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IT TOOK a long time for us to see a prod­uct that prop­erly com­peted with BMW’s MINI. That car proved that Euro­pean driv­ers were pre­pared to pay quite a pre­mium for some­thing three-door and compact, pro­vided it was stylish, sporty and had the right brand ca­chet.

Step for­ward Alfa Romeo’s MiTo. It was launched in the UK early in 2009 but sub­stan­tially im­proved less than a year later with the in­tro­duc­tion of hi-tech Mul­ti­jet II diesel and rev­o­lu­tion­ary 1.4-litre Mul­tiAir petrol units.

It’s th­ese 2010-on­wards mod­els we look at here, cars that lasted un­til a fur­ther re­vised range was in­tro­duced in late 2013.

That MiTo name is a clever play on words, com­bin­ing as it does the first two let­ters of Milan (where Alfa Romeo was con­ceived) and Turin - or in Ital­ian ‘Torino’ - (where the cars are made).

It’s also the Ital­ian for ‘myth’, or leg­end, a nod to the am­bi­tious fu­ture the brand has in mind.

Yes, this car is a lot cheaper than the larger Alfa Romeos you may have been used to, but it’s also still pretty prof­itable given that the money to de­velop its un­der­pin­nings and en­gines was al­ready spent a few years be­fore this car’s orig­i­nal launch on its close cousin, Fiat’s Punto. Most cars have some kind of styling brand iden­tity but with an Alfa, the whole shape has a unique look that could be­long to no other mar­que, from the ser­pent-eat­ing-baby badge on the shield­shaped front grille to the rounded jewel-like LED tail lights.

The sleek look with its slip­pery 0.29 Cd drag co-ef­fi­cient is de­rived from 450bhp Alfa’s 8C Com­pe­tizione supercar and is one you’ll ei­ther love or hate.

Un­for­tu­nately, this is a three-door-only shape, but at least there’s de­cent space in the back for a couple of adults.

There’s a lot more room back here than the pa­thetic berths of­fered by a MINI though and the 270-litre lug­gage bay is nearly twice that car’s size, even if its open­ing is a lit­tle nar­row with a high-ish load­ing lip.

If you’re go­ing to pay pre­mium money for some­thing sized some­where be­tween a su­per­mini and a fam­ily hatch­back, then you want it to feel pretty spe­cial in­side as well as out - and the MiTo doesn’t dis­ap­point.

To help get the most from the per­for­mance on of­fer right across the MiTo range, Alfa turned to some so­phis­ti­cated elec­tron­ics to fur­ther set their car apart.

The DST (or Dy­namic Steer­ing Torque) sys­tem is sup­posed to give a counter-steer­ing ef­fect to com­bat over­steer and help main­tain an even course through quick cor­ners. No doubt it does but the elec­tric whole set-up feels a lit­tle overas­sisted and some­what vaguer than we’d ex­pect from a car of this kind.

Much bet­ter thought out is the use across the range of Alfa’s clever Q2 dif­fer­en­tial, which di­verts en­gine torque to the wheel that has the grip to use it, so use­lessly spin­ning wheels aren’t a part of hard cor­ner­ing. The MiTo has a re­li­a­bil­ity record that’s at the lower end of ac­cept­able.

In a very com­pre­hen­sive re­view in 2013, the Ger­man TuV or­gan­i­sa­tion looked at all 2-3 year old used cars and ranked them in or­der from 1 to 132.

The MiTo ranked 96th which isn’t a stel­lar score, but a few years ago, you’d have put money on a used Alfa be­ing in the bot­tom twenty, so that’s progress of a sort.

Is­sues re­ported by own­ers in­clude speak­ers that fre­quently fail, chrome trims los­ing their lus­tre and front spoiler lips com­ing adrift.

The en­gines tend to be solid and rust­proof­ing is ex­cel­lent. Check the tyre wear across the tread on

the 170PS ver­sions. Want to en­sure things are sim­ple and stress-free in your choice of used su­per­mini? Then you could al­ways buy a used Volk­swa­gen Polo.

If, on the other hand, you pre­fer a bit more verve and style in your life, the Alfa Romeo MiTo could well be a very smart choice, es­pe­cially in post2010 guise.

Re­li­a­bil­ity isn’t go­ing to be as good as that of a duller small hatch, we wouldn’t pre­tend oth­er­wise, but the is­sues that have af­fected the MiTo are rel­a­tively mi­nor.

You might get some­thing like a buzzing speaker that your dealer will rec­tify but there are none of the kind of ma­jor old-school Alfa is­sues that used to dog the brand.

The MiTo has sold well and it’s easy to see why.

Track down a car that’s been well looked af­ter and it ought to make aade­cent used buy too.

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