Does the Alfa Romeo MiTo really have what it takes to be accepted as a serious consumer proposition - or is it just another Alfa Romeo that, in time, you’ll hate to love (or love to hate), all the way to the bank? Has Alfa Romeo broken the mould with MiTo? Let’s find out
A great deal of slagging off centres around Alfa-Romeo’s elusive relationship with quality. You’ve heard all the jokes. (Mate, why didn’t you just cut out the middle man and buy a bucket of rust instead. That kind of thing.) But - let’s be objective: It’s not just Alfa Romeo that's embroiled in a debate over quality and reliability. The big players are in it too. Toyota keeps issuing seven- and eight-figure recalls, totalling dozens of millions of cars globally. As I write this, GM is getting fined $7000 a day for obfuscating around the deaths of more than a dozen people, and sweeping it all under the rug, for 10 years, just like Ford did with the infamous Pinto memo in the 1970s.
The Holden Cruze is frankly barking all over the world, and Volkswagen … please. What a disgrace. Honestly, Volkswagen could run a car company properly if it wasn’t for you customers. That’s how they think. Too many glass houses in the automotive industry for anyone to start chucking rocks on this issue. The MiTo could not possibly be built any worse than the foibles afflicting the big boys.
When Alfa Romeo launched the MiTo here in 2009, the range topped out at $37,490 - plus on-road costs -for the MiTo Sport. Call it about $42,000 drive away. A lot happened since then: Chrysler went bankrupt in the GFC and became a Fiat property - and both brands have been in a state of generally upward flux since then. Prices were slashed, too, opening the MiTo up to a new range of potential buyers. Today, the range topping MiTo Distinctive Series II is about $32k, drive away - a cool saving of more than $9500, compared with the 2009 model. That’s about 25 per cent cheaper.
There's a lot to love about the MiTo - the value equation is right up there. On a style per dollar basis, few other cars come close. And despite its elegance it's not too girly - a man could own one without moisturising every day, and subscribing to the Jimmy Choo catalogue...
The MiTo is more distinctive than the Polo - and it’s made in Italy, whereas the Polo comes from South Africa. And the MiTo is less mundane than the 3000 flavours of MINI currently on sale. (And it’s worth remembering MINI was recently assessed as the least reliable brand in the JD Power 2014 US Vehicle Dependability study.
The outside is simply gorgeous. Every way you look at it, the MiTo says ‘take me’ - as in ‘take me for a drive’ and ‘when we get back, take me again’. I like that. And it’s the same inside - there are some brilliant touches in here.
There are brilliant touches in here. It's a tactile interior - you just want to keep touching it. Great steering wheel - perfect instrument cluster - and it gets even better at night when the red lights do their thing. The only thing that's under done is the infotainment display - that's a bit too Holden Barina for a car this beautiful.
SAFETY & PERFORMANCE
The MiTo is a safe car - five stars - and is impressively equipped for the price. It loves to be driven. Throw it at a bend, and the MiTo fits right in - especially if you remember to nudge the DNA switch to ‘Dynamic’. That re-maps the steering weight and the throttle response.
The turbo 1.4 engine is quite willing - there’s just 99 kilowatts at 5000rpm, and you think ‘what?’ but that’s mitigated by big torque at low revs: 206Nm from just 1750rpm, thanks to the turbo. In other words, there’s impressive low-rpm power delivery. And the car itself is a lightweight - under 1200kg - so there’s not much mass to move around.
Wouldn’t it be nice if a sweet transmission was slotted in between the flywheel and the road…
The twin-clutch transmission is a fail. This is the most utterly hateful thing about the MiTo. It's awful. Some transmissions are brilliant. This is not one of those. Some have grade logic built in. This one has CDL technology. CDL - cross-dresser's logic. How else does it manage always to be in the wrong gear? You could set 100 clocks by it. Every time. Give me a standard auto every day.
To be fair, the cross-dressing transmission changes its spots - or at least its outfit - when you take it off the chain. Having fun between bends, throwing the MiTo around, that transmission gets a significant IQ upgrade. It knows exactly what to do - so, for the two per cent of driving that’s actually engaging like that, great. The other 98 per cent of the time, in traffic, around town, it’s either bogging down, or revving its tits off unnecessarily.
The solution is simple - save yourself $3500 and buy the manual. Admittedly it’s only a five speed, but you won’t find yourself in the transmission equivalent of a mini skirt when black tie would have been better.
You’ll pick up a manual MiTo - called the MiTo Progression - for just $28,000 drive away. And that’s before you negotiate.
CONCLUSION & COMPETITION
You get beauty on a budget. The MiTo is beautiful - just beautiful. But the big question is, will it betray you? In time, will you love to hate it? Will you hate to love it? Will you love it as much as you hate it? This is the Alfa Romeo ownership proposition up until now. It's gorgeous enough to break your heart if it betrays you, that's for sure.
Twenty-eight grand - that’s helluva a lot of style for the dough. Alternatives?
COMPETITION: Volkswagen Polo
The South African Volkswagen Polo, maybe it’s a notionally more conservative choice. If you always order two scoops of Vanilla, it’s the one for you.
The MINI? Yeah. Definitively a MiTo competitor. But lousy on reliability. Independently assessed by JD Power. And everyone’s got one.
COMPETITION: Audi A1
Base model Audi A1? Sure. However, it’s a lot to pay for a stripped out and re-bodied Polo, with one less seat. It’s a $26,000 car with more than $26,000 in available options. (I mean, a centre armrest is $250 extra. What does ‘premium’ actually mean again? And high-gloss air vents are $410 - because nothing says classy louder than glossy vents. These are just some of the wacky optional items you can buy with your Audi A1. If you’re a moron.)
These cars - including the MiTo - all come from left-field. They strive to stand out. Successfully. The MiTo fits right in on stand-out factor - it might even be the pick of this bunch.
If quality and reliability - let's call it 'engineering integrity' - were a joke, here’s the punch line: Alfa Romeo hasn’t actually issued a product safety recall in Australia since 2010. None of these competing brands - despite their superior public perception on the quality issue - can claim that with a straight face.