I remember borrowing my friend’s Commodore 64 and marvelling at the superior graphics it produced; superior to my ZX Spectrum 48k. That extra 16kb made all the difference. Now we’re at a point where a whole car can be created in the virtual world — conception through to crash testing without even sharpening a lathe. Fiat’s computer technology enabled its team of engineers to not only simulate every aspect of the Bravo’s structure, dynamic, noise/vibration/harshness and accommodation characteristics in minute detail, but to virtually create a production line to ensure consistency in component and build quality.
If this sounds all very cold to you, those feelings will melt as soon as you see the Bravo. It’s a car that achieves a perfect balance of stylish and sporty both inside and out, and one of the few cars I like the look of from the back.
We’re fortunate in New Zealand that the two launch models (1.4 turbo petrol and 1.9 diesel) get the top ‘Sport’ level of trim and equipment. The seats are supportive, and stylishly trimmed in red; the pedals are slotted aluminium, the deeply recessed dials are sports-inspired with the needles pointing downwards at rest, and the steering wheel and gearshift knob have red leather stitching. In the centre of the instrumentation a red-on-black display shows various functions relating to the radio and trip computer.
Looking around the outside, the first thing I noticed was how clean yet slightly muscular the design of the Bravo looks with its colour-coded bumpers, slightly flared wheel arches, steeply raked windscreen and tapering waistline, set off beautifully by the gunmetal and brushed-aluminium-style 17-inch alloys wrapped in 225/40 profile tyres and concealing red callipers gripping the brake discs. The Bravo is also the first car to wear Fiat’s new logo, designed to evoke the shield that adorned Fiats from 1931-68. It also appears strikingly in the centre of the steering wheel.
Like Volkswagen with its Golf TSi, Fiat has used as 1.4-litre turbocharged engine to give the same power and NVH characteristics you would expect from a 1.8- or 2-litre car, but with 10% or better fuel economy figures.
The Bravo goes further by offering an ‘overboost’ function so you can choose when you need a bit more power. A ‘Sport’ button on the dash raises the torque of the engine from 206Nm to 230Nm, dropping the 0-100kph time from 8.5s to 8.2s. Power output remains the same at 110kW, and you get a manual gearbox to control how much of it you use. Combined with a light clutch, the six-speed ‘box is good, but the throw is long and would benefit from a short-shifter kit. With Sport mode turned off, the Fiat was one litre per 100km more economical on my not-quite-identical test runs, returning 8.2l/100, more than the quoted figure 7.1.
Fiat has achieved a suspension balance that is both sporty and compliant. It is never crashy, nor is it jiggly (these are highly technical terms, of course), and combined with the width of the tyres you would have to be a driving imbecile to come off the road. Even if you do exceed the limits, there’s Electronic Stability Programme, traction control and MSR (motor speed regulator, which ensures you don’t lose grip as a result of changing down too abruptly). Disc brakes with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution come as standard.
Ergonomically, all the controls are perfectly positioned, with the exception of a slightly fiddly volume knob (but drivers will most likely use the steering-wheel-mounted buttons to change this.
A testament to how Fiat is targeting the youth market is its inclusion of Blue & Me. This Windows Mobile-based system uses Bluetooth to connect Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones to make and receive calls without operating the handset. All functions can be accessed using buttons from the steering wheel, as long as you’ve synchronised your address book with the car. It can synchronise with up to five different phones meaning the car can be shared within the family. Blue & Me will also read texts and play back music audio files from a digital device with USB out.
For the money, this is a stylish and practical car with only a few minor flaws. If this is what can happen when computers are employed to simulate every aspect of a car, then I’m all in favour.
Price: from $36,990 (T-Jet as tested); $39,990 (diesel)
What we like
- Large boot for its class
What we don’t like
- Needs a short-shifter gearshift kit
- Optimistic fuel economy figures.
- In-cabin storage is poor, though the drawer under the front seat is welcome.
Words and photos Darren Cottingham