A new Fiat Bravo! It replaces the Stilo but, given how unpopular the Stilo was, should anyone care?
Yes, the old Stilo was one of those yawningly average cars that rather summed up Fiat’s problems. Mediocre to look at, indifferent to drive, of poor quality and a complete showroom duffer. Fiat, though, is going through something of a renaissance. There’s a new boss, a new designer chief and, most important of all, new cars. New car number one was the Panda – a versatile little thing that is probably the cleverest of all small cars, the true spiritual successor to the Issigonis Mini. Second new car was the Grande Punto. Less of a mould-breaker than the Panda but well-made and very handsome with its mini-Maserati style. The Panda and Grande Punto are both selling like gelati in July. The Bravo – available initially as a five-door hatch only – is new car number three. Unsurprisingly, it takes much of the learnings from the Grande Punto. Think of it as a scaled-up Grande Punto and you get the picture.
OK, so it looks good. But is it any good to drive?
Fiat concentrates on style, solidity and value nowadays, or so its marketing director says. Style is where it should be best in class (it’s Italian, right?). Solidity is where it has to surprise and delight, to win over the doubters who still remember the not-too-distant days of rusting, frangible Fiats, when they had all the solidity of a recycled plastic bottle. Value means good prices, satrting at £10,995. The upshots are terrific style – the Grande Punto is a real design classic and the Bravo isn’t too far behind – plus excellent torsional rigidity and strength. On broken rural roads in northern Italy, the Bravo felt tough, rattle-free, and more like a Foden than a Fiat. It’s all the more amazing when you realise it’s using the old Stilo platform. Same engines too, although there’s a new 1.4 petrol turbo on the way. The ride, too, is absorbent and comfortable.
I sense a ‘but’ approaching….
Yes, having said all that, this is no class leader in handling or performance. It’s safe and predictable and has plenty of grip, but is only just above class average in driving brio. The lifeless electric power steering doesn’t help. We drove both the 120bhp and 150bhp versions of the 1.9 turbodiesel engine – they’re likely to be the big sellers throughout Europe, including the UK. They’re gutsy and smooth though more audible than class best.
Can it beat the Golf or Focus as an all-rounder? First impressions are: not quite. It doesn’t possess their dynamic appeal and the packaging isn’t so great, either. The actual cabin length is supposedly class-leading, but the fore/aft split is heavily biased in favour of those up front. Back-benchers get seriously short changed, especially in leg- and knee-room, although shoulder room is generous. The boot, too, has a very high loading sill. Rather, the Bravo’s appeals are its appealingly Italian style, its surprisingly un-Italian solidity, good ride and – almost certainly – competitive prices. It deserves to sell much better than the orphan Stilo – and will. It will probably cement Fiat’s corporate renaissance. But it doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot in the same way as the Grande Punto or the Panda.