MiTo has potent personality

Last updated 08:17 04/11/2009
alfa stand
MARK DWYER
The Alfa Romeo MiTo - it has personality.

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Here's a new car with real personality. It's the Alfa Romeo MiTo, the latest cute-as-a-button hatch from Italy, as ROB MAETZIG reports.

Anyone remember the Alfasud? It was a great little sporty hatchback produced by Alfa Romeo in the 1970s and 1980s, and it offered such performance qualities that it helped establish the reputation of the so-called European supermini.

The car was so named because it was built in southern - sud - Italy. It sold well throughout the world, including New Zealand, and it led the way for creation of other well- known Alfas including the current 147.

But from the time the Sud stopped being manufactured in 1989, Alfa Romeo never developed another truly small car. But now it has. It has launched a cute little three-door hatch it calls the MiTo, and which is now on the market here in New Zealand.

Strange name? There's an interesting story behind that.

When the hatch was being developed, in 2007, it simply went by the name of Junior. But then the Alfa people decided to organise a public competition in Europe to find a name for the new car, and the winning title was Furiosa.

But it seems the marketing people didn't like that either, so they took the first two letters from Milan (where the car was designed) and Torino (where it is built), and came up with MiTo, complete with the appropriate capital letters. Mito also means "legend" in Italian, so there's also that connection.

One of my motoring journalism mates reckons the MiTo looks like a peanut, and that's not a bad description.

It's really cute, with google-eyed headlights flanking the traditional Alfa Romeo grille at the front, and distinctive round tail-lights at the rear. In between, there's a high- waisted bodyshell that helps give the MiTo a look that could not possibly be confused for anything else.

And that's the beauty of the design of this new little car. Just as the BMW Mini can only be a Mini, the new Fiat 500 couldn't be anything else, and the Volkswagen Beetle is obviously a Beetle, then the MiTo is as memorable as its unusual name.

The performance is pretty memorable too. The version that we get in New Zealand is powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged T-Jet four cylinder engine, which produces 114 kilowatts of power and 230 newton metres of torque.

The little three-door hatch weighs in at a mere 1150kg, and this excellent power-to-weight ratio means the car can scoot to 100 kmh in just eight seconds, and on to a top speed of 215 kmh.

All I can say is that I wouldn't want to go that quickly in such a small car, but no doubt there will be plenty of Italians who by now will be zooming down the Autostrade in their MiTos. And I have no doubt that this Alfa is quite capable of achieving 200 kmh-plus.

But talking about performance capability, what I do like about this new Alfa is that it rides and handles well.

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Adding to all of this is a thingie aboard the car called DNA, which stands for Dynamic, Normal and All-weather, and which is controlled by the driver via operation of a little toggle switch mounted near the manual gearshift.

The default setting is Normal which is for the so-called ordinary driving, and even the Alfa gives the impression that if the driver wants to get a bit enthusiastic there's plenty of grunt on hand in that little turbocharged four cylinder engine.

Select Dynamic, and all that gets confirmed. The ride gets firmer, the power steering becomes more direct, and throttle response and engine power also change in the interests of really sporty motoring. I was impressed. Mind you, in this setting the ride is firm enough to almost be described as hard, but then again it is only for the enthusiastic driving.

The All-weather setting is designed for far more careful motoring in the wet or when conditions are icy. During the days I had a MiTo for test, the weather didn't give me the opportunity to try that out.

This new Alfa is very much like the BMW Mini in that it takes the mini term to the fullest degree in terms of rear accommodation. While there's plenty of room for those in the front - and indeed the driver environment is magnificent - the same can't be said for the back seats which are cramped. There's also not a lot of room in the boot.

But really, who cares? This is a European supermini after all, and its reason for being is more as a snappy little performer than as a carry-all.

In that regard, the new Alfa Romeo MiTo does a nice job. Very highly specified and attractive enough to pull buyers, it also offers impressive performance potential, particularly when the DNA system is used to the fullest.

ALFA ROMEO  MITO TURBO  SPORT 

POWER PLANT: 1368cc  turbocharged DOHC 16-valve  four cylinder engine, 114 kW  at 5500 rpm, 230 Nm at 3000  rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: Front- wheel drive. Six-speed  manual transmission. Full  range of ride and handling  aids, including unusual DNA  system.

HOW BIG: Length 4063mm,  width 170mm, height  1446mm, wheelbase  2511mm.

HOW MUCH: $44,990.

WHAT'S GOOD: Looks great,  goes well, nice chassis.

WHAT'S NOT: Too costly,  not a lot of room in the back.

OUR VERDICT: This car is a  little beauty - pity the price  means it will remain  reasonably rare.

- Taranaki Daily News

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