So I took the plunge and acquired the newest car I have ever owned - a Fiat Strada 1.6 ELX.
Whilst shopping for the bakkie, there where three different options: the Opel Corsa Utility, Ford Bantam or the Fiat Strada. I didn’t even consider the VW Citi pick-up or the Datsun 1400 (sorry Nissan) - I wanted a vehicle designed after 1980.
After a lot of umm-ing and ah-ing I decided to go the Strada Route. What did it for me were the longer service intervals (20 000 km), the value for money and the derrière (I still cannot get used to the Opel’s "gangster-rapper booty").
Logically, the Corsa Utility would probably have been the safest bet given its perceived reliability and build quality. But it has been said that you have to own, and drive, an Italian at least once. This is my chance.
The bakkie is incredibly smooth and quiet. I had grown quite accustomed to my noisy, cranky and difficult Citi Golf 1600 (with 300 000 plus kilometers on the clock, it could be forgiven).
The Strada cabin is rattle-free on all road surfaces and at all speeds. It’s still a novelty for me to be able to converse at normal volumes when driving at 120 km/h on the highway.
What does help is the air-conditioning and the fact that for the most part the windows stay up. Another upshot of the air-conditioning and the closed windows is less pleading at the window by every robot beggar and/or coat hanger salesman.
On a negative note the quality of the materials used on the dashboard and those used for the switches are definitely of the cheap and nasty type. As for the “classy/sporty” silver centre console, you are more likely to find a "classy/sporty” Rosettenville hooker… The console is cheap. Finish and klaar...
Ergonomically the interior is fine. The seats are comfortable (though not easy to adjust) and the steering wheel can be adjusted for height (not reach).
Behind the passenger seat is where the full size spare wheel can be found. Underneath the seat I have managed to fit what I consider travel essentials: warning triangle, jumper cables, tow rope, basic first aid kit and lastly, but never to be forgotten, tool-in-a-can spray…
The jack and basic tool kit are strapped to the floorboard behind the seat. What is nice is that there is enough space behind the driver seat to stow either a laptop or a small weekend tog bag. When the seat is back in the driving position, those items cannot be seen from outside the bakkie and they present less of a smash-and-grab temptation.
The dashboard does however lack nice hidey-holes for other knick-knacks like minister Manuel’s damned logbook. Also how difficult can it be to design a dashboard with cup holders without breaking the budget?
The engine is quiet and never sounds like it is going to be ripping up the tarmac anytime soon. This vehicle was designed as a workhorse – not a racer. The 1600 engine has enough power to keep the vehicle going with relative ease, but if you want to move things along a bit, then you definitely need to move the revs over 3 000.
Between 3 500 and 6 000 r/min the engine has a lot of pull and inspires confidence. After 6000 it starts sounding strained and a gear change is an order.
Gear changes are smooth with a nice light clutch action. I did manage to scrape the bakkie into reverse a few times. The owner's manual suggests waiting two seconds before engaging reverse, using this guideline I have not scraped the reverse gear since.
The Fiat Strada has power steering, which is wonderful in city traffic and for parking. Out on the open road I miss the lively feedback that I got from the Citi Golf steering wheel. I could always feel how much grip was available and when those grip levels where being lost. With the Strada it’s more a case of part faith and closely watching the nose for any clues as to front wheel grip.
I have found the handling to be very good for a bakkie. The Strada handles better with a half load on the back (about 325 kg). It sits tightly on the road and never feels like it is straying off line.
Without a load, certainly feels twitchier, particularly onrutted dirt roads. I recently drove the Outeniqua Pass with a half load and was impressed with the Strada’s cornering and braking ability. I would definitely have cooked the brakes on my old Citi Golf going at the same pace down the pass.
I have been disappointed by the error rate in the speedometer and the trip meter.
According to my GPS when the speedo says 120 km/h I am actually travelling at 107 km/h; at 60 km/h, true speed is 55 km/h.
I know they design a certain error margin into the speedo, but the margin on the Strada seems too high. The trip meter also over reads, when it says you have travelled 100 km you have, in reality, travelled 94 km, for example. Not good for calculating consumption figures…
So far the fuel gauge has been spot on. Every time the fuel light comes on I fill up to the first click and it takes approximately 50 litres. My worst figures for the 50l were 550 km with the best being 650 km.
The air-conditioning eats a lot of fuel in the city, but hardly makes a difference on the open road. I have gotten into the habit of turning the aircon off when I overtake on uphills. The difference in power is tangible.
I am happy so far. I am holding my breath for the 40 000km service as Fiat’s service reputation precedes it. I am also a little dubious of the quality of some of the cabin finishes. I am however confident about the engine/gearbox/chassis combination. It feels right. Time will tell with this Italian (or is that a Brazilian of Italian descent).
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