This image didn't do much for Alfa's sales on either side of the Atlantic. By 1995, the situation had become so dire that Alfa pulled out of the U.S. altogether. The marque that had given Enzo Ferrari a start in life could no longer seduce Uncle Sam. For Americans, Alfa became yet another ancient relic to be spotted on a whistle-stop tour of the United States of Europe.
But all this, of course, is about to change. Next year, Alfa will return to the U.S. with the lovely Maserati-based 8C supercar and it will be followed by the Brera (beautiful but rubbish to drive), the Spider (ditto), and the 159 (pretty but mediocre). These cars will be at the vanguard of the new beginning but in a relatively short period of time they'll be replaced by a new generation of Alfas, led by the Mito.
Just 13 feet long, it's a direct rival to the MINI that, for the past few years, has had the premium small-car market all to itself. It's supposed to appeal to Europe's trendy young opinion formers-the 25- to 35-year-olds with around $30,000 in their pockets and a statement to make. If Alfa can seduce the "in" crowd, then the middle-aged moms will follow.
They launched it in Milan and doused us all with Italian culture. There were glorious Alfas from the (distant) past, beautiful young ladies in party frocks, fine wine, God's own architecture, and an underwhelming little hatchback.
The trim quality was good, it felt like it had been built to last beyond the end of next week, and it did nothing wrong. It was superbly competent but ever so slightly dull. It was hard not to conclude that the Germans have done a better job of a faux British MINI than the Italians have of a faux German Alfa.
The worst thing of all, however, is the name: MiTo is a mix of Milan (where it was designed) and Turino (where it was built). The name was an entry in a Europe-wide competition and the winning entrant was a German woman. What a wonderful example of European integration!