September 2, 2013 4:21 PM |
Posted By: James Clark
Rated 3.0 out of 5.0 by 3 members
2013 has been a massive year for the small hot hatchback, so I thought it would be the ideal moment to try a couple of cars that the market appears to have forgotten.
Alfa Romeo’s smallest offering is not a car that I had ever associated with being particularly driver orientated, so when I was kindly offered the use of a ‘Quadrifoglio Verde’ version of the Mito I have to admit that I was rather intrigued. So named because of the green cloverleaf on a white triangular background adorning the Mito’s front wings – used on performance and racing Alfas since the 1920s - the Mito uses the Fiat Group’s characterful 1.4-litre Multiair turbo engine. In this car it produces 168bhp and a meaty 184lb ft. It’s the latter that dominates the driving experience, with the little Mito pulling hard anywhere above 2000rpm – even in the two highest gears of its slick six-speed manual gearbox. It certainly makes the claimed 0-60mph time of 7.5 seconds and top speed of 136mph seem plausible.
On the road the Alfa is a bit of a mixed bag. Switching the car’s ‘DNA’ system to Dynamic makes the Mito good fun, offering an eager throttle response, impressive damping and an enthusiastic parp from the twin exhausts. Despite this, the traction control system is still a bit too eager to cut in, meaning that you can feel slightly impeded by its interference. Where the Mito falls down – and it does fall rather far – is when left in its default ‘Normal’ mode. Throttle response is a term used loosely in this case as there simply is none and the steering is far too light and over-assisted. This lack of any sensation was bearable on the motorway making the trip to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, but in any other situation I found myself instinctively reaching down to switch the car into its more sporty driving mode.
Another negative is the price, despite a base price of £18,765, I was rather shocked to find that the example I drove was nearly £22,000, as this press car was fitted with outrageously cool Sabelt seats, which add an eye-watering £2000 to the car’s price.
Currently sitting on my driveway is what, on paper at least, seems like the anti-Alfa, the sporting version of Skoda’s Fabia – the vRS. Despite all of the preconceptions that have been associated with Skoda in the past, this has been very much left behind and this appears to be an intriguing take on the small hot hatch.
The bright green paint on this example and the claimed performance figures certainly make it appear that Skoda means business. 0-60mph in 7.3 seconds and a top speed of nearly 140mph not only seem believable, but actually quite conservative. The vRS is a seriously fast little car.
This rather remarkable performance comes courtesy of VW’s very clever 1.4-litre TSI engine, which features both a supercharger and turbo. This helps to produce 178bhp and an identical torque figure to the Mito. However, this is produced 500rpm lower down the rev range in the Skoda, making performance more accessible and the Fabia an even more effective overtaking tool. Power is transmitted to the road via a 7-speed DSG gearbox.
I know, I know, an automatic gearbox fitted to a hot hatch, that’s blasphemy, I hear driving enthusiasts everywhere cry. But after driving the Fabia, I am not sure that’s entirely correct. Whilst it is clearly not going to offer the interaction or require the skill of driving a proper manual, it proved to be far more fun and likeable than I anticipated.
The engine/gearbox combination can best be described as effective, rather than characterful, but that doesn’t stop the vRS being good fun to drive. Whilst not being the sharpest hot hatch, the vRS’s Dunlops offer a good amount of grip, suspension is firm, but never overly so and despite slightly numb steering, it felt unflustered making swift progress on the fast and bumpy B3081, in both wet and dry conditions.
In terms of price the Skoda unsurprisingly undercuts the Alfa. With a price of £17,150 it seems excellent value for the level of equipment and performance on offer.
This starts to highlight a slight issue though, as despite the fact that the Skoda appears to be excellent value for money, even it is undercut by a car that these two alternative choices have been left to look quite silly by. One that I’m very eager to drive - the Ford Fiesta ST.