October 16, 2015

Horse 2009 - Alfa Romeo Mito: A Car That Makes No Sense But I Still Want One

On Monday I finally got the opportunity to do something which I've always wanted to do; that is drive an Alfa Romeo Mito. One of our clients said that they drove one and I explained that I think that it is as cute as a button and must be fun to drive. Half an hour later, I drove the car from Mosman to Hornsby and this is where this tale begins.

One of the things that any proper petrolhead has to tick off on their list of cars to own, if they truly are a petrolhead (no such thing as a true Scotsman) is an Alfa Romeo. Sure, Alfa Romeos have a reputation of breaking down and their fame for developing rust is so bad that they come with a six year anti-corrosion warranty (which is itself gimmicky) but that's the thing about a car like an Alfa Romeo. They aren't like normal cars, they're infused with Italian passion to the point whee they leak character (and many litres of oil) everywhere they go.

The 1.4L engine is an interesting animal. When married to the six speed gearbox, it wants to spin up and run away but only runs out of puff. Being only 1.4L and with the kind of torque that a household mixmaster could beat, it had to be mated to a six speed manual gearbox, just to give the driver enough torque to make the car useable at road speeds. The result is that you end up having to move your hand about as though you were mixing cake batter. You end up doing more changes per mile than there are changes in the weather in Melbourne.
The clutch is not that great either. You have to put your foot to the floor to make it work but then the amount of travel to find the bite point is practically nil. I was assured that this is similar to a Maserati and if this is the case, then I don't particularly want to drive a Maserati.
For reasons that I do not understand, the pedals are offset towards the centre and the only place that I could find that was remotely comfortable to drive from was one where my knees where up around my ears but my arms were stretched out in front like Kermit the Frog.

Visibility out the back though is rubbish and whilst you'd like to look in the mirrors to change lanes, I'm convinced that the blind spots are bigger than the areas that you can see out of but that is a common thing with modern cars. In an effort to make them all appear sporty, every car now has a belt line which rises as you go further to the back; as result, so many rear windows on cars are like looking through the slits of a bird watcher's hut. If I was a four year old in the back seats, I would have a view of the sky and nothing else; so it's no wonder today's children demand their own personal cinemas. We don't give them windows to look out of any more, what else are they expected to look at? Not that they'd fit in the back anyway because unless they're so small that they're installed sideways in a baby crib, the only children who'd fit back there are the sort with no legs. The Mito barely qualifies as a 2+2. Maybe a 2+0.2?

It isn't all bad news though. The suspension is firm as you'd expect from a car that purports to be sporty and the handling is simply stunning. It helps that the wheels are jammed into the corners but where the car shines is going through a series of corners with a change of elevation.
The car wants to corner flat but there's a wee bit of give to let you know that the wheels are reading and flowing with the tarmac. The car is a little pitchy because the wheelbase is so short but there's almost no roll and the car points where you want it to go like an excited little Jack Russell.

The Mito is a uniquely frustrating machine whose flaws are immediately obvious to all who step into it but I'm willing to forgive all of it because it comes with something that a Camry, Mazda 3, Audi A4 or BMW doesn't come with - a personality; even though it's chaotic.
It's almost as if the design team who put the Mito together were never in the same room. It's simultaneously annoying and rewarding at the same time. It's an Italian Opera by Puccini with a full orchestra and a kazoo. It is pasta prima vera with a banana it. It is a car that you want to love and hate at the same time. It makes you want to drive it for a thousand miles whilst also making you want steer it straight towards the nearest tree.

It probably handles better than the Ka that I had but you'd never notice it because of all its other shortcomings. I think that at $21,500 it is certainly the cheapest car that you can currently buy from any manufacturer which has won the Formula One World Championship and therein lies the appeal. Just the mention of the name Alfa Romeo conjures up images of an era when racing drivers wore leather helmets, goggles and scarves. The Alfisti are as fanatical as the Tifosi and there's a great deal of kudos in the badge on the front but it still doesn't change the fact that if you want a car in this class that you have to live with every day and you are a boring person, you should be getting a Mazda 2, Fiesta or if you have no personality at all, a Yaris or a Polo.

It is a car which is unashamedly Italian; which could have only come from the Po river valley. The hint is the badge on the front which is of a snake eating a person. Once you get bitten by Alfa Romeo, you're done for. 
Alfa Romeo doesn't give you a car that makes sense, they give you a car that gives you emotions: like joy, anger and confusion. The Mito is all of those in a cute little package that makes no sense at all... and I want one.

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