Alfa Romeo MiTo Review: 2010 Model | MiTo | Car Buyers Guide

2010 Alfa Romeo MiTo Review

It is difficult to find an article that talks about Alfa Romeo without also mentioning that its cars are beautiful things but break a lot, or that the company is going through a rebirth at the moment so we have yet to see the best from it. That story is old. It is time for Alfa Romeo to start delivering. You see, I am too young to remember Alfa Romeos being any good. I just about remember the Alfasud, which from speaking to those around at the time was great fun to drive, with cracking engines but a ridiculous ability to rust upon the mere mention of the word ‘water’. They were good, but there was always a drawback. If you watch Top Gear (silly question, I know), then you will see that there is a bit of a love-in at the moment with the show and Alfa Romeo. Apparently, you aren’t a real petrol head unless you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo. The thing is that 30-odd years ago, when Alfa Romeos were last any good, most cars required more than a laptop to fix, and breaking down and quality issues were as likely in a family saloon as a creaky Italian sports car.

But here we are in 2008 and after the horror show that was Alfa Romeos of the 1980s and 1990s, there was the hope of more in recent years, when the 147 and 156, GT and Spider gave us the hint that there were good things to come. But the cars were badly built, unreliable and depreciated hard, to the extent that here in Ireland, there are few people willing the take on the challenge of Alfa ownership. Presenters on Top Gear can joke about it, but people getting bank loans for cars cannot. The current 159 is a smashing car, but when did you last see one?

And that is precisely the challenge that faces Alfa Romeo over the coming year. Now, not only is Alfa Romeo trying to get people into its worthy executive cars and handsome sports cars, but now, with the MiTo, it is going to try and go after one of the most demanding and fickle of owners – Mini drivers.

The name – a mixture of Milan, the city of design that gave the car its style, and Torino (Turin), where it is built – was chosen by a competition winner in a car magazine. The styling, by an Argentinean, is pure Alfa Romeo, with many of the styling cues of the 8C Competizione. The grille, front lights and rear LEDs are all inspired by the flagship supercar and hint at the future design theme of future Alfas. ‘This is a car that has been built by Alfisti, for Alfisti,’ said Alfa Romeo boss Luca De Meo at the car's launch in Milan, but I doubt any Alfisti were consulted about the design, because the heavy-handed sheetmetal and the slightly doe-eyed headlights seem to be aimed more at the Ugg-boot wearing iPod generation than any self-respecting petrol head.

Launching an Alfa Romeo in Italy always gives you a biased opinion on the merits of a new car. There is a cult-like love for this brand here and it really can’t do much wrong in the eyes of the Italians, especially in Turin, where the locals hang out windows and gesticulate wildly at the new MiTo. This is a country where you can drive a Fiat Panda and look cool. Photos don’t do a whole lot of justice to the smallest Alfa. In the metal, with the right colour, it looks rather good and more aggressive than the ubiquitous Mini. Inside, the driving position is lower than in the Fiat Punto on which it’s based and the cabin around you is mostly black with the main dials hooded, which looks pretty cool. It only comes as a three-door, but the room in the back, even for tall adults, is decent. Quality isn’t bad either, as long as you don’t go probing the plastics too far south or ask too much of the voice-operated satellite navigation system.

Our test drive took place at the Monza racetrack, but sadly it was based in the car park and not on the circuit [there’s a lot of that going on at the moment – ed]. However, the pitted roads that surrounded it were enough to give us an indication that the suspension was firm but not overly so. Sadly, where it falls down, almost immediately, is between your fingers. The steering is terrible. You see, like so many brands recently, Alfa Romeo thinks that owners need to engineer what sort of car they want several times a day. Among the standard technology is a device called 'Alfa DNA', which acts on the engine, brakes, steering, suspension and gearbox, allowing for three different vehicle behaviour modes based on the required driving style. These are Dynamic (for performance), Normal (for most situations) and All-weather (when weather conditions get tough). A second innovation fitted to the MiTo is the Q2 electronic system, which helps with traction accelerating out of a bend. Finally, DST (Dynamic Steering Torque) applies torque to the steering wheel to suggest the correct manoeuvre to a driver by counter-steering in an oversteer situation.

However, in Normal mode, the steering is way too light, sort of like a Punto. Even in Dynamic mode, the steering has a huge dead zone either side of centre and there is poor communications as to exactly what is going on. There isn’t that much wrong with the agility, but the steering is so compromised that it ruins the whole experience. Fine if you don’t care about that sort of thing, but since you Alfa owners will all be petrol heads, apparently, they really should have got this right.

The MiTo will arrive in Ireland in right-hand drive guise in January 2009, with three petrol and two diesel engines. The petrol motors are a normally aspirated 1.4-litre with 95bhp and two turbocharged versions with 120bhp and 155bhp. There will also be diesel offerings in the form of a 1.3-litre and a 120bhp, 1.6-litre JTD Multijet. The 1.3-litre diesel, according to Alfa’s Irish boss Adrian Walsh, could be tweaked to reside in Band A by the time it comes to Ireland. Also in the pipeline is a 230bhp, 1750cc MiTo GTA, which will surely be the most powerful car in its class.

The petrol engine we tried was the 155bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged engine and it was pretty impressive for such a small unit. Like any of this new crop of small capacity turbos, it works best when worked hard. Just what the lower-powered versions will be like, especially the 1.3-litre diesel, remains to be seen, as with our new CO2 emission laws these will be the sensible buys.

With seven airbags and a host of driver's aids such as vehicle dynamic control, stability control, traction control, that Q2 differential and the DNA system thrown in as standard, this should be a safe little car and Alfa Romeo is expecting a five-star Euro NCAP score in a future safety test. All this has us very curious to know just how the MiTo will do. This is a car that we really want to love. It is a car that, if it’s right, will be pretty hard to resist because at under €20,000, it is fully loaded with a tonne of equipment (air con and decent alloys as standard) but that is an if. They must improve the steering, because it ruins what is a promising package. Again, it’s another new journey from Alfa Romeo, but it has used up all its excuses and cannot rest on the laurels of its past. The MiTo needs to be brilliant and it’s not there yet.


Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.4T



1,368cc 4-cyl turbo



155hp, 230Nm



6-sp manual



0-100km/h 8.0 seconds


Top Speed





6.5 litres/100km


CO2 Emissions



CO2 Tax Band

C (€290 p.a.)


Boot Capacity

270 litres





Base Price

Under €20,000



Cute looks, big on standard equipment



Awful steering, not as fun as it should be at all






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