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First drive: Fiat Bravo

Fiat

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Review

  • For full gallery click here.

    First there was the new Panda super-mini, then the popular Grande Punto and now the Italian marque’s attack on the ultra-competitive C-segment. However, it’s already starting on the back foot.

    Not only will the new Bravo have to answer to the company’s history of poor reliability, it will come only as a five-door and there will be no coupe cabriolet. A belated estate version will go on sale in 2010, but the lack of variants will put Fiat on a lower pegging when compared to Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen.

    However, if Fiat can market the car well, its good looks alone will grab the interest of UK customers. It has got to be the best-looking car in its segment.

    The Bravo has almost no resemblance to its predecessor, the mediocre Stilo, and is the first car to feature Fiat’s new red logo.

    Fiat Group chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne says: “We have not been strong in previous years and we hope to change that. We’re turning over a new leaf. The new Bravo is an emblem of our change but it’s only the first step on a long road in our future.”

    The UK is one of the last markets to get the car – dealers take delivery in July. It’s already on sale in Italy while other mainland European countries will begin selling the new hatchback in the months leading up to summer.

    UK customers can choose from five engines: a 90bhp 16-valve 1.4, two turbo petrol T-Jet 1.4s with 120bhp or 150bhp and two 1.9-litre Multi-Jet turbodiesels with 120bhp or 150bhp.

    Three trim levels will be available in the UK – Active, Dynamic and Sport.

    Only mainland European specification has been revealed so far. That includes 17 or 18-inch alloys on the Sport trim as well as a new Blue&Me in-car entertainment system developed specifically for Fiat by Microsoft and featuring satellite-navigation, MP3 player compatibility and a USB port, available as a £300 option.

    Fiat’s lavish launch party for the new hatchback in Rome, featuring a performance created specially by Cirque Du Soleil, highlighted the company’s hopes for the car. About 2,000 people attended what must have been one of the biggest car launches in history.

    However, when it came to the equally huge press conference the next day, Marchionne and Luca D Meo, Fiat’s head of branding, were not forthcoming about sales estimates.

    The UK launch was too far off to discuss official UK prices but Europeans will pay E14,900 (£9,995) for the entry model and E22,800 (£15,200) for the top-of-the-range Sport. This is less than the Focus and Golf, but dealers will have to wait to see what kind of mark-up Fiat will give to the UK.

    Fiat said it will be taking a “realistic” approach to UK sales targets, expecting to sell at least 4,000 Bravos by the end of the year.

    Behind the wheel

    During a media scrum for cars, we managed to drive the higher-powered 1.9 Multi-Jet turbo diesel. (A road test diary of the Bravo launch is available on am-online.com.)

    Inside, it’s a pretty suave affair. The front dash is covered in a soft-touch material and, like any car worth its salt, all fittings are well screwed down.

    The 150bhp engine has a real punch to it at low speeds, but when put into fourth and fifth it feels as if it’s struggling to give enough acceleration. Luckily, the Italian manufacturer has revived its Abarth performance range, which will develop a performance Bravo for customers wanting more kick.

    The Bravo handles city driving well, with an option to lighten it up through a button on the dash. It handled pretty well on corners too, with little body roll and a good amount of grip, but it still doesn’t compare to the class-leading Focus.

    The Bravo’s Italian stylings will be the main draw over its competitors, but underneath its pretty exterior is a sturdy car that delivers a solid drive.

    Price: £12,000 - £18,000 (est)
    Engines: 1.4 Petrol, 1.4 T-Jet 120, 1.4 T-Jet 150, 1.9 MJet 120, 1.9 Mjet 150
    Performance: 0-62mph 9.0sec to 12.5sec; top speed 111mph to 129mph
    Transmission: Five-speed manual
    Efficiency: 42.1mpg to 53.2mpg; 139-158g/km CO2
    Rivals: Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Astra
    Strengths: Solid driving experience and classy interior
    Weaknesses: Lack of model variants from launch
    Opportunities: To win back style-conscious hatchback buyers
    Threats: Reliability stigma may haunt UK sales
    USP: Italian style that delivers a solid drive

  • Click on the next page to view the picture and video diary of this road test. #AM_ART_SPLIT# It’s all very well reading these road tests in AM, but what actually happens when a journalist gets invited to the international launch of a new car?

    Here is a diary, with accompanying pictures taken on the run (hence some of the shaky snaps) to show you what it’s like to be a journalist on a road test abroad.

    January 29, 2007

    My trusty Ford Focus is loaded up with my stuff and I head off to Sainsbury’s to fill up on petrol. It's about 20:30.

    I borrow a TomTom100 GO sat nav from Jeremy Bennett, AM-online's digital producer, and punch in my destination The Holiday Inn in Farnborough 117 miles away.

    I arrive after a pretty stress free drive down the M25, I trot up to my room and flick between watching Nip/Tuck and Prison Break on the TV in my room before I go to sleep.

    January 30, 2007

    I get up, get washed, get dressed, check out and head for TAG Aviation Centre. I check in my bag and then grab a coffee in the business lounge. I meet the press guys from Fiat and journalists from other magazines/newspapers, including Phill Tromans who works just across the office from me. Then we have a quick security check before jumping on the private jet which eventually takes off at 12.00pm (we couldn’t leave until workers at Rome's Ciampino Airport finished a strike).

    #AM_ART_SPLIT# It’s a smooth flight and we get fed on the plane. We touch down in Rome in the early afternoon and hop onto a shuttle bus.

    The police at Ciampino all drove little Bedford Rascals

    All the journalists are driven through Rome to our hotel, the Westin Excelsior. Everyone is told to go to their rooms and get ready for dinner straight away (we lost time due to the strike at the airport).

    We are driven to a stadium in the centre of Rome. Fiat hired it out and then built a huge glass pavillion in the centre of the grounds. We walked to the marquee through red tunnels (the camera work starts to get a bit shaky here). When we turn the corner, there are over 1,500 other guests from over the world and Fiat’s entire Italian car dealer network.

    This is by far the biggest and most extravagant launch I have ever been on.

    We enter the marquee and there are thousands of little candles, hundreds of tables and different stands featuring artists and performers. Fiat hired Cirque De Soleil to provide the entertainment for the night. They are a French Canadian circus group specialising in acrobatics and music and created the performance especially for the Fiat Bravo.

    #AM_ART_SPLIT# At about 00:30, Fiat unveiled the new Bravo for the first time during our trip. I did take pictures, but unfortunately they were of such poor quality that you can’t make anything out. I’ll have to describe it for you instead. About 40 Bravos surrounded the glass pavillion, followed by fire breathing performers. They circled round for a bit and two horses emerged. One black stallion and one white horse galloped down both sides of the pavillion followed by a fleet of Bravos, each being driven by a performer with a set of reins on the roof. It was actually insane, but i was still impressed. Cue puzzled looks from the UK table of journalists.

    The fleet of cars eventually poured inside, right next to our tables and then a huge fireworks display exploded over heads. A woman started warbling and playing the piano, apparently she's quite famous in Italy. The fireworks were still going as people filed out of the marquee to go back to their respective hotels. It sounds bizarre and it was. Hopefully you can get an idea of what it was like from the pictures on the last page.

    January 31, 2007

    The next morning we head down to breakfast at 07.15. I scoff it down quickly and race back up to my room to be outside the front of the hotel with my bags at 07.45, narrowly missing the coach.

    We got to see quite a lot of the city in the morning on the way to the Bravo press conference because the coach driver got lost.

    We arrive at the press conference and have to go through a security check and metal detectors. This doesn’t usually happen at press conferences that I’ve been to before, but everyone just goes along with it. For some strange reason we had to take our luggae with us to the press conference and check it in at the desk inside. Bit weird. I grab an espresso and we head into the auditorium. We grab seats near the front and plug in our translator headphones (most of the conference is conducted in Italian). Head honcho at Fiat, Sergio Marchionne is here and so is Luca De Meo, head of branding.

    The conference ends and we finally get to have a drive in the cars. But wait. Where do we go? We ask someone with a Fiat badge where we need to go to get to the cars and he kindly tells us we need to go up some stairs outside. We go up the stairs and find a load of Bravos. We don’t know what to do when we get there so we ask another Fiat person but he doesn’t speak English. Being the ignorant Englishman we are, our Italian stretched to buongiorno and ciao, so we just hop in a free car (1.9 150bhp diesel) and the keys are already in the ignition.

    Away we go on the test route. We have to navigate through Rome’s city centre and then out to the coast.

    We stop on a quieter road near the coast line and I get out to take some pictures. Phill drives around in circles for a few minutes while I take some video footage.

    Here are some short mini clips of Phill driving the new Bravo.

    We spend about two hours in the car (not long considering we’ve been here for almost two days) and we head back to where the press conference was to get some lunch.

    After lunch we head back to Ciampino Airport and shove our bags in the hold and hop back on the plane to come back to the UK. It was a whirlwind visit.

    Just over two hours later and I’m back in Farnborough standing by my trusty Focus at about 17:30, just in time for a nice drive home in rush hour traffic.

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