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Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.6 JTDm Lusso

Click to view picture gallery“Pretty damn quick, sporty and
  nonchalantly stylish, looks fantastic

and unmistakably an Alfa — thats
  what we said last time we got behind
  the wheel of a MiTo. Since then
s happened to change our
  opinion. But something has changed:
  the MiTo now sports a 1.6 JTDm
  turbodiesel engine...”

EXTERNALLY IT'S ALL MUCH THE SAME with the 'couldn't be anything else' Alfa shield-styled grille fronting the MiTo's Alfa 8C Competizione supercar-inspired nose, bulging wheel arches and purposeful, wide stance. At the tail it's also business as usual with the same bold Ferrari-esque LED rear lights.

Naturally, the diesel drinks far less fuel. Officially: 58.9mpg on the combined cycle; 47.9 in town; and 68.9mpg on extra-urban runs. Given we were working our MiTo pretty hard, our week-long test average came out to a not-to-be-sniffed-at 48.7mpg.

In the real-world, torque talks. And the MiTo's diesel packs a whopping 236lb ft of torque — for comparison purposes, the nearest petrol-engined MiTo to it is the new turbocharged 1.4 MultiAir Cloverleaf and that only musters 184lb ft. On the road this makes the 120bhp 1.6 JTDm's punchy performance (0-62mph in 9.9 seconds, top speed 123mph) easy to access for on-demand overtaking and also contributes to its unruffled motorway cruising. The six-speed manual 'box has a slick action, slotting smoothly through the gate for the times you want to keep the willing turbodiesel on the boil.

Like other MiTos, the inviting cabin is stylishly designed and fitted out with good quality materials and impressive build quality — shut a door and it closes with a satisfying 'thunk'. The curvaceous, flowing carbon-fibre-look Competizione fascia adds a sense of occasion with the right hint of sportiness — and it feels marvellous to the touch — as do the optional Frau leather seats which are also well matched to the MiTo's sporting character. The dash is very 'Alfa' with plenty of elegant detailing including red illumination and eye-catching silver-edged red needles for the analogue instruments.

Front seats are well bolstered (both back and base) but not to the point of being intrusive and feature ribbed and perforated leather centre panels along with manually adjustable lumbar support. Under-thigh support is also good — something that is often overlooked by many car manufacturers yet it's crucial to comfort, particularly on long journeys.

Keen drivers will quickly feel at home behind the three-spoke wheel with its perforated leather work areas and comfortable thumb-rest cut-outs; the driving position is fine and along with ample seat adjustment there's also decent reach and rake adjustment for the wheel. You also sit low enough down to feel an integral part of the car. A smart yet nicely subtle touch is the black Alfa logo embossed on the seat backrests. On a practical note, there's an ample sufficiency of storage space throughout the cabin.

In terms of size and space, the compact MiTo is longer (and certainly more accommodating) than BMW's MINI hatch. Even rear seat passengers — a maximum of two — get decent shoulder, leg and foot room as well as an individual seat each. However, rear cabin headroom means sub-six footers only in the back. For the record, two near six-footers can travel comfortably behind two near six-footers. Access to the rear cabin is easy thanks to tilt-and-slide front seats that easily return to their original positions.

In Dynamic mode
the MiTo
almost feels a different
car with grip, engine
eagerness, steering
weighting and handling
tautness all instantly
Boot space — all 270 litres of it and accessed by pressing the bootlid badge — is not bad bearing in mind this is a four-seat three-door compact hatch. On the odd occasion that you might need to transport something inanimate that can't be belted up in one of the seats you can flip the rear seat base forward then fold the one-piece rear seat backrest down to extend the load floor. And although you do end up with a split-level load-bay floor, it's still very useful.

The MiTo's high-opening tailgate ensures loading is easy. More space? It's not a lot, but the extra storage bins beneath the boot floor do come in handy. Hopefully you'll never need to use the Fix 'n' Go tyre repair kit that also lives under the floor.

Visibility out is good although the kicked-up rear side windows mean that the smart money ticks the options box for the reversing sensors (200). Good size door mirrors help as do the rear headrests which drop down low to maximise rearward visibility when there are no rear passengers.

The cabin is well-specced with all the right essentials including air conditioning, power windows (with one-touch: passenger down only; driver up/down), trip computer with multifunction display, remote audio controls on the leather steering wheel, radio/CD and MP3 reader, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, a five-star EuroNCAP rating, seven airbags (driver, passenger, front side, window and driver's knee), electric power-assisted steering and Alfa's DNA vehicle dynamics system.

Talking of which, you'll find the MiTo's DNA switch sited just ahead of the gearlever. Basically this lets the driver alter the engine, steering, suspension and gearbox settings to deliver the driving dynamics best suited to the weather/road conditions or his/her driving mood. Short for 'Dynamic, Normal and All Weather', these three modes are quickly selected at any time by flicking the switch.

Select Normal and you get the tamed MiTo, its engine tuned for city agility. Flick to Dynamic mode and you'll see another side of the MiTo as the power-steering assistance is reduced, the suspension firmed up for sharper handling and 'nannying' from the Electronic Stability Control and Anti-Slip Regulation systems reduced — in other words, a palpably more entertaining driving experience.

In fact the change is really quite remarkable and immediately tangible: in Dynamic mode the MiTo almost feels a different car with grip, engine eagerness, steering weighting and handling tautness all instantly upgraded. You'll also have a bit more power to play with because in the Dynamic setting the turbo's overboost comes into play, getting you to the 4,500rpm red-line even quicker.

Driving the MiTo enthusiastically is rewarding. Our test car was running on a set of the optional 17-inch 5-hole alloys shod with 215/45 Pirelli P Zero rubber. Grip is good as is body control and the electric steering is at its best running in 'Dynamic' where it feels most alert and turns-in sharply. The MiTo looks sporty and it handles like it looks; carving round corners without losing mid-corner traction, helped by the standard-fit Q2 electronic differential.

At heart the MiTo's a sporty little number and, as you'd expect, it feels firmly suspended but even so, and even on the large alloys and low-profile tyres, the ride comfort offers a fair compromise between being fit for hard-charging point-to-point progress while retaining enough suppleness to run fairly smoothly over the UK's patched and potholed roads. Overall, it's well above the norm for its class.

It's hard not to like the MiTo — from its Italianate looks to its wieldy character and the economical turbodiesel powerplant that hasn't in any way harmed its driveability. And, as nimble as it is, its well insulated cabin also makes this 'baby' Alfa a satisfyingly usable long-distance driving machine. — MotorBar

Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.6 JTDm Lusso
| 14,745
Maximum speed: 123mph | 0-62mph: 9.9 seconds | Overall test MPG: 48.7mpg
Power: 120bhp | Torque: 236lb ft | CO2 126g/km