2010 Fiat Bravo | first drive
What? The launch event for a stylish Italian five-door hatchback that’s been on sale in Europe for three years, but only arrives in the GCC for mid-2010.
Where? Around 40 minutes driving pretty slowly in convoy from Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, to the city’s Corniche. Then back again, when we managed to ditch the convoy and go a bit faster. All driving was in urban traffic and on motorways.
Any good? Not bad. It’s stylish, comfortable and practical, but the gearbox is jerky and the suspension very soft, which makes for wallowy handling. Our major concern is that the air-con in our test car was woeful, although Fiat has promised that GCC-spec cars will be better.
Fiat, after a long period away from the Middle East, returned in December 2009 when they took a stand at the Dubai Motor Show and showed off the 500. The little hatchback has proved a moderate success and Fiat hopes for more of the same from the Bravo, which is a larger, five-door hatchback that’s been on sale in Europe since the beginning of 2007. We get the 2010 model, which is largely unchanged save for a few minor cosmetic tweaks. The price ranges from 62,900AED to 82,900AED, which is pretty average for this type of car.
Even three years after its launch, the Bravo still looks pretty smooth. The curves and lines flow together well to create an overall look more memorable and striking than many of the hatchbacks on the road today. Only the large front overhang doesn’t look quite right, especially when viewing from the side.
Inside, the curvaceous dash continues the stylish look. The centre console is angled towards the driver and our test car saw the dash covered in a carbon-fibre effect soft touch fabric, with shiny piano-black plastic around the stereo and air conditioning controls. There’s faux leather and some cool texturing on the doors too. The quality of materials used, and the way they’re fastened together, feels nice and solid. Even the seat upholstery is funky to look at, with some cool stitching in the middle.
The boot is surprisingly spacious, even with the spare wheel under the floor, and there’s good space in the back too, with plenty of room for three and no head or leg room worries.
The car we tried didn’t exactly match up to the specifications that are on sale in the GCC (you can read more about said specs here). Our test machine sadly didn’t have the much-vaunted Blue&Me system, instead sporting the standard entertainment system comprising a radio and CD player capable of playing MP3 CDs. No auxiliary input socket for MP3 players though, which is a shame. Such small features really should be standard on all cars.
The driving position is good – both seat and steering column adjust for height and reach and it’s easy to find the ideal comfortable settings.
From a storage point of view there’s a small cubby hole in front of the gear lever for phones or iPods and under the armrest was a cylindrical space that’s cooled by the air conditioning so as to keep a couple of drinks cans cold. No space for CDs though.
On the move
Of immediate concern to us was that the air conditioning takes an age to cool down – five minutes after starting the engine, the fan was still pumping lukewarm air into the cabin. Throughout the time we spent in the Bravo, it was necessary to have the temperature turned as low as possible and the fan on full.
A later conversation with Fiat representatives suggested that the cars offered during the launch event were of European specification and that cars on sale in the GCC would have a better system. Let’s hope they do, or that will instantly render the Bravo’s positive points moot in the 50-degree Arabian summer.
That out of the way, let’s talk about the gearbox. Rather than a standard automatic transmission, the Bravo features a robotised manual affair, which is best described as a manual gearbox, complete with clutch, but where the clutch and the gear changes are done automatically. This is different from a traditional automatic, which relies on a device called a torque converter.
In practical terms, this means that the gear lever arrangement in the Bravo is slightly different to the normal PRND arrangement. Instead, Neutral and Reverse are on the far right of three planes, and you move the gear stick into the middle plane to drive. Take your foot off the brake and you’ll need to prod the accelerator to move, rather than waiting for the car to creep forward automatically; only when you accelerate will the car release the clutch and engage the gear. The change is rather laborious and jerky – not to the point of discomfort, but more so than a regular automatic. The car pitches and yaws backwards and forwards when the cogs move, in no way helped by the rather soft suspension.
In manual mode it reacts quickly to a move of the lever forward or back, but the actual process of changing is still slow and far from smooth. We suspect it would be rather satisfying to use in a sportier car as it feels nice and mechanical, but it’s incongruous in this setting.
The engine is a 1.4-litre turbocharged unit with 120bhp. It’s rather sluggish at low revs, but once it’s stirred above 3,000rpm responds well.
The suspension is softer than we’d like and the car rolls about during cornering. Accelerate hard and it’ll sit back, brake and the nose will dip quite a lot. We’d prefer it to stay flatter when changing direction. However, it does mean that the car soaks up bumps in the road well.
The Bravo features a City steering button that makes the steering really light for ease of manoeuvring. The steering is not particularly heavy to start with but if you have weedy arms it could be useful. Generally the steering feels a bit vague and rubbery, which doesn’t lend itself to any kind of spirited driving – a shame, as the dynamic looks of the Bravo suggested a more involving experience. It does nip around town without any trouble though and feels stable at motorway speeds.
The Bravo is a fine looking and generally well-made machine, with some interesting and unusual design points, plenty of comfortable space inside and a good-sized boot.
However, the gearbox is too jerky and the suspension too soft, which means it’s not as good as some rivals in its driving experience – we’re looking particularly at the cheaper and more powerful (if less attractive) Ford Focus. And Fiat really needs to sort out the air conditioning for the GCC-specification cars.