Let’s not ignore that liquid exterior for a moment and focus instead on where I am: in the belly of the beast, between a leathery steering wheel and similarly sheathed bucket. Every bit of trim, gauge, switch and toggle is telling the driver to punch the throttle and relocate to the nearest winding mountain pass. On arrival you’ll be obliged to wind down the windows and bury the loud pedal into the footwell, releasing an aural assault so primal it runs sinewy fingers up and down your spine.
Strange that the minuscule Fiat-derived 1398cc four cylinder engine tucked beneath the Mito’s bulbous bonnet has just such a sound.
The soft-touch carbon-look on the curving dashboard, echoed in the door cards and pulls of the pillarless doors, performs a similar task. The overall feel of the cabin is mucho Italiano, a class above its mini hatch rivals and knocking on the chins of far pricier sports cars – all for Renault Clio RS money, but with Gucci bagfuls more style.
Alfa does Passion as vehemently as Volkswagen does Sensible, at a price premium on par with the Golf 6 (featured on page 28) which is also driven by a turboed 1.4. I know which one I’d take and it does not come from Wolfsburg. It boils down to this: if you’re (heaven forbid) the type of lad to throw a fob down to impress a lady, the Alfa unit will do more impressing. You might pull the odd bird with your Veedub, but she’s certain to be similarly Sensible – which means she’ll want nothing to do with you, mate. But the Alfa’s not just about style. There’s substance too, not to mention racing pedigree which Fiat has never quite managed to package into its econoboxes despite sharing Alfa DNA.
But what’s this fancy toggle just to the left of my knee? Seems it’s a DNA switch which enables you to choose the mood of the entire car. It tweaks steering, throttle response and traction control according to three settings: D (dynamic), N (normal) or A (all-weather). The latter is best saved for torrential downpours, while Normal will help you reach the claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 6.5ℓ/100km. For everything else, there’s Dynamic to make it all go sharper, stiffer and quicker.
It’s the mode I’m in as I select first, release the clutch and begin feeding in 114kW and 230Nm. The sound is far throatier than you’d expect from a 1400, and the sudden torque rush as the tiny turbo spools up has me charging for the horizon and the redline in a flash. Into second and the process is repeated. What a sound! Jump off the throttle and the truncated induction roar becomes a bark, a tiny one, but it’s there dammit. A corner looms, a downshift, and the ribbon of road is despatched even when going in hotter than you should – all thanks to the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system. On track the nanny is frustratingly intrusive, robbing you of driver involvement, but on city roads you wouldn’t know it was there.
Alfa in its wisdom has decided VDC is the foundation on which all the electrical trickery will operate, and it includes Electronic Q2 (simulates a limited-slip differential using the vehicle’s brakes), Hill Holder, ASR (aka Anti-Slip Regulation), Brake Assist, MSR (prevents excessive wheel drag during sudden downshifts), CBC (optimises brake distribution between the four wheels in order to make full use of maximum grip) and DST (corrects steering and controls oversteer on surfaces with poor grip). The bottom line? You never drive this car alone, not when R2-D2 resides between you and the wheels. Remember when all you needed were three pedals, a stick and a steering wheel?
A SMALL CONFESSION
I haven’t yet been entirely honest about some of the car’s foibles. Then again, flaws are part of Alfa tradition. But I cannot ignore that tasteless attempt at a gear knob. Don’t let the glossy photos or the exquisite seats alongside fool you – it’s all plastic and billiard-ball smooth. And as much as I enjoyed those soft carbon fibre trim elements, I concede they’re as fundamentally wrong as aluminium marshmallow. The rear seats, albeit also shod in fine leather, are no more than toddler-spec. Seriously, purchase this car only if your kids are small or unimportant to you. Could that be why the Alfa badge features a serpent swallowing a child? To make the point, it’s been plastered on everything from seats to sills.
The seatbelt warning pong also works on my nerves, although left long enough it does a good job of mimicking one of my Paul Van Dyk tracks.
Yet I’m willing to look past all of this, even past the under-engineered bellows which allow for steering wheel adjustment and the unpainted bits visible through the seat belt holes, just because it’s an Alfa.
I love that the service manual says: ‘Here is some advice for driving in the mountains: Downhill, use engine braking by engaging low gears so that the breaks (sic) do not overheat.’ Considerate, but flawed.
Most of all though, I forgive the Mito its faults, quirks and robotic driving aids because of the way it looks. In red. Here. Today. Parked in little more than a shed, with the sunlight penetrating the window beyond and dancing delicately along its sensual bodywork. Yes, that lozenge front and pert bum are a reminder of the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. Pity those 17 inch alloys, while quintessentially Alfa, struggle to fill the massive arches. Overly ornate lamp clusters are matched by the slivers of chrome lining its flanks and within the recessed airdam. There are plenty of details to absorb, details that grow on you – like the slight buttressing on the pillar that swells above each rear lamp.
It’s cleverly positioned too. As accomplished as the base model is at R228 000 (leather adds R10 000), Alfa has left space for the GTA, a real performance derivative with a lighter chassis and 50% more power. It’s coming too, in white, and my freshly awakened inner Alfisti simply cannot wait.
Alfa Romeo Mito
1368cc, 16V, four cylinder, 114kW @ 5500rpm, 230Nm @ 3000rpm
Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
0-100kph 8.0sec, 215kph, 6.5l/100, 153g/km
HOW BIG? (LENGH/WIDTH/HEIGHT/WHEELBASE)
0-60kph 4.07sec, 0-100kph 8.08sec
QUARTER MILE TIME/TERMINAL SPEED
60-100kph 5.08sec, 80-120kph 5.41sec