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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Selling in the heart-
  land of the family car
  market, the new Bravo
  five-door hatchback
  means just one thing
  for Fiat — already on a
  roll with a market share
  that has doubled in the
  past two years: More

THE FINANCIALLY REJUVEN-ATED HOUSE OF FIAT has some impressive new models in its line-up and the latest is the Bravo five-door hatchback range that went on sale earlier this year. The five-door Bravo looks like a scaled up version of the Fiat Grande Punto 'supermini' — and that can only be a good thing, because the Grande Punto is one of the best cars Fiat has produced in years. The new-ish Panda, Sedici and Grande Punto have doubled the company's UK market share in the last two years and with the eagerly-awaited iconic Fiat 500 due next year, the brand certainly looks to have a brighter future.

The Bravo is classed as a C-segment car — Focus/Astra size — and this is the second largest single sector in the UK's new car market, accounting for nearly 600,000 sales a year, 75 per cent of which are five-door hatchbacks.

The Bravo is a vitally important model range for Fiat, selling in the heartland of the family car market. Priced from £10,995 up to £15,495 it is an attractive proposition — although it does have to face stiff competition. Not just from the old favourites such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and VW Golf, but from the yet-to-be-launched and larger Peugeot 308. However, the real new stars of this sector are the highly-rated Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee'd. Not only are these two Korean model ranges unbeatable for price-versus-specification but they look really smart, they drive and perform very well and have long warran-ties; everything, in fact, the modern family car buyer wants these days. Perhaps, though, the Fiat brand name still retains the 'desirab-ility' factor.

After style and price, safety should be a major consideration for buyers — although it rarely is. For the record, the new Bravo has been awarded a maximum Euro NCAP five-star adult occupant protection, three-star child protection and two-star pedestrian safety rating.

Currently, 12 model choices (15 by the end of the year) make up the new Bravo range. There are five trim levels; Bravo, Active, Active Sport, Dynamic and Sport. And there are four engine options at pres-ent, with another to be added later in the year. These start with the basic 1.4-litre, 90bhp petrol unit, ideal for use as a family runabout. But the star of the line-up has to be the all-new 1.4-litre 150bhp T-Jet turbocharged petrol engine. This gives the performance of a naturally-aspirated 1.8 or 2.0-litre petrol engine but with a reduction of up to
20 per cent in fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. Good news indeed.

In future, a 120bhp version of the 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol engine will be added, and this is claimed to give the same performance as a 1.6-litre unit but with better fuel economy and again with lower emissions. For diesel engine users there are two versions of Fiat's 1.9-litre MultiJet turbodiesel (120/150bhp), and these will appeal to high-mileage users. Note, however, that the equivalent power diesel engine costs £1,200 more than the new 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol engine.

Of the five trim levels, the base Bravo specification is really only shown as a price entry model for fleet use and car rental companies. The Sport models are probably best avoided as they add very little in the way of 'sports' performance. That leaves the real choice for customers between Active and Dynamic specifications. For the extra £1,100, my advice is to go for the Dynamic trim level. The excellent 1.4-litre T-Jet in Dynamic form costs an appealing £13,995 — much less than equival-ent Focus, Astra and Golf models but more than the i30 or Cee'd.

For the record, the Bravo 1.4 Dynamic T-Jet 150 — my test model — included as standard equipment a radio and CD player with controls on the steering wheel, cruise control, front and rear electric windows, leather trim for the gearlever and steering wheel, remote central lock-ing, electrically-adjustable door mirrors, 60/:40 split folding rear seats, 'smart' front airbags with side and window airbags, dual-zone climate control, all the usual instrumentation, BlueMe telephone connectivity, alloy road wheels, front fog lights and anti-lock braking.

The notable omission is an electronic stability control programme, which should definitely be standard, but is an extra cost option. Not very clever when most cars in this class have it fitted as standard. I would also opt to have the rear parking sensors because visibility to the rear is limited, due to the small rear side windows and high body line.

The style is very attractive and positively eye-catching — much like the Grande Punto. It is noticeable on the road and definitely not your everyday jelly-mould of a modern hatchback. At the front is the new Fiat face — nice grille, swept back cat-like eye light units — all fluently linked to the wedge-shaped side profile and sweeping around to a sports coupé style hatch rear-end. The low body line and matching windscreen gives good forward visibility, but the side body line rises higher the further rearwards it moves and means that the side win-dows, which are not generous in size, get worse nearer to the rear. Coupled to the stylish, but small, rear tailgate window, the visibility from the Bravo is not as good as some of the competition.

Generally, though, the Bravo is well designed and pretty roomy, although the rear seat legroom is not as large as that in, say, the Hyundai i30 or Kia Cee'd.

Where my test car did excel over all of the competition was in the engine department. The new 1.4-litre T-Jet turbocharged petrol engine is brilliant. It really does perform, and truly feels like a much larger unit. The secret to this engineering breakthrough, says Fiat, is the use of
a small turbocharger which progressively increases the power delivery — no wild rush of power as with most other turbocharged engines, or turbo lag. The use of turbocharger goes hand-in-glove with a redesign of the induction system and the use of a 'drive by wire' throttle.

Just as impressive is the high torque at low engine speeds — 152lb ft from 2,250rpm — that, believe me, is really exceptional. It really does provide the best elements of petrol and diesel engines in one unit. It
is brisk and lively to drive on the open road, yet is provides all the res-ponsiveness needed for town driving and acceleration. The engine provides quite remarkable acceleration and the top speed is exceptional for an engine of this size. It is quite amazing how well this engine of just 1.4-litres performs.

The fuel economy is pretty good too, with an official combined cycle figure of 39.8mpg — my test car came very close indeed, returning 38.7mpg. However, performance has a price and the CO2 emissions are only average for a petrol engine of this size. The 167g/km CO2 output just trips it into Band E for road tax at £165 per year. Drive to the front wheels is through a six-speed manual gearbox and the ratios are well chosen to cope with all conditions from town use to motorways.

As for road control and handling, there is nothing really exceptional in these areas. The Bravo has polite road manners; it handles safely, the ride is comfortable and the road holding predictable — all the things
the average buyer in this car sector needs. It is not as good as the Focus and Golf, but better than the Astra.

With one or two exceptions — restricted rear visibility, no stability programme as standard, average handling/road holding performance — the Bravo is pretty good. Strong plus points include its smart styling, 5-star safety rating, comfort, competitive price and exceptional engine performance relative to its capacity. Bravo Fiat! — David Miles

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Fiat Bravo 1.4 Dynamic T-Jet 150 | £13,995
Maximum speed: 131mph | 0-62mph: 8.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 38.7mpg | Power: 150bhp | Torque: 152lb ft

CO2 167g/km | Insurance group 10
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