Fiat Bravo

At last, Fiat is starting to make sexy-looking cars again – but has the new Bravo got the performance to match?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Would suit: Bill Gates
Price: £12,895
Performance: 0-60 in 8.5 secs
Combined fuel consumption: 39.8mpg
Information: 0800 717 000

The last logo I would want to see inside a car would be Microsoft's. And the last car I'd want to see it in would be a Fiat. Imagine if Ratners hooked up with MFI to make a grandfather clock. You know there'd be trouble. But there it was, Microsoft's little flag stuck on to the lower dash of the latest model from one of the most notoriously unreliable car brands. Did anyone kill an albatross recently?

This misguided corporate partnership does Fiat no favours at all because, though Microsoft shows no signs of stopping my computer from crashing at least 12 times a day, Fiat is showing genuine signs of improvement. Having stared down the bailiffs and done rather well out of its recent divorce from General Motors, the company is now returning a profit and creating a cohesively designed range of cars. A Fiat "look" is emerging at last, and a sexy one, too, with more than a whiff of Maserati about it. Some have complained that this new Bravo looks too much like the Punto and Grand Punto, but that is clearly the point, and all three cars represent a great leap forward from horrors such as the Marea and Doblo.

The future looks bright, too, with some headline-grabbing new models on the way, not least the adorable revamped 500.

Seeing Microsoft's name in the cabin shook me, I'll admit, and my Pavlovian, Herbert Lom-style response (nervous tics and twitches) intensified when I tried to get comfortable behind the wheel and found there was nowhere to rest my left foot. When I rule the world, all cars will be designed with a small, foot-sized space to the left of the clutch. And, while I'm at it, they'll all have a button on the dash that you can press so you can't break the speed limit, as with Formula One cars when they enter the pit lane. (Cruise control? Far too fiddly.) Instead, the Fiat has a Sport button which, when pressed, made no perceptible difference to my life.

The foot rest might seem a trivial point, but it's not if you are going to be driving 40,000 miles in the thing. More positively, the gear shift and 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine were good. I tried the 148bhp version, but it also comes with an 89bhp version of the same T-Jet format, which has an unusually small turbo (to minimise the delay you often get with turbos), and gives welcome thrust at low revs and better performance than nearly all of its rivals. It looks good, too – curvy and obviously Italian at first glance, which is exactly what you want from a Fiat, and the interior was really rather lovely.

So the Bravo is more about consolidation than another great leap. It is still not a match for a Focus or Golf in terms of refinement or handling, but this Bravo is one of the best-quality Fiats of recent years, if not ever.

Luckily, it turns out Microsoft's involvement in the development and manufacture of the model goes no further than contributing something called Blue&Me, a USB port/Bluetooth info-entertainment whatsit. Although there was one other thing I did notice about that logo: they hadn't glued it on straight.

It's a classic: Fiat Uno Turbo

Fiat has been making charismatic, fast hatchbacks for decades and the Uno Turbo is one of the most popular. It was launched in 1985 with a 1.3-litre engine to take on the Peugeot 205 GTi and the Renault 5 Turbo – and with a top speed of 128mph (in MkII form) and 116bhp, the Uno Turbo did a fair job. True, it was fairly shoddily built, but the design was sound, with super-slippery styling by Giorgetto Giugiaro giving a remarkable drag co-efficient of 0.33.

These days, the Uno Turbo is still popular with the bucket-exhaust brigade (you can see one humbling a Nissan Skyline at www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FZch7SEfIA, oh, just type in Fiat Uno Turbo vs Nissan Skyline), primarily because Fiat, wary of warranty claims, deliberately detuned the engine and it is easy to raise the turbo boost pressure back up again. I am told you can squeeze more than 200bhp and 145mph out of one of these engines, albeit until it explodes.

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