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Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.4 TB 155bhp Veloce

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“Pretty damn quick,
  sporty and
  nonchalantly stylish.
  Italian... naturally.
  And unmistakably
  an Alfa. Say HiTo
  the new MiTo

WHEN IN ROME, as they say, do as the Romans do. So: Sei un mito! For those of you who don't speak Italian, that's "You're a star!" Which pretty well sums up Alfa's breezy new MiTo. Before we go any further, let's get a little nonsense out of the way. Billed in some quarters as the car to take on the MINI at its own game, the MiTo doesn't have to take on anyone because it's got a game of its own.

And what a little cracker the MiTo is! From the front it's instantly recognisable as an Alfa Romeo. There can't be many people who are not familiar with the evocative shield-shaped grille and serpent badge. Alfisti — fans of all things Alfa — will recognise the use of design elements taken from the gorgeous Alfa 8C Competizione supercar such as the sculpted V-shaped bonnet flanked by clear lens teardrop headlamps.

Don't worry if you're not clued up on these things; they're not important because all you really need to know is that the MiTo is one smart looker — a wide track gives the MiTo a feisty stance; the swept back glasshouse and flared wheel arches add profile interest; and the hatchback tail, defined as it is by a pair of bejewelled Ferrari-esque single LED rear light lenses, looks pretty damn good to boot.

Swing open a door — this is a sporty three-door hatch so the doors are long — and you'll be presented with an equally stylish and welcoming cabin. Once belted-up in the bolstered and supportive seat you'll be amazed at the amount of room both up front and over your shoulder — there's real-world rear seating for two adults.

Although referred to as 'compact', the MiTo is just over four metres long. That makes it longer than a MINI and roomier than the MINI Hatch. The MiTo offers good shoulder, leg and foot room to those travelling in the rear although headroom limits them to six-foot or under. Once there, the view out is fine. Rear cabin access is made easier by tilt-and-slide front seats that return perfectly to their original positions every time.

With the two individual rear seats in use (three is not possible and was never intended; there are just two headrests and rear belts), there is 270 litres of boot space. For the record, when not in use the rear headrests drop down out of the driver's line of sight. Should you need to do a spot of load lugging, the rear seat base can be flipped forward to rest against the front seatbacks and the one-piece rear seat backrest dropped down to extend the boot floor. Loading is easy thanks to a high-opening tailgate. Under the boot floor you'll find a 'Fix And Go' tyre repair kit and some extra storage bins.

The carbon-fibre-look
Competizione dash adds
a sense of occasion...”
The cabin is unexpectedly airy and spacious in all directions and, particularly welcome, there's ample left knee room — drive enthusiastically in some performance cars and you end up with a sore knee. Not so the MiTo. Visibility out, both to the front and side, is good, although the smaller rear side windows make the optional reversing sensors (195) a worthwhile buy.

Everything feels nicely tactile to the touch, the hi-fi buttons are large and self-explanatory and there's a genuine sense of occasion, exemplified by the 'Competizione' dashboard: a curvaceous, carbon-fibre-look fascia top that flows over the hooded white-on-black dials and four prominent, round air-vents like intriguingly-patterned silky-satin lava. Like the majority of the cabin trim, it is finished in black. A word of warning — when the speedometer's silver-and-red needle is pointing straight up at the sky, you're doing 100mph!

The Veloce model's cabin 'kit' is comprehensive with air conditioning, seven airbags, electric windows with one-touch operation, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, radio/CD with MP3 reader, trip computer with multi-function display, steering wheel-mounted remote audio controls, chrome kick plates and tailored mats, lumbar adjustment for both front seats, carbon-fibre-effect dash, sports dials and Blue&Me hands-free system with voice recognition and media player with USB support. Other 'goodies' include exclusive design alloy wheels (similar to those worn by the 8C Competizione) and leather steering wheel, handbrake grip and gear knob.

The low-ish driving position is good and sporty and the front seats do a grand job of holding their occupants firmly in place. Under-thigh support — often overlooked — is also good. Our test car was fitted with the optional Frau leather upholstery — the centre panels are ribbed and there's a very subtle stitched black Alfa logo on the seatbacks. Ample seat adjustment, along with a steering column that offers both reach and rake adjustment, ensures the driver is sitting comfortably and, more importantly, low enough to feel a real 'part' of the car — as opposed to just sitting in it.

A neat touch that shows Alfa's attention to detail is the rubber pad on the B-pillar that stops the passenger's seat belt buckle — if not being used — banging when driving. Equally appreciated is the automatic door locking triggered at about 12mph — you can turn it off if you prefer. The three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel features perforated leather on the work areas with comfortable thumb-rest cut-outs and multi-function controls for the audio and sophisticated Blue&Me.

Standard fit on Veloce trim versions, Blue&Me is extremely simple to use and allows occupants to make/receive calls and listen to music, simply and safely, while on the move, as well as communicate with the outside world using a handheld computer.

“The driver can alter
the MiTo’s dynamics

at the flick
of a switch...”
Blue&Me scores for safety and ease of use because the voice control system is fully integrated with keys on the steering wheel and information on the instrument panel display. Not only can your Bluetooth mobile be left in your jacket pocket or handbag while you're in the car but the MiTo's advanced voice recognition system allows immediate interactivity — there's no learning stage required — as well as allowing incoming texts to be read out.

And by connecting a digital system to the USB port on the centre tunnel, it's possible to listen to hours of digital music in MP3, WMA and WAV format recorded on mobile phones, MP3 players and USB pen drives, along with greater compatibility with an iPod.

Sounds aside, Alpha male (and female!) drivers will be keen to acquaint themselves with the MiTo's 'DNA'. And for that they'll need to use the beautifully made, three-way switch sited just ahead and to the right of the gearlever.

In the MiTo's case, DNA is nothing to do with genetic information but everything to do with driving dynamics and driveability. The MiTo's DNA is short for 'Dynamic, Normal and All Weather' and, as suggested by the three modes, allows the driver — at the flick of a switch — to alter the behaviours of vehicle dynamics, with the system working on engine, steering, suspension and gearbox.

In Normal mode, the MiTo's engine is tuned for city agility. Shift to Dynamic mode, however, and you'll enjoy a sportier driving experience: power-steering assistance is reduced, the suspension firms up for improved handling and there is less intrusion from the Vehicle Dynamic Control (Alfa's own Electronic Stability Control) and the Anti-Slip Regulation systems. When Dynamic mode is engaged on the 155bhp-engined MiTo, the driver can also make use of a turbo over-boost facility.

Poor, low-grip weather conditions — loose surfaces, wet or snowy situations — can be tackled with safety in the All Weather mode which 'gentles' the car's responses and increases the sensitivity of the traction control system.

That said, the MiTo does tend to bring out the machismo Italian driver in you — which explains why we did most of our driving in Dynamic! And can you blame us, particularly as installed in our test MiTo's engine-bay was the most powerful petrol powerplant on offer — the turboed 1.4-litre in 155bhp tune. For the record, the top-of-the-range Veloce can be distinguished by red brake callipers behind exclusive five-hole 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 215/45 Pirelli P Zero Nero rubber, rear spoiler and sports rear bumper with extractor.

Max power is reached at 5,500rpm; maximum torque of 170lb ft is delivered at 3,000rpm, making it the quickest model in the current five-engine MiTo line-up (until the GTA version, due to arrive later this year). A tall-ish 6th gear lets it run all the way to 134mph, and it will hit 62mph from standstill in 8 seconds dead.

Informed buyers will
want it for its nimble
character and zippy performance
Thanks to the 170lb ft of torque it feels quick from the off but really starts to show its teeth around the 2,000rpm mark when it delivers decent mid-range shove through the gears; once spinning it's happy to be taken to the 6,500rpm redline although you don't need to as it does its best work under 5,500rpm. And, like all true Alfas, it sounds good when it's working.

Strong on brio — and helped by a smoothly shifting gear lever — the 155bhp MiTo feels quicker than its official 8-second 0-62mph time would have you believe — if you didn't know the spec, you'd think there's a normally-aspirated 2.0-litre engine beating under the bonnet. The Mito has a number of good core features under its belt and this 155bhp turbocharged engine is definitely one of them.

For a sporty-driving 155bhp machine, the MiTo does not run to a raging thirst for gasoline. Officially the combined, urban and extra-urban consumption is given as 43.5, 33.2 and 53.3mpg. A week's hard driving, including quite a bit of town driving, saw us record a combined figure of 34.6mpg. When David Miles conducted his 'first drive' test of the same model he edged closer to the official 43.5mpg figure — recording 37.1mpg. Neither figure is bad for a 155bhp hatchback; 40+mpg should be more than possible for all but the most ardent MiTo drivers.

If fuel consumption is a major issue, the two diesel-powered models could be the ideal alternative: the 120bhp 1.6 JTDm (0-62mph 9.9/123mph) can return 58.9mpg on the combined cycle; the 90bhp 1.3 JTDm (11.8/110mph) does 62.8mpg with as much as 78.5mpg on the extra-urban cycle!

Handling-wise, the MiTo lives up to its sporty looks: it rides flat, is sure-footed and has quick steering with really sharp turn-in, taking corners with aplomb. And there's good communication letting you know what the chassis is up to via the driver's seat — all the right ingredients, in fact, for a thoroughly entertaining driver's car.

While the suspension is on the firm side, ride comfort is fine for a sporty, hard-charging car: firm enough for spirited driving on demand yet with enough built-in suppleness to cope with poorer blacktop. That's not to say you won't feel a large pothole if you hit one. Show it better grade A-roads and motorways, however, and the MiTo will show you a refined and comfortable ride.

In addition to the new DNA system, all MiTo models also come with a clutch of clever electronic driver aids: the most important of these is Vehicle Dynamic Control — an amalgamation of ABS, Anti-Slip Regulation and Brake Assistant. Hill-Holder is also a standard feature, as too is Electronic Q2 — effectively an electronic limited slip differential.

Passive safety is equally comprehensive with two-stage front airbags, window bags, side airbags and a driver's knee airbag. Front seat head restraints feature an anti-whiplash device; and if you have to make an emergency stop the hazards will automatically operate. Should you need to fit a small child seat in the front, the passenger's airbag can be deactivated manually by means of the control panel menu. And there's even a fire prevention system.

Without doubt this sporty compact Alfa will be bought by most customers for its looks and image above all else. The informed buyer will want it for its nimble character, zippy performance and compact size that together make it an engaging point-to-pointer with handling to match its pace. Both kinds of customers will be pleasantly surprised to find that the fun-to-drive MiTo can also easily be used for daily commuting and longer journeys, where it's a quiet cruiser with 'big car' refinement.

Add to that an impressive list of standard equipment, a very inviting cabin and prices that start at 10,745, and this flame red Italian is a very hard lady to say NoTo. Want one? Me Too. —

Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.4 TB 155bhp Veloce
| 14,745
Maximum speed: 134mph | 0-62mph: 8 seconds | Overall test MPG: 34.6mpg
Power: 155bhp | Torque: 170lb ft | CO2 153g/km | Insurance group 10