FOR some reason, the style bar is quite low among superminis. When you think about it, very few are really good looking, and for cars that have the perfect proportions to play with, that seems a bit odd.
The MiTo, named after the Fiat Group sites that were chiefly responsible for it, Milan and Torino, is the exception to the rule as long as you spec it up a little. Not much has changed on the outside for this 2014 model, but just look at it! What a stunning wee beastie.
Some people (probably more than you’d think) will never be able to get past the asymmetric front end thing, where the number plate has to be mounted off to one side because of the deep V-shaped classic Alfa Romeo grille. Something tells me they didn’t design it with the DVLA in mind.
But the rest of us can enjoy the idea of a car that likes to be different. It puts Italian style and eccentricity first to create an engaging small car, especially compared to the shades of grey that dominate this sector of the market.
For 2014 it gets a barely noticeable nip and tuck on the outside but more significant changes inside, including something that in true Alfa style polarises opinion completely. Take a good look at the dash, pictured right. That’s not a trick of the light; it really is a graduated two-tone effect from grey-black to orangey-red. At the car’s launch, I loved it, but for every journalist singing its praises there was someone else dialing the Taste Police.
Elsewhere, the big news is a new instrument cluster and a new, optional sat-nav. Essentially it’s a TomTom five-inch navigation unit with added Alfa Romeo software to give access to your media, radio stations and some car settings. It works nicely and, although the navigation does appear to lag behind the car’s actual position, the interface is fresh and easy to use.
The MiTo looks its best on upgraded, larger alloy wheels, although that doesn’t do the ride any favours on the sort of roads we generally enjoy on this island, especially if the standard “DNA” drive mode selector is set to D for Dynamic. It’s not especially bad and there are cars costing more than twice the price that ride worse, but it’s not brilliant either.
But thankfully the DNA switch doesn’t just stiffen the suspension. It brings the car to life and the difference between Dynamic and Natural modes is astonishing. In this car, blessed as it is with the much-lauded TwinAir two-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, flicking the switch to Dynamic releases a barrel full of giggles and a lifetime of chuntering fun.
Natural mode reduces the available torque, softens its delivery and requires a much harder press of the throttle pedal to source any acceleration. It’s fine for low-speed urban driving where fuel economy is more important, but, in the main, Dynamic is the mode to stay in.
That Italian eccentricity I mentioned is clearest in the cabin of this car. High-spec seats feature luxury detailing in areas like the seat stitching, but then there’s a design calamity where the seat belt routing gets in the way of the seat back angle adjuster.
But it’s not a one-trick pony, the MiTo. Yes it’s great to drive in this trim and yes, I think it’s the best-looking supermini you can buy, but as you drive it you notice how well sized and shaped the door mirrors are, and rear passengers get their own cup holders. The boot is competitive for the class.
Remember your first car? Remember how rich an experience that was, and that even though it inevitably had faults and flaws, you loved that hunk of metal and plastic all the more. The MiTo is vastly better than most first cars, but it has the same air about it. So many superminis are purely about A to B transport, but, if you let it, the MiTo will drive straight to your heart.
Engine 0.9-litre two-cylinder turbocharged petrol producing 103bhp and 107lb ft
Performance Top speed 114mph, 0-62mph in 11.4 seconds
Fuel economy 67.3mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 99g/km