Saturday, 12 November 2011 11:14 AM
Italy is having a tough time of it lately.
In a bid to protect the country’s future its longest-serving post war Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been forced to say he won’t stand at the next election.
Italy, Europe’s third largest economy, now must deal with a horrendous £1.6 trillion debt crisis, which some fear is too large even for all the countries in Europe to tackle. This puts Italy on a par with the dire situation in Greece. One saving grace for Italy is that it’s a market leader in fashion and car manufacturing. Greece on the other hand is not.
The force majeure or perhaps more appropriately in Latin, the vis major behind Italy’s car industry is Fiat (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino), owner of Ferrari, Maserati, Chrysler, Jeep and Alfa Romeo. Surely any country possessing these brands is sitting pretty?
It has always been the case that those who lusted after an expensive Maserati but didn’t have the funds have looked squarely and firmly in the direction of Alfa as an affordable alternative.
Brand new the Mito MultiAir 1.4 turbo is yours for under £14,000. It’s only the third Alfa I have driven and it doesn’t disappoint. First impressions are that it’s not too dissimilar to the Fiat 500, if a bit bigger. The Mito’s curvaceous design makes it feel tinier than the competition and crucially its pretty looks instantly charm. That’s what Alfas have always been famous for, clutching at the heart strings.
The Mito, which was introduced in 2008, gets a chrome grill and at the front the number plate sits on the right of the bumper – in common with others Alfas. Chrome door handles add a touch of class, easily knocking the socks off more common Fords, Vauxhalls or Citroens. Three-door hatches always feel sportier to me and that also helps the appeal of the Mito. There’s a decent interior and equipment levels include air-con and cruise control. Drivers also receive a luxurious key fob with red leather strap, which my baby daughter Harriett thoroughly enjoyed chewing to help soothe her teething pains.
The distinctive Alfa arrived as a Volvo XC60 was returned. I felt the latter had too many safety gadgets and gizmos, which were temperamental and hampered my driving pleasure. In contrast the sprightly Alfa has just the right amount of equipment and is easy to get in and drive – which is what you want from a car. Like any Alfa it’s that driving experience that sets it apart. Despite its small 1.4-litre petrol engine it’s a good driver’s car that packs a reasonable 105bhp punch while returning over 40mpg.
The engine is fitted with an automatic start/stop function – I’m still to be convinced whether this does actually save fuel but I suppose it helps the environment by cutting emissions. Long traffic jams can result in the engine frequently cutting out only to restart with the fuel gauge dropping faster than if this facility isn’t used, in my opinion. However, it can be overridden simply by keeping the clutch down. This comment refers to all such systems, not just the Alfa – the one on the Mini Cooper SD gets through fuel very quickly in such situations.
The Mito test took place during yet another particularly challenging time on Britain’s roads, and on the first morning my relaxed journey quickly became more urgent as accidents and roadworks hampered progress. Consequently demanding overtaking was required and the Mito stepped up to the mark. In normal mode the engine is a little sluggish but select dynamic mode on the dna (dynamic, normal and all-weather) software package and the steering, throttle, suspension and traction settings noticeably improve.
This system is operated by a simple flick of a switch in front of the gearbox and it’s effective, it makes the Mito feel like it’s had a shot of speed, making a demanding driver happy. The six-speed manual box is a joy to use. Added to which, my little Italian friend is never happier than when overtaking – the whole Alfa package giving the driver confidence with their manoeuvres. Having driven Fiestas and Corsas it’s clear that the compact Alfa is in a class of its own.
Once parked the driver invariably walks off smiling only to return doing exactly the same as the Mito greets you like a long lost mate.
Parkers the car experts say: “Mito is an Italian Mini - the kind of car Alfa Romeo should have been building years ago. It’s trendy, good to drive and is packed with the latest technology, making it ideal for the fashion-conscious car buyer. A year after its launch Alfa raised the bar with its MultiAir models. Buyers who opt for the Mito over the Mini can be confident of owning a car that’s far less common, more attractively priced and better equipped. Strong resale value forecasts and affordable lease and running costs make it clear that this is the first Alfa in a very long time that appeals to both the heart and the head.”
The Fiat group will play a key part in reversing the fortunes of Italy and the Alfa Mito has an important role in that mission.
Alfa Mito 1.4 turbo MultiAir
Top speed: 112mph
Road tax: £110 a year
New price range: £12,250 - £18,755
Used price range: £6,777 - £13,455
By Tim Saunders
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