• Jul 22nd 2008 at 11:58AM
  • 43

Click above for a hi-res gallery of the Alfa MiTo

It's Saturday night and I'm out on the town. My friend – like half of the guys in the room – is eyeing the pretty blond across the bar, but at least he knows he doesn't have to worry about competition from my corner. Because there's a smolderingly hot redhead sitting across the room, and she's stolen all of my attention. Objectively I'd have to admit the blond is the better choice, but there's just something about those fiery crimson locks that make short order of blocking out everything else. It's something that – while I've never been officially part of the club myself – I suspect I share with Alfa Romeo owners around the world.

For decades Alfa Romeo has been coasting by on its image and heritage. Buying an Alfa has long been an irrational choice, motivated by the subjective longing for that indefinable x-factor despite their many objective dynamic flaws. With the new Alfa MiTo, however, that era draws to a close. The MiTo demands no excuses and, drenched though it is with that charm that only redheads Alfas do best, the MiTo doesn't ask that you ignore its flaws because countless manhours have gone into making sure they've been eliminated.

All Photos Copyright ©2008 Noah Joseph / Weblogs, Inc.

We could have tried to hide our excitement at Alfa Romeo's invitation to drive its highly anticipated new sport-hatch in Italy, but really now, who would we be kidding? However, we did board the flight for Milan with a healthy dose of journalistic skepticism. The styling of Alfa's new entry-level model draws directly on its range-topping counterpart, the 8C Competizione. And we haven't attempted to hide our enthusiasm for that sportscar's sumptuous styling, either. But relating a small hatchback to a limited-production supercar worth easily ten times as much (the company has yet to release official pricing) is a bit of a stretch, and we couldn't help but wonder if Alfa hadn't written a check with the MiTo's styling that its dynamic performance couldn't possibly match.

Our invitation, it's worth noting, came as part of a new initiative from Alfa Romeo to reach out to a new generation of customers. Specifically, customers like you, who read blogs like ours. We were joined by bloggers from across Europe, but Autoblog being the only American (or for that matter, English-language) site represented, ours was a bit of an exclusive. The outreach exercise also attracted the participation of some of Alfa's top marketing executives, ostensibly present to observe first-hand how the event carried off, and a team of accomplished test drivers to show us how to get the most out of the MiTo, but more on both of those subjects in later posts to follow.

Enough preamble, you say? How does the MiTo drive, you ask? Suffice it to say, despite the aforementioned overcast of years of disappointing dynamics and the hype of the MiTo's aspirational styling, the little Italian did not disappoint. We weren't, however, expected to take the company's word for it, but rather were encouraged to push the car to its absolute limits. All the while, the MiTo did not miss a beat: not under hard acceleration, quick directional changes, sweeping high-speed corners, twisty curves, hard braking, in the wet, on the dry... whatever we could throw at it, the MiTo ate it up, spit it out and hunkered down for more. The folks at Alfa Romeo clearly knew that in advance – that's why they brought us to Varano, one of the most challenging racetracks in Italy, to let us find out for ourselves. Being a front-drive, nose-heavy hatchback, the MiTo was prone to some measure of understeer, but the myriad systems onboard do a remarkable job of minimizing torque steer.

The transformation is quite remarkable, especially when you consider the MiTo's humble beginnings. Underneath all that curvaceous coachwork resides the same platform that underpins the work-a-day Fiat Grande Punto. While Alfa's sister company Abarth (both under the direction of Fiat Group rising star Luca de Meo) has by all accounts done quite a job on the Punto itself, the MiTo is another beast entirely. Part of the transformation comes down to a bank of electronic aids that would make the Space Shuttle seem old-school including everything from stability control to computerized brake-force distribution and an electronic differential. While the base versions of the MiTo won't include all these systems, our 155-hp turbocharged testers (top-of-the-line, at least until the 230-hp GTA is launched) encompassed all of these and then some.

To control all these systems, Alfa reached back into the realm of supercars, though this time it didn't run to its big brother the 8C Competizione, but rang up its cousins at Ferrari: The MiTo is the first roadcar from outside Maranello to feature Ferrari's manettino chassis control switch, which Alfa aptly calls its DNA system, selecting as it does between Dynamic, Normal and All-Weather settings. While Ferrari places its dial right on the steering wheel, Alfa put the toggle northwest of the six-speed shifter. The chassis itself is quite solid, but the electronics do a remarkable job of keeping it all together under the adverse circumstances to which we subjected the MiTo. After taking a few laps in both All-Weather and Normal modes, the difference when Dynamic (the most liberal of the three settings) is engaged is quite noticeable. The whole car feels more taut and attentive, like a circus tiger responding to its trainer's whip. The electronic nannies all take a step back and let you have some fun, but the safety net, thankfully, is still there to keep you from undesired encounters with roadside obstacles.

All this from a cabin we could get used to all too easily. It's a small car and the interior doesn't feel cavernous, unlike some of the MiTo's rivals that try to open things up with swept-back dashboards and huge windscreens melding into expansive glass roof panels. The MiTo's approach is decidedly more enveloping, more intimate in a true Italian style. The seats are upholstered in black leather, perforated in some areas and top-stitched in white on others. The dashboard, meanwhile, is covered in a trim that's more inspired by carbon fiber than trying to mimic the material, which might not be to everyone's taste but was to ours. The back seats are tight – not a place we'd want to be for a long trek – but we survived a few laps back there while a former rally champion showed us what she could do.

At the end of the day, the project leader for the MiTo asked us what we would want changed, and after a resounding silence, the only thing anyone could come up with, tellingly, was some grab handles for the passengers.

Don't be fooled: despite the 8C styling language, the MiTo is no supercar. It won't be running circles around Porsches and Corvettes. It should, however, give Europe's best hot hatches a run for their money, with the appeal to take it the extra mile down the straight.

The challenge now incumbent upon Alfa Romeo will be to follow up on the MiTo's example and make it the new rule rather than an exception. The Milanese automaker has a slew of new models in the pipeline, including the new 149 that will join the MiTo in replacing the aging 147 hatchback, the anticipated 169 flagship, and the possibility of new cabrio and crossover models, to say nothing of GTA versions confirmed for both the MiTo and the 8C. If the people at Alfa can make all of these as dynamically competent as the MiTo, it may never have to make another excuse again.

It's the weekend again, and I'm back at the bar with my friends. (If you think I have a drinking problem, you try finding a suitable replacement for the rush of driving an Italian sporthatch full out on a race track.) This time my friend has ditched the peroxide poseur and has joined me in checking out the hot redhead. "Should I go for it?", he asks. When all the right boxes are ticked, I can't think of one reason why not.

All Photos Copyright ©2008 Noah Joseph / Weblogs, Inc.

Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      I love this car! Somehow I think the movie "Cars" has influenced auto design. This car has personality just sitting still.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Ditch the chrome on the rear tails and I'll put a deposit down.

      Ok, well I'd at least give it a serious look along with a Mini and whatever else comes out in the next 2+ yrs (new Scion that can replace my tC?) until we get it.
        • 7 Years Ago
        That color-keyed surrounds option an excellent decision on Alfa's part. I'll take mine in black with blacked-out accents, please, and a tan leather interior if possible.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Actually you can opt for color surround or black surround around the tail lights or headlights. you don't have to have the chrome, I believe it will be an option anyway.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'd seriously take this over a MINI. I don't usually say this, but wow this little thing is adorable, especially in Black. I especially like the Interior. Great Review BTW.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I know on every small hatchback I post the same thing but having said that, I want my Abarth 500. This MiTo is very cool however and I don't think that the styling is too poor. I kind of like the inherent amount of funk it has. Being a shrunken 8C and all.
        • 7 Years Ago
        yeap, that interior on the Mini just makes me wanna puke, and to have to look at that think everytime I drive...hell no

        the Italinas have outdone every little car that competes with the MiTo
        i love it

        I want one nowwww
        • 7 Years Ago
        @ Torrent:

        Looks very nice if i were in London England U,K or something id Love to drive this car it looks Nice inside and out. But... Torrent iv'e already fell in love with the MINI Copper S. So id take the MINI over it if i had the choice. but.. . id love to drive both cars if i could. lol...
      • 7 Years Ago
      The front of the car will be ruined by the states that require front liscence plates.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "For decades Alfa Romeo has been coasting by on its image and heritage. Suffice it to say, despite the aforementioned overcast of years of disappointing dynamics..."

      Not completely fair statements. It seem the auto press is just plain lazy sometimes. They get in a groove and it's hard to get out of it, no matter the reality, and they forget their own writings. It is true Alfa has had an inconsistent record since the 70's, and because of their glorious history, the public and press were often more disappointed than if say, it had been a Ford or Opel they were driving. The reality is that Alfa has made some very desirable and capable cars since then. The elegant and vey competent 164 was highly regarded as Alfa’s first successful ‘large’ sedan, the 147 and 156 won European Car of the Year, and were both highly rated by the press, as was the last generation GTV, especially in 6 cylinder form. The 75/Milano may have had polarizing looks and iffy quality, but was highly regarded for its brilliant chassis (RWD), and let’s not forget about the latest incarnations of the GTA badge on the 156 and 147. Somewhat flawed, yes, like many great cars, but great driver’s cars regardless. You need only look at past issues of euro car mags to confirm all this. The later cars were compromised by the front drive platforms forced on them by parent company Fiat, but no more so than Audis. What always killed the experience was the dismal support from the factory and dealers, which made them difficult cars to own. Regardless, even the less good Alfas did had have the so called magic ‘X-Factor’ that made them feel special, and thankfully they’ve never lost that. Most Americans know squat about ‘Alpha Romeros’ or their history, much less have ever owned one, so they hear one bad story and just pass it along. I was a German car snob until I bought my first Alfa 17 years ago with much trepidation, only to pleasantly find the stereotypes severly heavy handed.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I recommend looking up the difference between "Blond" and "Blonde" Not that I judge.
      • 7 Years Ago
      What kind of evaluation is this? Is the steering feedback good? Are the brakes progressive? What's the comfort/performance balance like? All I got from that review was that there's a stability control system on the car. Maybe you should worry less about making tired analogies between cars and women and consider the basic premise of a review.
        • 7 Years Ago
        "When all the right boxes are ticked, I can't think of one reason why not."

        Yeah, the redhead is fun, but the maintenance will kill you. It takes an enthusiast to buy an Alfa once. It takes a masochist to go back and buy another.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Seoultrain, get with the times. You like many other people are still dwelling in somewhat unjustified and outdated stereotypes of the marque, most likely not even from first hand experience. Since the early 90s Alfa has made a concerted effort to make their cars less maintenance intensive and lengthen their service intervals with items like direct coil ignition (one of the first to adopt this tech), hydraulic valve tappets, and self adjusting everything, even hand brakes. If you actually look at the maintenance schedule of a modern Alfa, you will see that it's not exactly a Honda, but is comparable to an Audi or BMW.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Love the inside. Not a fan of the outside, much too fem for me.
        • 7 Years Ago
        i agree, the mini looks epic and this is just, meh
      • 7 Years Ago
      The rear-end just ruins it for me. Those taillights!
        • 7 Years Ago

        I've driven small cars, at least by America's standard, for most of my adult life. I'm still alive.

        Crash tests for large hunks of metal rarely have better force and G ratings than small and mid-size cars. The nature of effective crash safety is that the force is dispersed throughout the shell of the vehicle without disturbing the occupant cabin. Crumple zones are then designed into key locations to absorb the force and reduce the impact felt by the occupants. Devices like Tailored-Blanks that become progressively stronger and thicker as the impact becomes closer to the cabin, or bazooka beams on the door to keep the cabin solid along with airbag systems have created quite safe small cars. When building larger vehicles sometimes the attention to detail for the engineers with crash safety is not as critical, so that at the end of the day the physical toll experienced by me in a small well designed car is more times than not equal to the larger cars and SUVs.
        • 7 Years Ago
        @ joe k.

        i was just making a point bro.... would u really feel safe if an accident occured and u were in a car that small???
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Details and Lighting
      Customers who wish to customise their car still further can order a black painted roof or, for the first time on an Alfa Romeo, choose between 14 different finishes for the headlight and tail-light frames (shiny or satinised chrome, opaque black and titanium grey, plus the 10 body shades). Similarly, the door mirror caps can also be ordered as an option in shiny or satinised chrome, opaque black and titanium grey.

      The light clusters on the Alfa Romeo MiTo are also worthy of a separate mention as they are veritable gems of design and engineering.

      The front headlights are available in both halogen/xenon bulbs and offer a daytime light function (Daytime Running Lights) that automatically turn on the special low energy bulbs to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

      The tail-light clusters, produced by Magneti Marelli Automotive Lighting, are circular in shape to create a sporty impression that is also reminiscent of Alfa Romeo tradition and are re fitted with LED bulbs."

      This is copied from Alfa's own blurb, so anyone not liking the chrome light surrounds has a choice....

        • 7 Years Ago
        You beat me to it...I love the rear on this car..
      • 7 Years Ago
      I love the way this car looks. And I am always happy to see another 3dr on the market :)
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think I just threw up a little. Man when you use Neon headlights as tail lights for a new car, you have some serious design issues.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Wow, that was a deeply insightful design commentary, no doubt from someone in the design field. Can you believe Alfa also used round tires, just like on the Neon? Hmmm, round tail lights did not debut on the Neon. They were a typical Italian design element since the 60's and used on many Fiats and Lancias, not to mention Ferraris, Isos, Corvettes, and most recently Cobalts, Impalas, etc., so there's quite a bit of heritage there.
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