Establishing whether or not a car is fun to drive is entirely subjective and what some might find an absolute blast, others may think is dull as ditch water. So the boys and girls at Fiat Powertrain have come up with what they call the ‘fun to drive index.’ The idea is to turn drivers’ perceptions into numbers and so make them measurable. Fiat is a little coy about exactly how it has managed to do that but if the Italians can’t find a way to measure fun then who can?
Anyway, this couldn’t have come at a better time because there’s nothing better for slowing the pulse than the promise of another congestion charge-busting eco warrior. And the Eco Bravo is certainly that, ducking just below the crucial 120gm/km CO2 at 119gm/km and returning 62.8mpg in the combined cycle.
So how is this Fiat Bravo an Eco Bravo ?
The Eco option piggybacks on the introduction of three new 1.6-litre Multijet turbodiesel engines to the range. The Eco engine is a derivative of the 105bhp version and has a revised ECU, low rolling resistance tyres and higher gear ratios.
Fiat is a pioneer of the modern common-rail diesel engine and its Multijets are now so good they are virtually without peer. So much so that the standard 105bhp version of the diesel achieves Euro 5 emissions standards not due to come into force for another two years. To get the CO2 levels down on the Eco version, however, engineers have reduced the level of EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) to bring fuel consumption down. This pushes NOx up a tad, ironically tipping the Eco back to ‘only’ Euro 4.
So come on. Dull or a blast. Which is it?
A bit of a blast, actually. This diesel still pushes out an entirely respectable 214lb ft torque at 2000rpm, enough to deliver punchy response despite the taller gearing. Six gears mean first is not compromisingly high, but pulling away too quickly without enough revs can catch you out. There’s enough wind in the sails for confident overtaking and while cruising, wind noise is impressively low.
Mostly though, the Multijet is a smooth performer, so smooth I was thinking I’d been given the 1.4 petrol turbo by mistake. There’s no combustion rattle, hardly any engine noise beyond a quiet hum at cruising speeds and the engine spins up freely. In fact the biggest giveaway that this is a diesel is the 4500rpm rev limit.
A few years ago, direct-injection diesels in this class would have been heavier 2.0-litre engines. This pint-sized motor means the Bravo is nifty and agile through the lanes and a comfortable cruise on A-roads. Certainly, it rides well although it is slightly choppier on the low rolling resistance tyres compared to the standard car. Electric ‘Dualdrive’ power steering is well balanced enough if a little lacking in feel around the straight ahead compared to a hydraulic system.
Click 'Next' to read CAR's verdict on the Eco Bravo
Can it compete with the best in class?
Fiat has been struggling with its image for years in this country thanks to a lacklustre dealer network and a product line-up that has somehow lacked the wow factor despite numerous awards. Now the UK management team headed by MD Andrew Humberstone, who took over in November 2007, is on a mission to 'fix the dealer network in order to give customers the level of service they deserve.' With the 17-strong Bravo range becoming increasingly comprehensive and the sell-out 500 mini, the product line-up is starting to look stronger than it's ever been.
Humberstone reckons he’s on course to improve residuals too, and although we’ve heard this before from Fiat, this time the boss is handling it personally, aiming to 'avoid all the filters and get to the cliff face itself.' As far as the Bravo is concerned, Fiat is confident enough to offer 48-hour test drives and a money-back guarantee after 30 days if you don’t like it. That's quite persuasive.
The UK C-segment contains some stiff opposition but the Bravo is a worthy contender assuming there’s a dealer near you. Latest research rates Fiat’s average CO2 emissions as the lowest in Europe at 137.3g/km, so choose the right car – like this one – and you can still enjoy driving without spanking your wallet at the filling station.
There are two trim levels, Active at £14,150 and the Dynamic at £15,150. It has five stars from Euro NCAP, six airbags and lashings of Italian style. Most of all it combines reasonable performance and loads of refinement with ridiculously low fuel consumption. It's an impressive effort.