Say hello to one of the forgotten contenders in Australia’s overflowing miniature hot-hatch market, the newly revised Alfa Romeo MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde (QV).
This Italian entrant, which has managed to fly somewhat under the radar since its local arrival in 2009 - in part due to its relatively high price under its previous distributor - has a formidable task ahead of it should its maker wish to occupy more shortlists.
Think the Ford Fiesta ST, Mini Cooper S, Volkswagen Polo GTI, Peugeot 208 GTi and Renault Sport Clio. These pocket rocket luminaries all excel in markedly different ways, so the question becomes how does the MiTo QV set itself apart?
Because you don’t buy an Italian car to blend in, and you certainly don’t choose one to be sensible.
The MY15 version brings new equipment, cabin styling and exterior cosmetic upgrades, though there have been no changes under the bonnet.
What remains is a 1.4-litre MultiAir turbo four-cylinder producing 125kW (at 5500rpm) and 250Nm (from 2500rpm in Dynamic mode) that gives ground to the 134kW/290Nm Fiesta ST, 132kW/250Nm Polo GTI, 141kW/280Nm Cooper S, 147kW/275Nm 208 GTi and 147kW/240Nm RS Clio.
As such, the 1145-kilogram MiTo takes 7.5 seconds to get from 0-100km/h, compared to 6.9sec for the 1189kg Polo and 1197kg Fiesta, and 6.7sec for the (five-door only) 1218kg Renault. The lightweight 1133kg Peugeot and 1140kg Cooper S split the difference at 6.8sec.
Matched to the engine is a six-speed manual gearbox that channels power to the front wheels. This ‘proper’ manual shifter matches that of the Fiesta, Mini (also can be optioned with an auto) and 208, though the Polo and the Renault are dual-clutch auto-only cars — for now.
So then, you don’t buy the MiTo if you want the quickest car on the market. And you also wouldn’t buy it if you wanted the cheapest. This MiTo is $30,500 plus on-road costs, which is $500 more than the 2014 model, or $33,500 as tested with leather seats and a sunroof.
It is thereby more expensive at base level than three-door models such as the $25,990 Ford and the $29,990 Peugeot, though it undercuts the $36,950 Cooper S. The $28,990 Polo (now only available in five-door) is still cheaper, while the five-door-only Clio RS is priced between $29,290 and $37,290 depending on spec levels.
So what does it bring to the table? It has a big dose of style, that’s for sure. It’s Italian, and its design has aged like fine wine. That triangular beak-like grille isn’t to all tastes, but it’s hard to fault proportionally and looks less ‘boy-racer’ than the Ford or Renault, and less austere than the VW and Pug. The Mini matches it for driveway appeal, and to some some eyes surely bests it.
Those frameless doors are a rarity, but a welcome one.
But it also has a more upmarket slant than its rawer rivals. Everything is a trifle softer, and in our test car at least, marketed as a little more premium.
If a Clio RS or a Fiesta ST is a Nike Air Jordan, Alfa Romeo wants us to see the MiTo QV as a pair of Jimmy Choos on a clearance rack.
Throw the MiTo at a sequence of sharp bends and you don’t get that visceral, dynamic playfulness and adjustability of the aforementioned rivals, even in the Dynamic setting on its DNA system that sharpens the throttle noticeably. Put the DNA into N (Normal) mode and the throttle response numbs up, while A (All Weather) enables better traction by making the right pedal far less playful.
This car is no straight-line warrior, and the engine even with the sharpest throttle setting still exhibits moments of lag between planting your right foot and taking off. Turbo lag is actually quite characterful and endearing in a weird sort of way, though technically less so.
Point the chunky, broad-faced wheel where you want to go and you’re greeted with a moment of hesitation from the car's slightly vague steering. Turn-in is willing enough, but the torque steer that sees the wheel jerk under throttle and the hints of rattle-rack undo it.
In addition, the ride is a little soft at times, with lift under acceleration and hints of body-roll in corners, but a little firm and busy over low-speed corrugations.
The plus side is its decent compliance at higher speeds and during typical highway driving. Road noise is also kept relatively subdued, considering the wheels are 18-inchers wrapped in low profile rubber. The six-speed shifter is also delightfully direct and mechanical in its operation, belying the slightly long throw.
Alfa claims combined-cycle fuel consumption of 6.0 litres per 100 kilometres and over our 250km mixed road loop the car yielded 8.2L/100km, though we were giving it some stick.
The standard equipment list is decent, and the cabin design feels more upmarket than most at this end of the market. Nice touches include the ‘Benzina’ and ‘Acqua’ gauges, silver instrument surrounds, carbonfibre print soft-touch plastics on the dash and metallic Alfa badge above the fascia.
The base version gets a flat-bottomed steering wheel, leather handbrake lever, white graphics and QV logos/four-leaf clover badging, aluminium kick plates, fabric seats with white/green piping, a 5.0-inch Uconnect touchscreen with Bluetooth audio (shamefully not yet on its Giulietta QV big brother), USB and auxiliary inputs, and mercifully no Windows logo on the steering wheel.
This system actually works really well — Alfas and infotainment don’t always go together like crackers and cheese. The Bluetooth connects within seconds and streams glitch-free to the BOSE speakers and the touchscreen is immediately responsive and easy to navigate.
The optional full-length sunroof has a flimsy snap-back cheesecloth fabric cover that failed to keep out mild solar rays, though the lovely, though not overly well-bolstered, leather sports seats with white piping look the money.
That sunroof eats into headroom though, and your 194cm tall correspondent got a complimentary hair re-style from the roof. The room in the rear is surprising, easily capable of seating a pair of kids. It’s at least as useable as a new Mini, we reckon.
The cabin has a dearth of storage options, with a solitary cup holder (supplemented by decent door pockets at least), a fold-down arm-rest with a small lidded compartment and a small scallop behind the gear-shifter. Not many places for your wallet and phone, though.
The ergonomics are generally good as well — again, not an Alfa strength — though the clutch is moderately offset to the right.
So then, the MiTo isn’t the benchmark for fun in the twisties or the bargain-basement offering of the segment. Those mantles belong to the Fiesta ST. And it doesn’t have a monopoly on Euro cache, which also belongs to the VW, Mini, Peugeot and Renault.
What it does bring is outsider charm, Italian style and an upmarket cabin that, in our test car at least, look the business.
Think of the MiTo as a quirky and premium warm-hatch rather than a proper track toy or corner-carver and you’re about there. But if you want the sharpest tool in the shed, head to your Ford dealer.
Images by Tom Fraser.