Italian Beauty Somewhat Skin Deep
The Alfa Mito has charm; it struggles though in traffic and urban environments but comes alive on the motorway
Review by Marc Stickley
So, if you want a small car that looks really special, then the Mito could be for you. But, if you like your small cars to drive at all well, then maybe you should look elsewhere. Whilst my particular Mito problem is deeper than that, that’s the executive summary. Here’s how it breaks down…
The looks. Well, if the Fiat 500 is still the undisputed King (or is it Queen) of cuteness then the Mito could justifiably nab the honours for best looking small car on the market. It outshines a Ford Ka or Fiesta, knocks spots off a Nissan Micra and has any Vauxhall Adam or Corsa beaten hands down. And in my test car’s case (a Mito 1.3 JTDM Speciale) adorned shade of Tornado metallic blue, it could probably steal a few appearance points off of genuinely pretty sports cars as well. But you know what they say – true beauty should be more than skin deep – so is the Mito just a pretty face? Well yes and no.
No, because the style factors continue into the cabin – not everywhere, but special (or is that Speciale?) touches throughout. There’s carbon weave effect soft trim covering the dashboard and door cards. The steering wheel is great to hold and the seats look and feel great. The dials look good and if you move that wheel about a bit, you can even see them. But then you might struggle to meter out any more compliments, so maybe it’s a yes. For instance, in setting that wheel so you can see the dials, I found it slightly restricted access to the pedals with my legs. Further, if you set the seat where you think you need it, your arms are in the wrong place. I tried moving it too far away and the seat back bolt upright like a dining chair (to reach the wheel) or the base too near, requiring the seat back to be laid back like Kev McRev from Max Power. It wasn’t a good fitting session.
In the end I plumped for the seat to be further away and the back with a slight lean, but comfortable it was not. I’ve read this before about a peculiarly Italian driving position, as if the Signori from Italy have an abnormal arm length and short legs… anyhoo, finally able to operate the controls, if not completely comfortably, I fired up the 95bhp, 1.3 diesel unit fitted. This is it. A sporty looking Alfa, with sporty finishes inside. And I pulled away. Christ, that was crashy. I mentally checked my image of the exterior – the wheels weren’t that big and there were inflated tyres. Weird. I reached for the DNA switch to adjust the driving mode. It was in ‘natural’ so I tried ‘dynamic’. The crashing and wallowing stopped, but then the throttle was like a switch – so jerky and difficult to modulate for smooth progress. This. Was. Going. To. Be. A. Long. Week…
Moving around the Mito some more – the rear seats and leg room are definitely big enough for small children and you could probably squeeze a fair sized adult in there (although access through the front doors in the 3 door isn’t the easiest, or most dignified). There’s a good sized boot for a small car. Inside the cabin, the infotainment system is pretty basic and frustratingly angled away from the driver – presumably a legacy of the left hand drive Italian heritage. Yes, there’s satnav, but it’s displayed on the tiny screen in a way that means you’d rather use a Tom Tom (with similar sized or larger screens) or your phone (ditto). In fact your phone or satnav will also give traffic updates – the Mito was determined to send me down a route the radio was insisting was shut by a motorway accident. There are no smart features like start buttons, retracting wing mirrors or keyless entry – at least not at this trim level. It might be small, but protecting mirrors from the other car park hellions is essential these days. On the move, the thrummy diesel pulls ok and you’ll wiggle the gear stick around the 5 speed ‘box a lot because the gearing seems a little off depending on which DNA mode you’re in, as if it’s suited to a halfway house between D and N. It’s not lightning fast, but it was nippy enough.
But then on day 3 of the test something clicked. I was in danger of arriving late to the Alfa Giulia test, thanks to a sequential purgatory behind a horse box, two tractors and a recycling lorry, so I was driving the little blue Mito like I’d stolen it. Or better (and faster) – like a hire car. The Mito came alive! Flowing down the A then B roads towards my destination, quick enough not to experience the jerky low speed attributes, the suspension set to Dynamic and using the torque in higher gears to surf through the bends. It was good. I tried again on the way home – fast country roads and then the motorway. All good. Keep the speed up, avoid traffic and low speed manoeuvring and the Mito feels good. And so the test continued in this vein to the end – jerky (D) or crashy (N) at low speed, but nimble and pretty nippy on the open road.
This car was £20,280 as tested with £1,850 of extras – the paint, the dual zone climate and that infotainment (what’s the standard one like?). Now if it were my twenty grand I would regret spending it on this, mostly because I’ve never rolled straight onto a motorway for a long distance journey, with no traffic or urban driving to spoil the Mito’s charm – and it does have charm. It’s not just a pretty face – but that’s a lot of money to spend on such a flawed chassis. So, if you can buy one to look at, or guarantee never to encounter a traffic jam, the Mito is a pricey contender. Otherwise, I’d probably wait for the rebirth of Alfa to take hold and some of the Giulia magic to reach the Mito.