Even Italy’s hardcore Alfisti might struggle to identify the changes on the 2014 Alfa Romeo Mito Series 2 – at least judging from the car’s exterior.
This mid-life update for Alfa’s smallest model simply amounts to a chrome-plated frame for the brand’s famous V-shaped grill, along with barely discernable enhancements to the Mito’s head- and tail-light fittings.
Far more important and perhaps at odds with the quintessential Italian sports car brand’s performance heritage – is the introduction of a new petrol-sipping, turbocharged two-cylinder engine borrowed from parent company Fiat.
Downsizing by two-cylinders (from four on all other Mito models) has also allowed the Italian marque to reduce its entry price for Alfa Romeo ownership from $25,200 to $22,500 plus on-road costs for this ‘Twinair’ model.
Producing just 77kW and 145Nm of torque, the new pint-sized 0.9-litre Mito needs all of 11.4 seconds to reach 100km/h.
This might sound slower than a bendy-bus in the peak hour crawl, but matched with an easy-shifting six-speed manual it’s actually a disarmingly fun drive.
Just don’t expect to hear much of that characteristic engine note you get from almost every other Alfa past and present.
In fact, give the Mito a boot-full (an out-an-out requirement in most situations) and the diminutive two-cylinder Alfa hits the ear more like a labouring Vespa scooter rather than any red-blooded Italian hatch.
But once the revs climb above 3000rpm it gets a character all of its own, if you don’t mind the accompanying vibrations.
Keep the throttle pinned, and you’ll quickly run into the Mito’s rev-limiter, well short of the indicated 6000rpm redline.
Overall, it’s a fairly narrow rev band, so frequent gear changes are par for the course.
To tap into the full 77kW/145Nm outputs you’ll need to select Dynamic mode on Alfa’s DNA system, which also adds weight to the steering and sharpens up the throttle response – otherwise it makes a considerably less 72kW/120Nm in the other two modes of Natural and All-weather.
The petrol-sipping Natural setting is geared to optimise fuel economy and lower emissions, which alongside lower pricing are likely to be key triggers for the more frugal Alfa lovers.
Coming standard with stop/start technology, this engine claims to produce the lowest CO2 emissions of any non-hybrid petrol engine in the world (99g/km), while also claiming combined fuel cycle consumption of 4.2L/100km.
For those wanting considerably more go in their Alfa Mito, the carried-over 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder variants are the way to go.
Armed with 206Nm of torque from 1750rpm (and 99kW of power), the $24,500 Mito Progression with five-speed manual will sprint from zero to 100km/h in 8.4 seconds, and understandably feels noticeably more potent than its two-pot sibling.
Easily the quickest of the Mito litter, though, are the TCT (dual-clutch) versions – namely the $26,500 Progression and $28,000 Distinctive models. Not only do they boost peak torque by a further 24Nm to 230Nm but they also shave 0.2 seconds off the manual’s sprint time.
Left in Dynamic mode, it’s a relatively quick-shifting unit, providing sharp gear changes, as well as encouraging a sweet-sounding growl from the engine – and one more suited to the iconic Alfa Romeo badge.
Apart from the new engine, the 2014 Mito’s aging Fiat-derived chassis remains largely unchanged from the model that debuted in 2008.
There’s a decent level of steering weight (only in the Dynamic mode), but it tends to be inconsistent either side of the straight-ahead position, while the electric power steering still feels artificial and lacks sufficient feedback to be considered engaging.
Ride quality hasn’t improved, either, so the MiTo still prefers smooth bitumen and becomes particularly unsettled over lumpier roads.
Front-end grip is strong throughout the range, though, and the Mito changes direction well, even when pushed. There's less body roll on the 1.4 Multiair models, which get Alfa adaptive suspension that adopts variable-response shock absorbers for a slightly better ride than offered with the standard suspension set-up on the 0.9 Twinair variant.
However, class rivals, such as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo still feel considerably more agile, willing and composed than the Mito.
Inside, the latest Alfa Romeo Mito gets a spate of new cabin materials that blend well with the model’s technology update, though it still feels more like mid-life a nip-and-tuck than a proper makeover.
There are still too many hard plastics adorning the dash, doors and centre console for this space to ever be considered premium or even semi-premium.
The driving position, though, is excellent. The seats, though lacking sufficient bolstering, allow the driver to sit deep into the car – like the classic Alfa GTVs of the late ’60s.
Rear-seat accommodation isn’t overly spacious and there’s no rear armrest, though it’s comfortable enough for two adults of average height (as tested).
There’s also 270 litres of luggage space, aided by a relatively deep-set floor and 60/40 split-folding seats. That’s slightly less than the Fiesta’s 276-litre capacity and the Polo’s 280 litres.
Standard equipment across the Mito range is parent company Chrysler Group’s ‘Uconnect’ infotainment system, which centres on a five-inch touchscreen providing access to radio, phone, media and other settings.
While satellite navigation is unavailable across the range, the model’s Bluetooth streaming function allows turn-by-turn instructions from smartphone-based navigation apps to be transmitted to the car and provides access to online radio stations, played through the Mito’s six-speaker sound system.
The Mito also has a decent level of safety kit including 7 airbags as standard, along with the usual suite of active safety measures, and there’s both a five-star NCAP and ANCAP safety rating.
The addition of a new fuel-efficient, two-cylinder model at a reduced entry price for a car that once started around $30,000, along with updated equipment levels, should attract a wider group of Alfa buyers.
While the MiTo has more flair in its styling than engineering and it’s outpointed by some quality mainstream rivals, the dramatically reduced entry price (which not so long ago was about $30,000) and boosted equipment levels means you won’t necessarily have to be a signed up member of the Alfisti to consider it.