Alfa Romeo Mito
The Alfa Romeo Mito ought to be a routine fixture in the top five supermini best sellers, but it hasn't worked out that way. Still, the Milanese brand hasn't given up with it, continually improving the car. The latest updates include minor styling changes, extra technology and the introduction of a more competitive entry-level diesel engine. It should all mean that the Mito's chances have never looked better.
The Mito range comprises five turbo-charged engines; four petrols and a single diesel unit. The key engine change applies to the diesel, the popular entry-level 1.3 JTDM-2 powerplant, which has had its power boosted from 85 to 95bhp. In the petrol range, things are much as they were. At the foot of the line-up, an EU6-compliant 78bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine is offered. This sits below the 0.9 TwinAir Turbo powerplant, a unit that was given a 20bhp shot in the arm back in 2014, boosting peak power to 105bhp, translating to a sprint to 62mph that's 1.1 seconds faster than the previous 85hp version. The 1.4 TB MultiAir 140hp (available only with the Alfa TCT twin dry clutch transmission) and the 1.4 TB MultiAir 170hp QV engine complete the petrol offerings.
As ever, all Mito models get a comprehensive suite of driver aids, such as traction, braking and stability control and these systems, along with steering effort and throttle response, can be adjusted via Alfa Romeo's trademark DNA. three-mode selectable driving mode system. Where fitted, the SDC adaptive suspension and TCT transmission settings are also adjustable via the DNA set-up. It can be set in Normal, Dynamic or All-Weather modes to help drivers get the most out of their vehicle. In Dynamic mode, the throttle is spikier and the steering weights up markedly but the Normal setting takes the edge of the throttle response for more relaxed driving.
The visual changes made to this revised Mito are supposed to bring it into line with the brand's flagship Giulia saloon. Hence the revised front sports grille, the dark-finish headlamp bezels, the smarter rear bumper design and the restyled alloy wheels. Inside, all models get upgraded seat upholsteries, 'Uconnect Live' media services and a smarter finish on the centre console, dashboard and door trims.
The touch points in the car are notably better than they used to be and there's a Uconnect five-inch, touch-screen infotainment system with voice recognition, Bluetooth, steering wheel remote controls, USB/AUX-in ports and optional satellite navigation. The driving position in the Mito remains lower and more sporty than you'll encounter in the majority of superminis but there's a good degree of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel so drivers can adapt it to their own tastes. The boot is fairly modest at 270-litres and there's quite a high lip which means items have to be lowered inside.
In summary, the Alfa Romeo Mito has come good. While we don't think it'll ever be remembered as a classically charismatic Alfa, perhaps that's not what the company needs right now. The brand has brought us legions of cars that appeal to a hardened niche of buyers, but that strategy isn't going to prove profitable in this day and age. What Alfa needs with the Mito is a car that delivers all the reliability and affordability of a Corsa or a Fiesta but which adds a dash of pizazz. That's pretty much what it has delivered here.
So where's the catch? We're struggling to think of too many. Some buyers may overlook this little Alfa because it's been around for nearly a decade but in doing so, they'd be doing this revised model a real disservice. You could argue that the three-year warranty isn't particularly generous and you'd have a point but beyond that, there's a lot to admire here and the prices look good too. The Mito took its time but it looks as if it's finally come of age.Click here to find out more about our Alfa Romeo Mito range
The DS3 supermini has proved to be a popular success story over recent years for customers in search of an affordable, sporty and well-finished three-door hatch. It's now a key model for the newly-created DS brand that Citroen has created - and has been regularly improved, most recently in the facelifted guise we're going to look at here.
The basic recipe though, is much as before, with a three-door-only range of hard-top or Cabrio models, striking practical design both inside and out, a range of proven engines and a huge variety of personalisation options.
Aesthetically, the key change with this facelifted DS3 is the introduction of the DS brand's corporate front end, with the so-called 'DS Wings' sculpted around a vertically-orientated chromed front grille that wears the DS emblem and is flanked by smarter LED headlamps. There are now more personalisation possibilities too, including options for the roof, the bodywork and the mirror housings.
Inside, the cabin is much as before, but benefits from the addition of a freshly-added 7-inch colour infotainment screen that incorporates the latest smartphone-compatible technology. There are smarter trim choices too and the option of classic DS 'watchstrap leather' seating and laser engraving on the dashboard trim and the door mirrors. The DS designers claim there's room for five adults, with legroom in the rear enhanced by the slender backs of the driver and front passenger seats. In the tail, the boot of the hard-top version is 285-litres which is large for the supermini class and 60:40 split rear seats give options for extending that capacity. The Cabrio version of course has less space to offer - 245-litres - but that's not bad for a car of this kind.
So what's it like to drive? Well, you get in and settle into a sculpted seat that's set sporty and low. Ahead of you, the compact steering wheel feels just right and all the vital dials are set in a deeply-cowled, chrome-edged triple pod. Turn the key and both speedo and rev counter zip around their dials and return to zero. You're ready to go.
Under the bonnet, the key changes with this revised model centre on the introduction of a more efficient EAT6 automatic gearbox and a pokier 130bhp three cylinder 1.2-litre PureTech petrol powerplant. In all, seven engines are on offer, including an entry-level 110bhp PureTech petrol unit. There are also two THP four-cylinder petrol units, with the top 'Performance' model putting out 208bhp. Plus, as before, there are two 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesels.
On the move, it's hard to believe that all the underpinnings of this car are basically borrowed from a conventional Citroen C3 supermini. The lower body and stiffer suspension set-up give this model a very different feel, as does the precisely-weighted electric power steering, offering assistance when you need it and plenty of road feel when you don't. The damping also offers the best of both worlds, making you aware of bumpy surfaces, but spiriting away the aftershock you could do without. It makes a MINI feel about as subtly sprung as a go-kart. Only the rather long-throw gearchange could be slicker.
And in summary? Well, the DS3 has always embodied everything that's good about its brand - and still does in this improved guise. Full of original ideas and delightful details, it's a design icon for the modern world.
The sporty looks are backed up by an involving drive and, best of all, it's a car you don't have to shed the family to enjoy. It's very individual, very chic and very fashionable: a car of its time.Click here to find out more about our DS 3 range
Audi A1 Sportback
The Audi A1 has firmly established itself as the ultimate supermini - the essence of democratic down-sizing. This second generation A1 Sportback is smarter, more efficient and better-equipped - and remains a seductive package for small car buyers. Luxury makers often cut corners to drive down the cost of their smaller models and it shows. Not Audi. In any form you choose, this A1 Sportback will always feel reassuringly expensive.
Not too much is new on the engine front, though Audi disguises the fact with a range of new model designations. There's a choice of efficient TFSI petrol units with outputs ranging from 95PS to 200PS, all enhanced by turbocharging and direct injection. Things kick off with the '25 TFSI' derivative, which has a 1.0-litre three cylinder unit offering 95PS. Next up is the '30 TFSI' variant, which uses a 116PS version of the same engine. Moving further on, there's the '35 TFSI' model offers a 150PS 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine which uses a cylinder on demand technology. And if you want more power, there's a 2.0 TFSI engine with 200PS on offer too. Diesel power is notable by its absence. All engines can be linked to either a manual gearbox or the seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission, with the exception of the 200PS variant which uses a six-speed S tronic transmission as standard.
The chassis configuration is much as before, which means a straightforward torsion beam suspension set-up is still used at the rear. Tauter sport suspension is optional if you're happy to keep your chiropractor on speed dial, but it's better to upgrade yourseolf to adjustable dampers if you can. Other driver-focused additions you can add include a sound actuator, red brake calipers, larger brake discs and the Audi 'drive select' adaptive dynamics system. This allows drivers to select from four modes that influence the driving characteristics: auto, dynamic, efficiency and individual.
The A1 Sportback has grown significantly in length - extended by 56mm: it now measures a fraction over 4m. Width and height remain much the same as part of a low-slung stance with short overhangs. The wide, low-placed Singleframe grille and the implied side air inlets dominate the distinctive front, above which are three flat bonnet slits which pay homage to the Sport quattro, the brand's rally icon from 1984. From the side, there's a wide, flat sloping C-pillar that seems to push the car forward even while standing still. The roof contrast line, which is available in two dark colours, ends above the C-pillar. There are smarter 3D-style rear lights too.
And inside? Well there's a more spacious cabin with classier design highlighted by a fully digital instrument cluster with a high-resolution 10.25-inch display and a multifunction steering wheel. The virtual cockpit TFT instrument display screen that we're now familiar from other Audi models is now optional for A1 buyers and offers an extended range of functions such as animated navigation maps and graphics of some driver assistance systems in the driver's direct field of vision. Adults in the rear seats still enjoy reasonable head and leg room by supermini standards. Out back, luggage capacity has increased by 65-litres to 335-litres, and with the rear seats folded down, this increases to 1,090-litres.
If you've ever wondered just how much style and luxury is really possible in a really small car, then it's worth trying one of these. In distilling the essence of 'Audi-ness' into something this compact, the German brand continues to set this A1 Sportback apart in the supermini segment, offering a balance between sportiness, quality and comfort that rivals are still struggling to match. True, ground-breaking technology isn't on the agenda here, but as Audi has already discovered, there's a place for that and it probably isn't in this very price-conscious sector of the market. What's more important is that if you climb out of an expensive A4 or A6 into an A1 costing half as much, the feeling is very much the same
In fact, that's even more the case with this MK2 model with its smarter finish and hi-tech Audi connect infotainment options. All right, so in overall terms, the revisions made to this supermini aren't especially far-reaching, but then they didn't really need to be. There's still nothing else in this segment that's quite as polished and premium. The A1 then, remains a very expensive-feeling car that for you, may well be just about affordable. Exactly as Audi promised.Click here to find out more about our Audi A1 Sportback range