It’s hard to picture an Alfa Romeo without thinking of seduction, romance, perhaps a cravat-wearing Italian count zipping around the serpentine roads of the Bergamo Alps on his way to a lunch date with a woman who looks like a youthful Monica Bellucci. And it’s not just because it shares a name with the protagonist of Shakespeare’s most famous love story. Thanks to some wise casting decisions, Alfa Romeo has bestowed a rakish charm on several of cinema’s most intriguing characters.
Picture Edward Fox’s ice-veined assassin in The Jackal, bedding an auburn-haired beauty in a posh country hotel before bumping her off to cover his tracks. He wouldn’t have got anywhere near her had he pulled up to the hotel’s driveway in a dilapidated Ford Cortina rather than that beautiful white Giulietta Spider.
Then there’s Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. Cinema’s most famous toyboy might have impressed Mrs Robinson with his boyish charm, but she must have been just as won over by his flashy wheels – another Spider, this time in a bullseye red. Even James Bond has driven one, stealing a graphite-coloured GTV6 in 1983’s Octopussy. So there’s no disputing Alfa Romeo’s appeal. Its cars are indisputably cool and have more sex appeal than one of Silvio Berlusconi’s ‘bunga-bunga girls’.
The compact – some might say entry-level – MiTo does well to retain all these qualities. Despite its size and relatively small engine, it’s inimitably an Alfa. It’s got the non-centralised number plate, the classic inverted triangle front grill with the famous logo (based on the coat of arms of the Visconti family, who were old Milanese rulers) and a retro sportiness that is most evident in the distinctive interior with its abundance of red panelling.
The manufacturers should be commended for not overloading the car with switches and buttons. Seriously, what kind of man needs built-in seat massage functions and a steering wheel that administers tiny electric shocks when you exceed the speed limit (OK, the latter doesn’t exist yet but you know it’s only a matter of time).
Some of us like our cars a bit more minimalist. We spend all day pushing buttons on the office computer. The last thing we need is for our car to be like a PC on wheels. The MiTo may look like a getaway car you’d see in an arty Italian heist movie, but there’s a little hesitation in getting out of the blocks when the lights turn green.
Its twin-clutch transmission sounds like an impressive bit of technology (something to do with not losing power while shifting gears) but doesn’t bring that much to the table apart from reducing fuel consumption and C02 emissions. Still, whatever its foibles, it’s an Alfa Romeo and with that comes a heritage and romantic aura that most car brands would kill for. You don’t need to be an international assassin or a playboy to get away with driving this car – but it helps.