Tested: Alfa-Romeo MiTo

The cute cousin

Pay attention and take notes, there is a new toy for people who frequent facebook on their touchy-screen cellphones. The pretty world of trendy small cars welcomes the new-old Beetle, Mini, and Fiat 500 with open arms; and now the Alfa-Romeo Mito is sending them a friend request.

The new creation doesn’t exactly have a successful ancestor, except if you consider the Alfa Sud. In that case the Mito should offer an exhilarating drive, and its electrical system or body will be dead-scared of water. After a few days with the latest Alfa-Romeo I’m glad to report that the Mito only inherited the first trademark.

Thanks to Alfa’s relations with Fiat the new hatchback is based on the Fiat Punto, and boasts with the presence of the acclaimed new Cinquecento (or 500) in its family portrait. Another member of the clan is the exclusive and attractive 8C Competizione, and it graciously donated a few design elements to its smaller cousin.

The Mito is slightly higher and shorter, and incredibly more affordable. Its curvaceous 2-door body uses big eyes and round tail lights like the 8C, to complete a cute and stylish image.

While the donor-vehicle Punto can’t exactly be described as exciting, I was delighted to discover that the Mito received its parent’s eager 1.4 liter turbo-charged engine. This power plant is a shining example of the newest trend in engine technology, by which manufacturers take a small petrol motor and use a turbo- or super-charger to give it some fizz.

This exercise gives the engine good performance and highly acceptable fuel consumption; an Alfa-Romeo Mito 1.4 Turbo develops 114kW (155hp) and 206Nm to accelerate to 100km/h in 8 seconds, and its six gears only run out of steam at 215km/h. Its average fuel consumption is a pleasingly low 6.5 L/100km, and even with spirited driving through town the Mito never tilted 10 L/100km.

The contents of Mito’s interior does smell a bit of Punto, with a few wonderful Alfa-Romeo additions. The seats look (and feel) good and you sit higher than I would’ve expected. Mito’s steering wheel is also of a pretty disposition (with buttons for sound, etc.) and parts of the cabin have been decked out with carbon-fiber-esque material.

The instruments are drawn with red numerals and fat silver needles, and in good Alfa tradition some information is revealed in Italian. Jokers. A centrally-placed combination trip computer and information screen tells you about consumption, music, and various vehicle settings.

In order for new clients not to get bored in a hurry, Mito possesses and impressive list of entertainment and safety features. Are you ready? Here we go: Power steering, electric windows and mirrors, central locking, air-conditioning, seven airbags, CD/mp3 radio with 6 or 8 speakers and Windows Mobile socket, ABS/EBD, four stability programs, Hill holder, and Alfa-Romeo’s “dna” driving dynamics system.

This system saved my test vehicle from a bad review just in time, because the handling and performance of Mito was slightly lacking at first. Late on my second day of testing I discovered the ominous glow of a big tilt button with the letters “d”, “n”, and “a”. What does it do? Only one way to find out…

The vehicle switches back to “n” (for normal) after each journey, and you can select “a” for “all-weather” should the road conditions deteriorate. The Mito then loosely assumes the characteristics of a school bus, which should be beneficial on wet or slippery surfaces.

As already mentioned, the default setting “n” isn’t exactly hair-raising stuff, but the best compromise for everyday use. Personally I would jam the system into “d” (for dynamic) permanently, and I’m sure that a well-placed drop of superglue will help any future owners with this wish.

Once the information display between the dials announces “dynamic”, the driver’s commands are obeyed with new-found haste and wonderful precision. The steering hardens slightly, much like the suspension, and the engine is ready to brawl with up to 230Nm. The traction- and stability-control systems will also tolerate somewhat more juvenile behaviour.

This setting is the best if you wish to have a bit of fun with your Mito, and our test vehicle even got its tires singing and hips swaying, but if the road surface worsens most people will quickly reach for the less edgy settings. Especially rear passengers will be grateful for this, because the suspension will have properly shaken them up.

The 200-plus Newton-meters and subtle suspension (except in “d” mode) make the Mito an excellent long-distance companion, and just as on suburban roads you can let the eager engine growl to its red-line or abuse the masses of torque to pick up speed in higher gears.

Alfa-Romeos are something special, and thanks to Fiat’s influence this cheeky addition to the legendary Italian family is a winner. Mito is stylish, safe, technologically advanced, and offers heaps of driving pleasure for just N$241 000.

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