What's it about?
R200 000? But it's a 1.4-litre! You blurt while taking in Fiat's new Bravo. But, all is not as it seems...
See, this Fiat is meant to be the Italian manufacturer's fresh assault on the very competitive C-segment. In order to make any sort of impact on a market place that has been dominated by VW's Golf since its 2004 launch, it had to be good.
And that it is, especially when compared with the underwhelming Stilo it succeeds. The Bravo is significantly more good-looking than its competitors - a feat made more possible with the adoption of the Maserati-like snout first seen on baby brother Grande Punto, a distinct wedge profile and a prominently displayed taillight cluster on the rump.
But surely it can't just be about looking good from the outside.
The Bravo's interior is a study of class, with a mix of finishes ranging from a softer-touch facia (with great detailing that feels almost fabric to the touch) and seats upholstered in a combination of a mesh fabric and alcantara.
This detailing, in contrasting black and blue on the test unit supplied, is carried across other areas of the cabin, including the leather-covered steering wheel and door panels.
This Sport derivative sampled also beats most of its competitors in the areas of standard comfort and safety equipment.
These include power windows all round, air conditioner, centre armrests for front and rear occupants, a stereo with MP3 and RDS functionality and an onboard computer with a very neat electronic boost gauge as one of its functions.
However, a height adjustable driver's seat and steering wheel adjustable for rake and reach could do little to remedy a rather uncomfortable driving position...
A brace of safety equipment includes six airbags, ABS, ESP with hill holder, EBD, anti-skid control and a collapsible steering column. Clever fog lamps double up as cornering lights while rear fogs are without special powers.
Carrying the Sport designation, this model is also fitted with a rear spoiler and very sexy charcoal-grey and aluminium-like 17-inch alloy wheels.
Further trickery is left to Bravo's punchy powerplant.
Under the bonnet
Bravo is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-litre motor with an output of 110 kW and peak torque of 206 Nm at 5 500 and 2 000 r/min, respectively.
Drive is to the front wheels via a slightly wobbly, but surprisingly accurate, six-speed shifter.
On the Sport model tested, torque could be boosted to a more satisfying 230 Nm for short bursts, simply by plugging the Sport button on the facia.
Not that this T-Jet needs it. If enthusiasm is everything, this powerplant more than makes up for any shortcomings it may have.
Super energetic, this car accelerates with a little kick coupled with great gusto, while a faint turbo whine signals the blower's intentions.
A revised McPherson-front and torsion beam-rear suspension arrangement contributes to a superb driving experience. Re-tuned springs and new dampers contribute to a ride that is firm, but not uncomfortable.
If a bit wobbly, the gearshifts are positive, too. Dualdrive electric power steering could be described as slightly numb around the centre, but this doesn't seem to hamper Bravo's spirited performance at all. Italian flair makes a serious comeback.
Fiat Auto SA, has voiced its intentions to get back into its winning ways, especially since Bravo joins a growing list of really competent products from this Italian manufacturer.
Fiat's latest generation of products, including Grande Punto and Panda, have certainly turned the corner, exhibiting a level of excitement that has been lacking for a while, and if the international reception to the little Fiat 500 (which launches here in the second half of this year) is anything to go by, Fiat can only be expected to deliver even better products.
Bravo is exciting, stylish and proves that Germany and Japan cannot be singled out as the only nations capable of producing solid engineering. Whether it is able to scale what has become a mass mental block remains to be seen, but Bravo gets our vote.
Certainly one of the better looking hatches on our market
Fiat SA's poor servicing reputation precedes it and could hamper this car's progress