Tap the key fob, watch the lights flicker, yank the door open, slide behind the wheel, turn the ignition on half, fiddle with some buttons, turn it on full and hear a noise, look around in different directions and then go… Yawn.
The whole experience of driving a car has become so unbelievably mundane, so routine and so unexceptional, it’s like going grocery shopping, or forming a cue just because everyone else has. We’re beginning, and perhaps the manufacturers are too, to take driving completely for granted. Well, at least I thought we were until this little Italian arrived in my driveway. A small, affordable car that puts snap, crackle and pop back into driving. A car you’ll use every day and that’ll widen your smile every day. A car that’s not just a device to shuttle you from home to work, to the gym, to your friends and town, a car that becomes its own event, its own venue, its own occasion.
To use its full nomenclature, the car I’m talking about is the Alfa Romeo Mito Quadrifoglio Verde Sport. It costs R 287 000 and packs serious on-road punch, with 125 kW from its 1.4-litre, turbocharged MultiAir engine. It’s a racy little sod with a 6-speed manual gearbox, taught suspension, DNA system, a Q2 electronic differential and 18-inch rims with grippy Pirelli tyres. Let the fun begin…
Ever since BMW reintroduced the Mini ten years ago, it showed you could transform a small, practical hatchback into something more desirable than just the sum of its parts. The Mito has been with us for a while now and even all that time hasn’t settled the debate over its somewhat challenging looks. I go from day to day either liking it or squinting at it. The Alfa V-grille and front lamps do the business when they’re bearing down on you in a rear view mirror, giving the little Mito more presence then its proportions necessarily deserve.
When stationary, however, the lamps front and rear seem too far apart. I’ve been told to never trust anyone with grey shoes or eyes too far apart; I guess it’s stuck with me. The rest of the body folds and curves, classically, like a cello and for a small car it wears its lines with great elegance. Yet it’s still too tall at the rear and many discredit it immediately simply by saying it looks ‘girly’. Thankfully, it doesn’t drive in a girly fashion.
Where little hatchbacks have gone in the last decade in terms of interior gadgetry is amazing. The Mito has ‘Blue & Me’, Bluetooth hands free phone and Windows interactive USB with voice recognition and they are both idiot proof to operate. What impresses with the Alfa’s voice activation is how you can dial names directly from your phonebook. Bizarre names as well. I tried them all, ‘Jerry the plumber, Bob the banker, Izaak the mechanic…’ they all worked; and, yes, of course I made all those names up.
The Mito comes with a dark interior to align with its cool, sporty attitude, but it could do with a little lightening up in my opinion. The Alcantara seats and green stitching on the dash and steering wheel barely register against the otherwise red displays and darkness going on inside. The Alfa emblem on the seats and the dials that say ‘Benzina, Acqua, etc’ for an authentic Italian feel are very cool, however. You also sit nicely low down in the car, for a maximum sporty position.
It’s a powerful, aggressive little beast and does its best to translate that back to the driver. The 125 kW & 250 Nm is tactile as it buzzes and hisses all around you even if you’re not barreling along. The ride is firm, the steering heavy, until you switch the ‘DNA’ system into Dynamic mode when it becomes even firmer and heavier. The throttle opens up and the exhaust note bellows. The clutch and drivetrain feel heavy, like they are from a much sportier car, and that means the Mito can get a little tiresome to drive, also because of the firm ride, but that is balanced with the belting performance when you are in the mood for munching the road.
The Mito QV Sport corners flat and with truly astonishing grip from its fat Pirellis. Its short wheelbase ensures no bend is too tight to fling around. The way it transfers its weight is also exceptional. The rear suspension does an ample job of containing the tall back end as it’s forced to experience g-forces by the grippy front.
My only issue, if you can call it that, is the economy of the 1.4-litre MultiAir engine. I’m told it delivers the most power possible in balance with good economy. I respect that, but I found the power delivery to be too surging, as is so often the case of big turbo, small capacity engines. With your toe buried or even feathering the throttle, it was nowhere near as economical as claimed, but that may have also just been me because I kept my toe down pretty much everywhere, all the time, come to think about it. Who wants to be ‘N’ for normal? So I had to have it in ‘D’. The character of this car just brings it out in you.
That of course is the exact point of this car. To celebrate something that’s decidedly not ‘Normal.’ It’s a clean sweep then for the Alfa Romeo Mito Quadrifoglio Verde Sport. In every department: Style, technology, performance, pace, ingenuity, it has it all in a package that is shrugging off the old Alfa Achilles heal of unreliability. I adore this Alfa despite the iffy styling. This is a car that genuinely thinks it’s a supercar, but unlike a supercar, you can get it close to its limits with a massive smile on your face.
What we like…
- As fun to drive as a supercar.
- Quite a lot cheaper than a supercar.
- Hi-tech interior with voice recognition and Blue & Me.
- Keeps you from blending in with the Mini’s.
What we would like…
- Styling is ‘girly,’ there I said it.
- The nose not to bang on speed bumps quite so often.
|Base Price||R287 000|
|Warranty||5-year / 150 000km|
|Engine Capacity||1 368 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||4-cylinders, In-line|
|Power||125 kW @ 5 500 r/min|
|Torque||250 Nm @ 2 500 r/min|
|Drive type||Front wheel drive|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h in 7.5 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||219 km/h (claimed)|
|Fuel Consumption||6.0 l/100km (claimed combined)|
|CO2 Emissions||139 g/km|