Performance: 0-62mph 8.5 secs; 39.8mpg; 131 mph top
Worth considering: Honda Civic, Seat Leon, Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus
'I can't believe it's a Fiat." Fiona, one of our reader-drivers for this week's Verdict was showing off the Fiat to her dad. Well, they weren't the only ones to gaze admiringly at the Bravo's gorgeous lines, set off by awesomely stylish 18in alloys. Everyone did.
Look inside the cabin (in this case, of the T-Jet Sport version), and when you see the leather clad steering wheel, chrome surrounded dials and tastefully trimmed sports seats, you begin to get the sense Fiat has purpose built the Bravo to leave the owners of its predecessors asking why Fiat didn't try turning on the style before. Now, with the Panda, the Grande Punto and the new 500 as well as the Bravo, Fiat have rediscovered brio.
Little luxurious touches abound. The Bravo has an impressive stereo system which accommodates CDs and MP3 formats (easily manipulated via the steering wheel controls), the seats, which pass the comfort test on long journeys, are electrically adjustable and, when you've arrived at your destination, the follow- -me-home headlights see you safely to your door.
And the great thing about the Bravo is that it doesn't just look and feel the part. On the road, the Bravo is rapid. There are four turbo-charged engines to choose from, two diesel and two petrol. The latter are 120bhp eight-valve and 150bhp 16-valve versions of Fiat's 1.9 litre units, while the petrol engines come as 1.4 litres of 120bhp or 150bhp, with the latter delivering 152 lb ft at 1,750rpm. The engines are mated to six-speed manual transmission, apart from the 120 bhp diesel version which is equipped with a five-speed manual gearbox.
With the rather more spirited of the two petrol units, I was especially spoiled. Both offer the same torque delivery at 1,750rpm but, in the 150bhp T-Jet version, push the "overboost" button in the central console and, according to the brochure, you'll have the potential top speed of 131 mph, and the ability to reach 62mph from rest in 8.2 seconds. Not bad and, despite the lively performance, it's fairly abstemious, managing 39.8mpg in the combined cycle.
One thing you do have to watch, that is, if you don't want the same heart in your mouth moment that I experienced, is chucking it round sharp corners with too much abandon. Don't. And the other slight niggle is that reverse parking is tricky as the chunky C-pillars obscure your vision. But that might be easily solved with the addition of a parking sensor from the options list. Maybe they should make that little luxury standard.
Fiona McPherson, 28, PA in finance sector, Edinburgh
Having never been a fan of Fiats in the past I was keen to see how the new Bravo shaped up. I was impressed with the distinctive style. It's pleasing on the eye, the high waistline and sporty alloys making it look more interesting than its competitors. The streamlined dashboard is equipped with all the mod-cons and a very clever Blue & Me function, allowing you to connect your mobile using Bluetooth and use your MP3 player. The 1.4 Tjet engine is perfect for city driving. With 148bhp, it's quick and responsive. The motorway ride was not as comfortable. The road and wind noise were starting to wear on me, and I found the positioning of the cruise control directly under the indicators very frustrating.
Justin Kennedy, 60, Managing director, Edinburgh
The Fiat Bravo Active Sport certainly lived up to its name. I spent a happy hour learning how to operate all the gizmos, of which the phone answering button on the steering wheel was the best. My initial reaction was that it looked the part – it made me feel young again. I am a little over 6ft, and it took a little playing with the seat adjustment [to find a comfortable position], but it came up trumps in the end. We put four adults in and it still had a little sparkle left in its performance. The Bravo feels solid and safe, even while I chucked it about a bit on my favourite piece of country road. When I had to break hard for the 30 sign at the next village there was a smile on my face. Bravo, it passed the fun test!
Virginia Birkett, 55, Teacher, Edinburgh
I found the overall appearance very pleasing and sleek. I tried the back seat, which was comfortable, but the legroom was very limited – although the headroom was ample. The fabric of the seats attracts fluff and hairs, so this car would not be suitable to carry pets. Then I drove the vehicle. I liked the dark, non-reflective dashboard with the information displayed conveniently but not too brightly. The driving position was comfortable, with clear vision through 180 degrees, though the rear view was more limited. I particularly liked the contoured steering wheel and chunky gear stick, but was disappointed not to have a left footrest next to the clutch pedal, and found the voice-activated mechanism a distraction.
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