Fiat SA launched the new cars in Johannesburg yesterday, and Wheels24 drove a wide variety of the vehicles, ranging from the entry level Palio 1.2 Go! through to the top-of-the-range Siena 1.6 ELX which comes complete with aircon, alloy wheels, electric mirrors and windows, and a front-loader CD player.
And we were taken aback by the high levels and fit and finish. None of the cars we drove had a hint of wind whistle from the seals - although there was a rustle from the wing mirrors - the shut lines were neat and tidy, and paint finish was excellent, as was the level of interior trim fit.
Managing director Giorgio Gorelli says Fiat SA has been placing special emphasis on both quality and customer satisfaction improvements.
These measures include extra quality gates on the production lines in Pretoria, better measuring equipment to ensure accuracy of body pressings, a dedicated quality team at the source factory in Brazil.
In addition every car received a road test before being shipped off for delivery, plus a special static audit by a team trained to look at the car from a customer's viewpoint.
He also revealed that results just released to Fiat by Synovate, SA's leading customer research company, indicates that the Palio has moved to second place in its segment.
These figures will be official released in the next Synovate survey.
Fiat also announced a newcomer to the Palio lineup - the 3-door Espresso van, based on the Palio Go!, and replacement for the popular Uno Espresso.
Fiat has done a great job on re-creating the Palio and Siena, thanks to the efforts of world-renowned designer Giorgietto Giugiaro - the man who leapt to fame with the original VW Golf - and his Italdesign organisation.
As the "face" of the car, special emphasis has been placed on re-styling the front, and there's a bolder, appealing look emphasised by larger rounded headlights incorporating a tapered wrap-around effect, along with a neatly scalloped lower element narrowing towards the attractive new grille, complete with the new Fiat Centenary badge.
There's more than a touch of pre-Bangle BMW in the headlamp design, making them attractive and eye-catching.
The front bumper adds further touches of flair to the mix, neatly following the contour of the headlamps, with the lower air intakes opting for a sporting three-element design.
At the rear new tail light clusters and a more athletic design for the tailgate and rear bumper update the hatchback, in either three or five-door guise.
The Siena II maintains its practical booted configuration, but benefits from a similar makeover.
Adding to the upmarket look, all models are fitted with colour-coded bumpers, and newly designed wheels while body colour mirrors and side skirts define the up-range versions.
Newly designed door handles have been introduced across the range with a pull function for increased safety in the case of an accident.
Inside there's new trim specially selected for the South African models.
'Artiste' cloth is featured in the new Palio GO!, 'Bromac' fabric in the new Palio II and Siena II EL models, and an upmarket 'Casino' textile that is exclusively reserved for the range-topping ELX specification.
The new Palio II and new Siena II boast competitive levels of space throughout, with new seat designs contributing further to good overall comfort levels.
A wide variety of storage areas are offered in the cabin, while the neatly laid out instruments and controls provide easy access and effective ergonomics.
Both the Palio II and Siena II offer a high level of flexibility through the fold-down rear seat ? a single-piece version on GO! models, with a useful 60/40 split included on the Palio II and Siena II EL and ELX derivatives.
In the case of the Palio II, standard boot capacity is rated at 290 litres, extending to 650 litres with the seat folded.
Generous load capacity remains the overriding virtue of the Siena II, with an impressive 500 litre boot volume in standard configuration, extending to a massive 920 litres when the rear seat is tumbled out of the way.
In addition the dashboard is now darker and new fitted premium quality carpets complete the internal renovation.
A high level of standard specification had been adopted for the new Palio II and Siena II range, extending from the entry-level models right through to the top of the range versions.
Available in a choice of three and five-door body styles, the Palio 1.2 GO! offers an impressive level of standard equipment, and comes standard with tinted windows, intermittent two-speed windscreen wipers, internally adjustable external mirrors and pre-wiring for radio and antenna fitment.
Additional security is provided by key-operated central locking and the Fiat CODE rolling code immobiliser.
There's also a heated rear window, rev counter, halogen headlights, a 12-volt power point and luggage compartment lighting.
The standard 155/80 R13 tyres are fitted to steel rims, with full wheel covers.
The next step up is the EL specification on the Palio II three and five-door, as well as the Siena II sedan.
Further equipment fitted as standard includes remote-operated central locking, a rear window wiper on the Palio II models, as well as colour coding for the mirrors, side skirts and door handles.
Interior additions comprise electric front windows, driver airbag, a rear ashtray, power steering with height adjustment for the steering wheel, a digital clock, front and rear grab handles, air-conditioning, an illuminated glove box, passenger sun visor with mirror, door pockets, driver's left footrest and a sophisticated silver finish for the centre console.
Trimmed 14-inch steel wheels and 175/65 R14 tyres are standard.
The five-door Palio II ELX and four-door Siena II ELX are the most lavishly equipped, gaining electric rear windows and a radio with front-loading CD and four-speakers.
Externally, the upmarket chrome grille treatment and front fog lights also distinguish the Palio II and Siena II ELX.
There are 14-inch alloy rims and 175/65 R14 tyres fitted to the top Siena II ELX, with larger sporty 15-inch alloy wheels and 195/50 R15 tyres in the case of the top-line Palio II, complement this further.
All models feature height-adjustable front head restraints, a third high-level brake light, rear fog lights, side impact bars in all doors, anti-submarining seats, a collapsible steering column and a full-size spare wheel.
Fiat's Fire Prevention System (FPS) is also included as standard. This system cuts the fuel supply and the electronics of the car in the event of an accident, thereby reducing the chance of a fire breaking out on impact.
In addition, EL and ELX models benefit from the fitment of a driver's airbag, as well as height-adjustable front seatbelts with pre-tensioners to provide additional occupant protection.
Two lively, reliable well-proven petrol engines are retained in the latest incarnation of the Palio II and Siena II, headed by the 1.6 16v.
This 1?581 cc four-cylinder engine employs a twin overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder and Magneti Marelli electronically controlled multi-point fuel injection to generate 74 kW of power at 5 500 r/min, matched to 140 Nm of torque at 4 000 r/min.
Fiat claims 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 11.1 sec, linked to a maximum speed of 184 km/h..
Fiat also claims excellent fuel efficiency, with a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of just 8 litres/100 km. Constant driving at 90 km/h produces a consumption figure of 6.2 litres/100 km, rising to 8.1 litres/100 km at a steady 120 km/h.
The 1.2 eight-valve engine offers a good balance between driveability and economy. This 1 242 cc unit is credited with 54 kW of power at 6 000 r/min, along with 102 Nm of torque at 3 250 r/min.
This contributes to a thoroughly respectable 0-100 km/h time of 13.5 sec and a top speed of 164 km/h.
Even at the power-sapping Reef altitude we found the 1.2 models extraordinary nippy, and far better than expected
In the combined cycle the 1.2 is said to consume 7.8 litres/100 km, with constant-speed consumption pegged at 5.9 litres/100 km and 7.9 litres/100 km at 90 km/h and 120 km/h respectively.
All models fitted with power-assisted steering as standard incorporate a hydraulic rack and pinion system, while a mechanical version is used on the standard models. Overall manoeuvrability is enhanced with a compact turning circle of just 10.4m.
The suspension system for the front-wheel drive Palio II and Siena II features independent MacPherson struts with lower wishbones anchored to a subframe, with additional control provided by the integrated anti-roll bar.
At the rear, a torsion beam axle is employed with longitudinal trailing arms and a stabiliser bar. Hydraulic telescopic dampers with a double-acting function complement the helical coil springs used all round.
Braking is taken care of by a hydraulically controlled dual-circuit system, using 240 mm ventilated front discs on the 1.2, and larger 257 mm versions on the 1.6 16v models.
Drum brakes are used at the rear with self-centring linings and automatic wear adjustment.
Fiat Auto South Africa offers Fiat owners a 24-month Manufacturer Warranty, unlimited mileage and an additional 12-month Dealer Extended Warranty or up to 100 000km in total, three years on paintwork and five years on rust anti-perforation.
The new models are covered by the AA Fleetcare roadside assistance for 12 months. The service is active 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is available by calling the dedicated toll-free number 0800 223 727.
Palio II 1.2 GO! 3dr R76 900
Palio II 1.2 GO! 5dr R78 900
Palio II 1.2 EL 3dr R102 400
Palio II 1.2 EL 5dr R104 440
Palio II 1.6 16v EL 5dr R116 900
Palio II 1.6 16v ELX 5dr R122 000
Palio Espresso Van R79 900
Siena II 1.2 EL R110 600
Siena II 1.6 16v EL R123 100
Siena II 1.6 16V ELX R128 400
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