Car Buying Advice - Shop sMart for New Cars

SUPER-MINI STARS

If you’re thinking of buying a new super-mini in 2017, there are plenty of tempting choices out there. Motoring Correspondent Jonathan Crouch runs his eye over the most recent new arrivals.

Jonathan CrouchJonathan Crouch

December 2016

News from the volume brands

This month, we’re going to concentrate on two newly announced super-minis that really move the game forward in terms of what’s on offer. We really have to start with the market leader, Ford’s Fiesta.

Ford Fiesta
The new Ford Fiesta

This Fiesta may still be a small car but these days, it thinks big in almost every way, starting with styling designed to make more of a statement in the supermini segment. Under the bonnet lies an impressively clean and frugal range of petrol and diesel units. Plus there's a more up-market cabin, safety technology that can automatically brake the car for you even at night and a pokier diesel engine option. Ford has also broadened the appeal of the range with an 'Active' Crossover body style, plus variants more specifically aimed at customers wanting luxury and sportiness. And as well as all that, the brand reckon that it'll be even more fun to drive than its predecessor. We've yet to drive it but the prospects for this seem promising. Engine-wise, the three cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit is carried over, here offered in 110, 125 and 140PS guises. Sharing this poweplant's architecture is a lesser 1.1-litre normally aspirated unit, available at the foot of the range in 70 and 85PS guises. The 1.5-litre TDCi 85PS diesel unit is familiar from before too, but this time round, this power plant is also being offered in a pokier 120PS guise.

As before, the car is offered in both three and five-door body styles and both are tidy pieces of styling with evolutionary styling and a bolder, wider front grille. This time round, Ford is offering Fiesta customers much more choice. Mainstream models will be sold in 'Zetec', 'Style' and 'Titanium' trim levels. But the options now go much further than that. There are specific sub-model lines: a Fiesta 'Active' variant with SUV styling cues that targets the growing Crossover market; a Fiesta 'ST-Line' derivative which aims at those wanting a sportier look; and a Fiesta 'Vignale' aimed at customers prioritising ultimate super-mini luxury.

In short, this is, more than ever, a small car that super-mini buyers simply can't ignore. But it’s up against some very desirable new competitors, among them, the vastly improved fifth generation version of Nissan’s Micra. If like many of us, you'd always seen this model line as a rather boring, predictable choice in the super-mini segment, it's probably time to revise those opinions. This 'Gen5' version is better in virtually every way.

Nissan Micra
The new Nissan Micra

If you're used to the conservative design of the old fourth generation Micra, you may need to sit down and have a cup of hot sweet tea after looking at this one. The styling remains faithful to that of the 2015 Geneva Motor Show 'Sway' concept car that led to the development of this one. It's a riot of emotive curves and creases, with design cues including a distinctive V-motion grille, from where a sharp-edged character line runs through to the rear end with its boomerang-shaped lights.

Under the bonnet, buyers get the choice of either a naturally aspirated 73hp 1.0-litre petrol engine, a 0.9-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol unit or a 1.5-litre diesel, the latter two power plants both developing 90hp. Of perhaps more importance are the efforts that have been put in to improve the way that this Micra 'Gen5' drives. This model now features what Nissan calls 'Active Ride Control' for enhanced ride comfort, and 'Active Trace Control' for reduced under-steer and sharper handling - both features borrowed from the brand's larger Qashqai and X-Trail models.

And overall? Well in the super-mini segment, it's going to take a very special car to divert customers from their Fiestas and Corsas. If this Micra Gen5 isn't that car, then it's hard to see what else the Japanese brand could have done.


News from the prestigious brands

Want a super-mini with a premium badge? Well, one contender you might not have considered is Alfa Romeo’s Mito. It’s just been further revised and 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.

Alfa Romeo Mito
The new Alfa Romeo Mito

The Mito range comprises five turbo-charged engines; four petrol and a single diesel unit. The key engine change applies to the diesel, the popular entry-level 1.3 JTDM-2 power-plant, 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 power-plant, 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 upholstery, '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 super-minis 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.