(Pocket-lint) - The hot hatch falls into two distinct categories: understated and exaggerated. Think Golf GTI or Vauxhall Astra VXR, each has its merits and they are clearly targeted at different markets, but crucially both are about adding some fun to your driving.
For many, the idea of a Golf GTI is great on paper, but just too pricey in reality. Enter the Alfa Romeo Cloverleaf mark, or Quadrifoglio Verde for fans of Italian. The Cloverleaf treatment can be given to both the Giulietta, Alfa's current flagship car and the MiTo, its small three door hatchback.
Rather than adding big spoilers and bright paint schemes, Cloverleaf keeps it understated, with a nice set of rims and engine upgraded and a slightly tweaked interior. In the case of the MiTo, which we have on review here, you get a turbocharged 1.4 MultiAir engine, a beautiful set of rims (which we will talk about later) and a faux carbon fibre effect interior with the option to add lightweight Sabelt racing seats.
For some, what the Cloverleaf adds to the MiTo just might not be enough to justify the extra cost. We think it transforms a fairly average car, into a thing of beauty.
The majority of this is due to the black and silver 18-inch rims Alfa has put on the MiTo, which are one of the best-looking accessories a set of tyres has ever seen. Add to that the Cloverleaf badge on the side, blacked-out rear windows and silver-effect wing mirrors and the MiTo Cloverleaf ends up looking rather special.
Inside though, things are rather different. Our review car was fitted with the optional £2,500 Sabelt racing seats. They are a joy to behold and a real highlight for those who fancy adding something special to their car. However, other than the seats, the interior really does fall flat.
The problem is, the MiTo is a budget car to begin with, and the changes Alfa has made for the Cloverleaf simply can't mask the fact that it's plastic fantastic everywhere. The silver-look radio and gear stick is a particular low point.
We aren't making excuses for Alfa here, as the cost of the MiTo QV is a lot less than most of the bigger hot hatches, but we can't help but think it could have been cleverer about where it spent money on the interior.
What the interior lacks, minus those seats, is that zing factor you expect on a range-topper like the Cloverleaf, it just doesn't quite have that special something which would make you think of shelling out a bit extra.
The MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde is a quick car. On paper it manages 0-62 in 7.5 seconds, thanks to its absolutely brilliant turbocharged 1.4 litre engine. In fact, of the whole set-up, the engine is the part that really stands out.
It is hands down the best bit about the car and for the most part, helped by that fantastic exhaust note, helps to distract you from that very average interior. It is nice and torquey and likes to be revved, with the turbo starting to pull things along rapidly at about 4000rpm.
You will notice a fair amount of torque steer in the MiTo if you put your foot down, but not enough for it to be a real issue driving the car hard out of corners.
So, it's full marks for the MiTo Cloverleaf's engine. It is such a strong unit, sounds fantastic and adds enough sportiness and go to the car to justify that four-leafed badge that gives the car it's Italian name of Quadrifoglio Verde.
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Alfa's strong point has never really been driving position, and its no different here, with the MiTo having too much of an abrupt feel to it. Visibility isn't bad, but we found ourselves, even with the seat all the way back, feeling slightly too boxed in, with the steering wheel too high.
The pedal box is a touch too tight, but does have a nice set of metal pedals to play with, alongside a nice big metal left footrest for motorway journeys. Clutch feel is good, and both the brakes and accelerator nice and responsive.
We say responsive, but this only applies if you keep Alfa's gimmicky D.N.A switch sat in D mode. The acroynym refers to three modes "dynamic", "normal" and "all weather", it basically alters steering feel and throttle response. The problem is, it has no middle ground. Either you feel like you are driving a blob in normal, or a twitchy go-kart in dynamic.
In all honesty, the moment the MiTo was switched to dynamic, we never took it off unless we were driving on the motorway. Irritatingly, we found the system wouldn't let us change around the 60mph mark, so getting that extra bit of go from the engine to overtake became an issue, unless we slowed down, flicked the switch and then pulled away again.
Steering feel is also far too light in normal mode, set up nicely for the city but if you fancy doing something sporty, it absolutely has to be kept in dynamic. You don't get a massive amount of feedback from the road via the steering either, although it's enough to keep you from misjudging a corner and ending up in a ditch.
Drive the MiTo QV hard on the B-roads and you are treated to that true hot-hatch experience. Plenty of pull, tight handling and a short-throw gear stick that makes you feel like a racing driver. It might not be the best of the hatches, but it certainly performs.
The MiTo QV is a bit of an odd proposition. As new, it isn't the hot hatch to go for, instead we say opt for something like the Fiesta ST or Clio Renaultsport. However, if you fancy looking good from the outside and driving about in a bit of style, then the Alfa is a no-brainer. It just looks better than the competition. Especially if you go for that 8C red paint scheme as an option.
As a used car though, the Cloverleaf strikes us as the MiTo to go for. You'll get an excellent fuel economy in normal mode and can flick into dynamic when you don't have your kids in the back. Those Sabelt seats make it feel like you're driving a racing car. It is the best MiTo there is, as you might expect, and secondhand there are some good deals to be had.
Alfa keeps on getting better, build quality is improving and clearly, the exterior looks are still there. If things keep going the way they are, whatever Alfa turns out next should be an absolute corker.