Approaching the Alfa Romeo MiTo Cloverleaf, its easy to spot that this is the Italian firm’s hot model. Its proportions seem just right and has a slightly sportier look which gives it enough presence without it looking like a boy racer’s car. Proudly donning the sides are the famous Cloverleaf shields which once graced the sides of some of the finest racing cars ever seen. Opening the pillar less door and climbing inside its black leather clad cabin, its nice to see just how roomy it is inside. Unlike some of it’s rivals like the Mini, it has rear seats that can actually accommodate people rather than just a handbag. Glancing at the centre console you notice that everything is well positioned, while the wheel is just the right size and despite being a multifunction it isn’t covered in buttons and toggles.
Beside the gearstick is one of the main features of new Alfa’s – their cleverly named DNA switch that enables the driver to change the car’s characteristics. Not only does this change the engine modes, but also alters the steering weight and suspension firmness. When you start up the 1.4 turbocharged engine it’s default setting is N for Normal (D being Dynamic & A being All Weather). Once fired into life, the engine soon settles to a purposeful yet quiet purr. Normal mode is fine for pottering about the city, its steering is light yet you still feel like the wheel in your hands is actually connected to the front wheels. Cruising up to a red light, the engine note fades away to silence as the Alfa’s Stop/Start system activates. As soon as the next green light appears the engine immediately springs back into life the instant I press in the clutch, but should you find the Stop / Start getting on your nerves in traffic you can also deactivate it.
Reaching down to the large silver toggle switch, and changing the MiTo into Dynamic mode instantly changes everything. Steering immediately feels a little heavier (but in a good, sporty way) and the engine’s increase in power causes the car to surge forward without giving the throttle any extra encouragement. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because it really makes the MiTo come alive and bad because you very quickly realise that you wish it would be just in Dynamic mode all the time.
Get the Cloverleaf onto any good open road and it is fun to drive. The engine pulls well and despite it being turbo charged there’s little in the way of lag and its powerband is pretty vast. It really starts to get going the higher up the rev range you take it. Keep it above 5,000 rpm and it becomes an absolute joy to drive (provided you have the right road to go with it). Gun it off the lights and you won’t be left too disappointed either, there’s plenty of grunt for a car of its size and not a huge amount of torque steer either. Even when cruising in higher gears, rarely do you come across the need to drop a cog when rolling on the power.
What my time in the MiTo did do was to demonstrate that their build quality is vastly improved on where they were five or more years ago – my press car has over 16,000 kms and there wasn’t a squeak or rattle from anywhere inside the cabin. It did however have an armrest that despite being comfortable, made the handbrake pretty hard to access when down but the only real main gripe I had with it was that the visibility out of the windscreen wasn’t particularly brilliant. The combination of low roofline and badly placed rear view mirror I found obstructed a good deal of view from the left side of the windscreen. But in the MiTo’s defense, I do tend to sit quite upright when driving.
But for me the one thing that the MiTo Cloverleaf isn’t, is bonkers. Granted this will suit the vast majority of people, but if I’m really honest I was just a little disappointed by it. Perhaps I had built it up a bit too much in my mind but secretly I wanted it to be a little bit mental. The MiTo Cloverleaf is an example of the motoring world’s current obsession of downsizing engines. Its previous family relatives, namely the 147 GTA (which was a 3.2 litre V6 powered dose of lunacy on wheels) were off the wall and these days no longer seen as politically, morally or environmentally correct. I can understand that in the last ten years a lot has changed but I still wish that Alfa, as a brand renowned for being a real driver’s car, would continue with the madness rather than dilute it down slightly. Granted the MiTo Cloverleaf packs a 170 bhp punch, maybe its just such a refined car now that it just seems like it has less?
As a city car though, the MiTo is just as up to the job as the more popular Mini and carries a lot more style than some of its German & Far Eastern rivals. It can adequately take four adults and the boot space should suit most people’s needs and even with this sporty version, fuel economy was very good. Its decent wheelbase combined with parking sensors also make it a doddle to park in even the tightest of spots. Alfa really have upped their game in the last few years and with the new arrival of the Gulietta and forthcoming 4C sports car, they are once again starting to get the recognition they deserve.
Basic price OTR: €23,995
Price as tested: €26,235
Road Tax band: € 156 per year