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.