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Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.4 TB Veloce

Click to view picture gallery“Alfa Romeo’s sporting new super-
  mini
, the all-new MiTo, is a welcome
  alternative to the iconic MINI.
  Available only as a sporty three-door,
  it boasts an image and styling
  different from anything else in the
  supermini class. And with prices
  starting at £10,745, it looks like Alfa
  has a new star
...

THE NEW ALFA ROMEO MITO THREE-DOOR SUPERMINI is inspired by Alfa's 130,000 8C Competizione supercar. Unfortunately, the 8C is sold out until 2010 but, from 24 January, you can buy a new MiTo. Designed to appeal to a young, image-conscious audience, many of whom know little or perhaps even care about Alfa's past sporting heritage.

The British-built MINI is the targeted competition. Other superminis — such as the new Fiesta, the Corsa and Yaris — will also be clamouring to attract cost-conscious younger buyers. Fiat's chic 500 and the smart might be smaller, but for the young fashion- and brand-aware buyers, they too will also be MiTo sales rivals.

Alfa Romeo UK point out that younger people buy desirable brands, hence their efforts to remind today's generation that Alfa was once a force to be reckoned with in the world of motorsport: eleven Mille Miglia wins starting in 1928, and some of the greatest post- and pre-war grand prix cars.

MiTo is the most important car for most people that Alfa has launched since the days of the Alfasud. With an expected 5,000 registrations in the UK in its first year, MiTo is set to double the total annual Alfa Romeo sales in this country.

So expect to see the MiTo widely advertised on television, in the print media, cinemas and even on local radio. The web is a core marketing medium, so look for the innovative marketing tools that will bring the MiTo experience to you and will, perhaps, stir up the memories of the time when Alfa Romeo was a genuinely great sporting brand.

But in a tough financial market, heritage doesn't always matter so much for many younger buyers — sub-35-year-olds, say Alfa. Image and style at affordable prices are today's prerequisites. On that front, the sporty three-door MiTo hatchback scores heavily. The image and styling are certainly very different from anything else in its 'supermini' class and, before you ask, no five-door model is coming. MiTo is three-door only, with prices starting at 10,745 for the entry-level 95bhp 1.4 Turismo and rising to 14,745 for the range-topping 155bhp 1.4 TB Veloce.

There are three levels of trim and equipment: Turismo, Lusso (the main seller) and Veloce. But be aware, as with MINI, there are lots of extra-cost options that will push the real price much higher — 16,000+ will be no problem for the shopaholic.

Three petrol units — 95bhp 1.4, 120bhp 1.4 TB (turbocharged) and 155bhp 1.4 TB — and two turbodiesels (90bhp 1.3 JTDm and 120bhp 1.6 JTDm). Seventy per cent of sales will be to retail customers for petrol versions. Diesel versions will be mainly taken up by business user-chooser drivers, especially those down-sizing but not wanting to go into a 'seen everywhere' hatchback.

The top variant will be the 120bhp 1.4 TB Lusso with an expected 21% of sales, followed by the 155bhp 1.4 TB Lusso with 14% and then the same engine with Veloce specification taking 13% of the MiTo market. The best-selling diesel version will be the 120bhp 1.6JTDm in Lusso spec because it is user-friendly for benefit-in-kind company car tax.

It was a bit unfortunate at the recent press launch that the main-selling engine and specification combination MiTo was not yet available. But we did get to grips with the 155bhp 1.4 TB petrol version in Veloce trim, as well as the 120bhp 1.6 JDTm turbodiesel, also in Veloce guise.

For most people a fuel efficient petrol engine will be best — my 155bhp test car returned 37.1mpg (against the official 43.5mpg figure) and the diesel returned 46.8mpg (58.9mpg). My choice of these two engines is the petrol version, which puts out 170lb ft of torque from 3,000rpm. It is also quieter and very swift — 134mph, with 0-62mph taking just 8 seconds.

But it is the looks and image that will ultimately sell the MiTo. The new face of Alfa is very striking, and it is one of those designs Alfa hopes more people will love than hate. It certainly has the 'wow' factor, it is different and, now that MINIs are everywhere — and the Fiat 500 too small — the MiTo is a real option.

The three-door body is actually not that short: it's just over four metres in length, making it longer than all MINIs and roomier than the MINI Hatch. There is plenty of space in the front although rear leg- and head-room is limited and access to the rear seats is tricky. A very odd factor for a supposedly versatile three-door hatchback is that if you want the rear seats to fold down, that folding function is an extra-cost option at 440. Leave the rear seats in position and the boot space is 270 litres. Front and side visibility is good; however the small rear side windows restrict the view out for rear passengers, as well as for the driver when reversing.

The quality of the interior is first-class and it looks sporty. All models have electric windows, air conditioning, carbon-fibre-look dashboard, front, side, window and driver's knee airbags, electric power steering, electrically-operated and heated door mirrors, LED rear lights and the new Alfa DNA vehicle dynamics control system. My only complaint with the DNA function was that its three-position switch is sited out of the driver's safe line of vision. In Dynamic mode the throttle responses are quicker, steering sharper and handling more direct. In Normal mode — well things are normal, and in All Weather mode the engine provides a more gentle response.

The driving is generally sporty but it copes with posing or cruising if that's your style. On the open road it is neat, compact and agile with loads of grip. The suspension is certainly on the firm side and repercussions of hitting large potholes are felt within the car. On smoother A-roads or motorways, however, the ride is hushed and very comfortable.

For the record, the MiTo takes its name partly from Milano ('Mi') where it was designed and partly from Torino ('To') where it is built. So, will you want one too?

Okay, it's not cheap — you can buy a new VW Golf 3/5-door 1.4 TSI for less money. But aside from the cramped rear space, no split/folding rear seat as standard, restricted rear visibility and a ride than can at times be harsh on poorer roads, it has a lot of plus points.

One of the MiTo's greatest strengths is the fact that it is not just another city or commuting car; it can easily be used for longer journeys, day-in and day-out and, given your taste, you can 'cut a dash' as you go.

Other good reasons to buy include a comfortable ride on motorways, sporty interior design and agile handling that makes it fun to drive. Whatever your reason for buying a MiTo, with its Alfa 8C supercar styling you will most certainly be noticed. — David Miles

Alfa Romeo Mito 1.4 TB Veloce | 14,745
Maximum speed: 134mph | 0-62mph: 8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 37.1mpg | Power: 155bhp | Torque: 170lb ft
CO2 153g/km | VED Band D 145 | Insurance group 10