoothest ride comfort of our trio. Around town, the fluid stop-start system also promises to boost economy – although we didn’t get the opportunity to test this.

At £17,895, the Cloverleaf sits between the MINI and Citroen on price – but will it able to finish ahead of both here?

Ratings

Styling- 4/5 The MiTo takes its lead from the 8C Competizione supercar, but the stubby hatch is distinctive rather than beautiful. Flagship model is set apart by the Cloverleaf badges on the front wings, brushed titanium mirrors and darker headlight frames.

Interior- 4/5 A simple cabin layout and decent driving position are plus points, while white instrument lighting is attractive. The Alfa trails the Citroen for passenger and boot space, but is well ahead of the MINI for room.

Driving- 3/5 With a rev-happy engine and grippy chassis, the Alfa is a lot of fun. Yet it lacks the feedback of the MINI and, at the test track, was outperformed by the Citroen. Active dampers ensure a decent ride.

Costs- 3/5 Although the MiTo is more expensive than a standard MINI Cooper S, it undercuts our Chili Pack model. Standard kit isn’t as generous as in the cheaper DS3, and the Italian hatch has the worst residuals of our trio.

Green- 4/5 Cloverleaf green gearshift indicator and smooth stop-start system help to trim CO2 emissions to only 139g/km. That’s impressive considering that the 1.4-litre engine’s 124bhp per litre power output is the highest seen in any production Alfa.

Details

Chart position: 3WHY: The MiTo range benefits from new MultiAir engines with hi-tech valve timing, and the 170bhp Cloverleaf is the flagship.

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