Recalling the passion and pizzazz
CRUISING along the highway at 110kmh, a loud whistle started emanating from the closed sunroof. Then came a torrential rainstorm.
My immediate concerns were getting soaked, and as the wet stuff continued to pour I had visions of being holed up on the roadside waiting for assistance.
This is the joy of driving an Alfa Romeo. The journey is always an experience.
But as it turns out, the whistling was an aberration (caused by a nasty crosswind), the little hatch burned through the storm without fault and nothing fell off.
Modern-day Alfas are a different breed, and the MiTo is the greatest example of the evolving Italian marque which is now under Fiat Group ownership.
You can now get into an Alfa for under 30 grand thanks to a revised MiTo range, which also includes the new range-topping Quadrifoglio Verde – which at $34,990 is about $2500 less than the deleted MiTo Sport.
While the previous MiTos were okay, they fell short of lighting the fire of traditional Alfa passion.
The Quadrifoglio Verde (or QV) has been introduced to evoke that appeal. Roughly translated to green cloverleaf, which harks back to Alfa's motor sport history, the QV has more poke to make it the fastest MiTo ever.
Italian chic resonates from the cabin. It doesn't reek of expense, but the fit and feel is different from your run-of-the-mill hatchback and provides a sporting ambience.
Our internal assessment was the same as the last time we drive the MiTo…interesting.
While the steering wheel has telescopic tilt and reach, finding a comfortable driving set-up can be a challenge. The foot rest feels high and it takes some adjustment to get used to the positioning.
The centre armrest can also get in the way of gear changes and the handbrake, so it's best only used on the highway.
Head, leg and elbow room is reasonable, and medium-size adults can fit in the back as long as the front passengers are not too tall.
The MiTo QV delivers a quiet ride with limited tyre or road rumble.
On the road
This 125kW engine has the extra punch the previous model lacked.
Yet Alfa hasn't sacrificed performance for economy or emissions. This powerplant is actually more efficient in all areas despite the additional abilities.
Pivotal to that improved prowess is the DNA system. You choose between Dynamic, Normal or All-weather settings via a centre console control.
While you have the choice of three modes, Dynamic is of primary use. Normal mode is lacklustre and shifting into Dynamic while on the move will throw you back into the seat. All-weather is remarkably slow, and is designed for maximum grip with gentle throttle responses.
Reaching for the change to Dynamic became a ritual after starting the car during our test as it sharpens the acceleration and steering.
You can also opt for dynamic adaptive suspension ($1990) which enables all four shock absorbers to change their rate of damping to adapt to changing road and driving conditions.
This limits roll with each shock absorber working independently, and the result is a fun ride which encouraged spirited driving – especially when cornering.
What do you get?
Some subtle cues differentiate the QV from its MiTo counterpart, including small green carbon fibre-style cloverleaf badges near the front wheels, along with 18-inch alloys and matching colours for the headlight frames and wing mirror covers.
Standard gear is what you would expect, including trip computer, cruise control, dual zone air-con, remote locking and boot release, steering wheel audio controls, leather steering wheel and handbrake grip, VDC with hill holder, front electric windows and a premium six speaker CD stereo system.
Options include metallic paint ($790), leather interior ($2500) and a glass sunroof ($1950).
Safety levels are impressive with seven airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distributor, Electronic Stability Program, Cornering Brake Control and Dynamic Steering Torque that makes corrections automatically and also controls oversteer on surfaces with low grip.
There are a few hot hatches around, including the new Citroen DS3 ($35,990), Audi A1 ($29,990), Volkswagen Polo GTI ($27,990 est), Mini Cooper S ($39,900) and Renault Clio 200 Cup ($36,490).
It's small, but you can carry four adults – just make sure they're not all giants.
The boot is also deep, and with the added bonus of the 60-40 split-fold back seats, there is some useful cargo space.
One of the key changes is the automatic stop/start function which cuts the engine at idle. It helps contribute to fuel consumption figures which average six litres per 100 kilometres, impressively thrifty.
The turbocharging may cause some insurance worries for younger drivers.
This is one groovy looking machine. The shield-shaped grille and V-shaped bonnet and teardrop headlamps help make this hatch stand out from the crowd.
While the MiTo shares its underpinnings with the Fiat Punto, the shell is distinctly Alfa.
The Fiat partnership plays a pivotal role in improved reliability, yet the QV derivative has injected some much-need Italian pizzazz into the model which was previously somewhat humdrum.
When flicked into Dynamic mode the MiTo QV provides ample driving excitement.
And you have the added peace of mind that it will get you home every time.
Model: Alfa Romeo MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde.
Details: Three-door compact sports hatchback.
Engine: 1.4-litre in-line turbocharged four-cylinder generating maximum power of 125kW @ 5500 and peak power of 230Nm @ 2250 (250Nm @ 2500rpm in Dynamic mode).
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Consumption: 6.0 litres/100km.
Performance: 0-100kmh in 7.5 seconds; top speed 219 kmh.
Bottom line: $34,990.