Barbie is, arguably, the world's most beautiful woman and has since the 1960s been the perfect women for men who have disproportionate ideals and have an unhealthy interest in plastic. The Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione is, arguably, the world's most beautiful car. It is the sum of its parts that, like Barbie, combine to make something quite extraordinary.
Naturally, a carmaker who builds a $300,000-plus car like the 8C wants to capitalise on its beauty - and its expense - by translating the appeal into its cheaper line of models. Albeit in the case of the Alfa Romeo Mito, prices are from $31,490.
PACKAGE AND APPEARANCE
The problem is that Alfa has taken the best bits of the gorgeous 8C and stuck them on a rather nose-heavy, short-tailed love-me or hate-me three-door hatchback that has overtones of the Daewoo Lanos. They call it the Mito. It carries with it the 8C's teardrop headlights, roundel tail lights, ‘exclamation mark’ grille and the pretty, spidery alloy wheels… which, attached to the 8C, define the car as something special.
Applying these parts to the Mito - Alfa's ‘cheap’ car line - results in the automotive equivalent of Mr Potato Head. Like transplanting Barbie's legs, arm and face on Miss Piggy. But, at least, you won't miss the Mito in your rear vision mirror.
This is my second run in a Mito. The first time wasn't enjoyable. The driving position felt unusual, the engine needed a lot of coaxing and there wasn't much pragmatism to the hatch to align with the emotion.
Maybe it's osteoporosis or a few collapsed discs in the spine or weary muscles that control my posture, but the Mito seemed to fit me better this time around.
The shape of the car eventually grows on you. There's not much room in the rear seats and the two-door arrangement makes getting into and out of the back an awkward exercise. The boot is narrow and short and the spare wheel is a space-saver. But if you're not carrying people in the back, the rear seats fold down and with your eyes squinted, it becomes a neat little two-seater coupe.
It has all the right safety gear and is children friendly with ISO-certified seatbelt anchors and little storage spaces in the back. The doors are long and wide and make entry easy for the front occupants, though park too close alongside another car and you'll be in for a tight squeeze.
Italians are enthusiastic masters of design but the stars in their eyes cloud some practicalities. The Mito isn't the worst example of dashboard design gone mad, but then again it is streets away from Audi. It takes time to become familiar with the placement of the switches and possibly a new set of spectacles to clearly see the red numerals.
That seating position places the steering wheel quite high and the height adjustment is over a small arc. There is no telescopic adjustment- which can force you to get close to the steering wheel because the floor pedals are so far away - but the driver's seat will go up and down. The rear window is tiny and the relatively long nose invisibly curves off into the distance, so familiarisation is also needed to preserve the panel work when parking.
But, though at this stage you’re thinking this is the most illogical, expensive and cautiously-constructed small car to reach Australia, you turn over the engine. The 1.4-litre engine remains, but the Sport model had a lot more verve thanks to a ‘dynamic’ switch at the base of the gearlever. So it went better, too.
It may be small but the 1.4-litre is willing and carries its exhaust note like a triumphant battle cry. Well, that's probably a bit too enthused. I mean that if you turn the three-mode engine management switch to dynamic, the engine's turbocharger will turn the Mito into an Alfa.
It becomes so beautifully sensitive to the accelerator pedal that it can be placed perfectly into a corner and made to slingshot out. Its responsiveness encourages much flaying of the gearlever to arouse the six cogs and promotes last-second pounding of the superb brakes.
The Mito becomes an Alfa in spirit. Its only downfall is the over-power assisted electric steering system that gives no road feel.
Keep the engine management switch in normal and you may as well drive a Daewoo Lanos. Clearly made to maximise economy, it places electronic hands around the Mito's neck and squeezes, shutting out all sense of life. It stops being an Alfa.
There's the third switch which is for snow. Because it doesn't snow much in my street, I didn't turn it on. Also, I didn't turn it on because this switch position was lower than normal. If normal was so lethargic, I feared what retardation would be on hand if I chose the third option.
Unless you're new to cars, history records that Alfas are emotional purchases and may or may not have a wonderful record for durability. I've driven Alfas on and off for nigh on 40 years and they appear to be getting a lot better. We're coming off a low base, but they are improving.
They're made for people who are like the car - enthusiastic, passionate, individual, mechanically competent but without a certificate, perhaps even a bit unhinged, in the nicest sense of the word. And, just sometimes, beautiful.
ALFA ROMEO MITO SPORT
Engine: 1.4-litre, 4-cyl, turbocharger
Power: 114kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 230Nm @ 3000rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h 8.0 seconds
Top speed: 215km/h
Fuel: Premium unleaded
Fuel tank: 45 litres
Economy: (official) 5.3 litres/100km, (tested) 6.7 litres/100km
Emissions: 153g/km (Corolla: 175g/km)
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 3-mode DNA; front-drive
Brakes: 4-wheel Brembo discs, ESC, ABS, EBD, brake assist
Turning circle: 11.25m
Suspension: Front, MacPherson struts; Rear, torsion beam, coils
Wheels: 17-inch alloy, 205/45R17 tyres; space-saver spare
Tow (max): 500kg
Warranty: 3yr/100,000km, roadside assist
Audi A3 1.6 ($34,700) — 84/100
Peugeot 207 GTI ($33,490) — 81/100
Volkswagen Polo GTI ($26,990) — 85/100