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First drive: Fiat Croma - on sale August

Fiat

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Review

Just three months ago Fiat announced a new business plan for the UK, which sees it focus on key models – the Panda and Punto. So news that it is to launch a new Croma here is a little confusing.

It’s therefore no surprise that volume expectations are modest, with a predicted 5,000 to 6,000 sales in the Croma’s first full year. The volume D-segment is in decline with motorists opting for niche products such as MPVs or SUVs, downsizing or choosing premium alternatives. Offering something new was always going to be a challenge for Fiat.

The new Croma sits between a compact MPV and a traditional estate (Fiat labels it a ‘comfort-wagon’).Unique proposition for buyers it might be, but it also has the potential to fall into a blind spot, being neither one thing nor the other.

According to Fiat, Croma is its best quality car ever. And that’s noticeable, with doors that close with a good firm clunk and an interior absent of squeaks and rattles.

The cabin itself is light and airy, helped by all that glass, and the higher stance means plenty of headroom. Good quality plastics and nice finishes like the central ignition give it a premium feel that will surprise many.The manufacturer is confident the Croma will help it to win back the trust and confidence of customers.

There will be three engines from launch (two diesel and one petrol) with the 1.9-litre 150bhp the pick of the bunch, especially with the six-speed manual ’box. From 2006 these will be joined by a 140bhp 1.8-litre petrol and 200bhp 2.4-litre diesel with almost 300lb-ft of torque.

Diesel sales are expected to account for 70% of total sales, but while the diesel units are impressive, the 2.2-litre petrol is disappointingly breathless and needs to be worked hard to get any reward. Hopefully the 1.8-litre with similar power will be a better engine all round.

The Croma ride is smooth and quiet, although a little wallowy and the MPV likeness includes the handling, which is too soft. That said, it is very comfortable and there is ample room in the back and boot which will appeal to family buyers. It may not be the most inspiring car to drive, but for those looking for something different from the current segment, it could well be the answer.

Strengths: Good quality and roomy interior, strong diesel units
Weaknesses: Fairly bland looks, fiddly stereo and satnav system
Opportunity: The first D-segment Fiat for years
Threat: MPV meets estate may confuse buyers
The USP: An upwardly mobile Fiat
Price (est):£15,500-£21,000
Engines: 1.9-litre Multijet 8v, 120bhp, 207lb-ft; 1.9-litre Multijet 16v, 150bhp, 236lb-ft; 2.2-litre MPI, 147bhp, 150lb-ft
Transmission: 6spd manual, 5spd manual, 6spd auto
Performance: 1.9 8v: 0-62mph 11.3sec; 1.9 16v: 9.6sec; 2.2 MPI: 10.1s
Efficiency: 46.3 – 29.1mpg, 160-229g/km CO2
Rivals: C5, Mazda6, Mondeo, Laguna, 407, Vectra

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