The most beguiling of the pair is the Bravo, its slinky skin defining a shape of great muscularity and fluidity. There's a structural integrity about this car that the supplanted Tipo never quite achieved. Much greater crash safety and security, too.
On test the 1.8ELX was hard-edged when extended, but the engine was barely audible when cruising. Wind and tyre noise were well suppressed. I have sat in more supportive seats, but no five-door in this sector has more room or style. I liked the responsive power steering, the solid, all square stance on twisty roads, the firm brakes and the crisp, easy gear-change. Switches and vents all reflect painstaking attention to detail.
Models start at pounds 9,608 for the 1.4S. The five-door 1.6SX Brava, with more boot space, costs pounds 11,424. The 1.8 ELX, with anti-lock brakes, is pounds 13,293. The five- cylinder 2.0 and turbo-diesel will be available later in the year. Fiat claims prices are 3-5 per cent below the competition and even the cheapest model has a driver's airbag, power steering, central locking, engine immobiliser and purpose built audio equipment.
Fiat Bravo 1.8HLX, pounds 12,580 Engine: 1747cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 113bhp at 5800rpm. Transmission: five speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive. Top speed 120mph, 0-60mph in 9.7 seconds, average consumption 35.9mpg.
Ford Escort 1.8Si three-door, pounds 12,890 Recent improvements in handling and refinement. Lacks Bravo's brio, but the1.8 version car goes well.
Honda Civic 1.6 ES1 three-door, pounds 13,250 Small, high-revving engine gives strong performance. Latest model is prettier than the old "hunchback".
Peugeot 306 2.0 XSi, pounds 13,810 One of the class bench-marks. Pretty, well- packaged car with plenty of zap, fine handling and comfortable ride.
Rover 216 Si three-door, pounds 12,195 Cute new in-house Rover 200 is smaller than the car it supplants, and not as roomy as its Fiat competitor. Lively performance, agile handling and fun to drive.