WILL FORTUNE FAVOUR THE BRAVO?


WILL FORTUNE FAVOUR THE BRAVO?

The old Fiat Brava/Bravo twins were good cars that never really got a fair crack of the whip. This time round Fiat is bringing a Bravo to market and is giving it some serious support. Andy Enright reports.

Ten Second Review

Instant desirability is a commodity in short supply in the family hatch sector. These cars major on common sense rather than sassiness but the Fiat Bravo offers some real eye candy. Team that with massively improved build quality and some great powerplants and you have what looks to be a very strong proposition.

Background

Remember the old Fiat Brava and Bravo twins? Probably not. In case you need reminding, Fiat decided to launch these models back in 1995, choosing to call the frumpier five-door car the Brava and the go-getting three-door model the Bravo. These cars replaced the Tipo which had been only a limited success in the UK. Both shared the same chassis and engines as each other, although the Bravo's styling was aimed at a younger audience. The Bravo and Brava eventually made way for the three and five-door Stilo models, again cars that punched minuscule dents in the sales figures of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf. This time round, Fiat is a little more pragmatic. The UK importers know that this Bravo isn't going to square up head-to-head with the big hitters in the class. In order to differentiate it a little and work a profitable niche, Fiat has concentrated on making the Bravo look better than anything comparable. You'd have to say the plan has been a success.

Driving Experience

Styling will only get you so far if the car drives poorly. Several manufacturers have found this to their cost but the Bravo comes up trumps on that score. It's not too far off the class leaders when it comes to sharp handling through a series of twisties and the selection of engines is, by and large, better than the more obvious Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra offerings. Petrol engines first. The range opens with a 90bhp normally aspirated 1.4-litre unit. Most buyers however, will go for the turbocharged versions of this engine in either 120 or 150bhp guises. These use the latest turbocharger technology to offer punchy performance with decent fuel economy. The diesel engines are the big draw, Fiat leveraging its experience to great effect. . Two 1.6-litre MultiJet diesels are offered, with either 105 or 120bhp, plus a 2.0-litre unit with 165bhp. The more powerful diesel has some real muscle to it, getting to 60mph in 8.2 seconds and topping 130mph. With 360Nm of torque available, it's not going to have any problem putting irksome white van men in their place, that torque output superior to something like a Subaru Impreza WRX.

Design and Build

It's easy to forgive the Bravo any minor shortcomings when you walk round the car, taking in its beautifully integrated detailing and elegant proportions. Many five door hatches are about as beguiling as the prospect of an evening spent creosoting your mother-in-law's fence, but the Bravo is different. Just as the Grande Punto added a touch of the exotic to the supermini class, the Bravo does the same for cars the next size up. If size is everything to you, the Bravo may well disappoint. Ford spent millions on making the Focus fit virtually anybody but Fiat hasn't spent that sort of budget on the Bravo and as such, it's far tighter than the Ford in the back although there's a decent amount of luggage space in that curved rump. The interior feels very well built. Bright finish plastics lift the cabin and the controls are easy to figure out without recourse to the manual. It all looks agreeably Italianate as well, even if this is a clever facade. Fiat has really got the hang of the whole soft-touch dashboard moulding in recent years and the Bravo's supple, textured finish wouldn't look out of place in an Audi.

Market and Model

Prices start with the entry-level 1.4-litre petrol model. There's no shortage of equipment either. The big draw for family buyers is undoubtedly the amount of safety gear Fiat has packed into the Bravo. Winner of a coveted five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating, the Bravo sits squarely at the top of its category with a total of 33 points on the NCAP scorecard. The Bravo is the product of over 60 impact tests, 15,000 hours of computer simulations, 150 simulations with a crash sled and more than 100 crash tests on components and subsystems. The Bravo features two front airbags, two front side bags, two window bags and a knee airbag for the driver. ABS anti-lock braking with electronic brakeforce distribution and the latest generation ESP stability control system should prevent the worst coming to the worst. The ESP system includes functions such as anti-slip regulation (ASR) to limit wheelspin in slippery conditions and engine torque regulation which prevents the driven wheels locking up during rapid downshifts. Hydraulic brake assist boosts pedal pressure in emergency situations and there's even a hill-holder function to take the faff out of hill starts. Pricing looks competitive with mainstream rivals

Cost of Ownership

Fiat realises that it needs to work on customer service in dealerships and that residual values for its mid-range cars don't always stack up to industry averages. That's the harsh realisation of buying a Fiat. The plus sides are that Fiat has returned to serious profitability, service levels are improving fast and sales will take an upturn as a result. Factor in a low upfront price for the Bravo to offset its modest residuals and you have a car that's class competitive in terms of that crucial pence-per-mile figure after a typical three-year ownership period. Economy figures naturally vary according to which model you choose, but the diesels really are worth looking out for even if you're not a penny pincher. There's quite a lot to like about a 165bhp diesel Bravo with storming mid-range acceleration yet which will nevertheless average over 50mpg.

Summary

Every time Fiat launches a car of this type, some journalists get a bit excitable and claim all sorts of greatness in advance. I'm not going there. The Bravo looks to be Fiat's strongest offering in this sector for some years and I'd be more than happy to twitch the curtains and see that shape sitting outside my house. What it certainly represents is a rather beautiful alternative to the more lumpen offerings we've become used to. It's there or thereabouts in most of the dynamics areas and is decently packaged. Given that on most objective scorecards it makes the numbers, it might come down to styling. Fiat is confident. The Italians could be onto something here.....

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