Fiat Croma 2.2 Dynamic - The Verdict

The Croma is spacious, comfortable and keenly priced. You could be pleasantly surprised, says David Wilkins, if you're not looking to be excited

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Price: £15,745
Engine: 2.2-litre petrol
Performance: 0 to 62 mph in 10.1 seconds, 32.8 mpg
Worth considering: Fiat Ulysse, Seat Alhambra, Vauxhall Signum

Big Fiats haven't had a glorious history. The stylish 2300 of 1961 and the later 130 had their fans but they didn't sell in large numbers, and the less said about the Argenta, the better.

Fiat's most recent effort in this sector was the 1986 Croma, a product of the Swedish-Italian cooperative effort that also gave rise to the well-regarded Alfa Romeo 164, Lancia Thema and Saab 9000; unfortunately, none of the magic of those two has ever really rubbed off on their Fiat sister model. Perhaps, as one of our readers observed when I met him for the test, giving it a name that immediately brings to mind a slightly old-fashioned Norfolk seaside resort didn't help.

As it happens, Cromer is a favourite stop-off of mine on one of my regular test-routes and over the last few years it has seen quite a few improvements; the pier and its approaches have been smartened up, as have many other buildings and facilities. Cromer doesn't seem to have undergone any sort of fancy rebranding - it's just quietly been getting better all by itself so that anyone who hasn't visited for a few years would probably be impressed.

Fiat appears to be taking the same approach; although the Croma name doesn't have much cachet, the company has stuck with it for this new large model, and seems to be banking on curious customers who take a second look being pleasantly surprised as well.

My guess is that a surprisingly large number of potential buyers might quite like the Croma if only they could be persuaded to try it. Our keenly priced entry level Dynamic test model provided a lot of practical transport for the money, with the upright semi-MPV styling delivering a lot of room for occupants and their luggage. The interior is a comfortable place, although our test car had a dispiriting light grey colour scheme. The Dynamic's equipment levels are more than acceptable, but it might be worth going for one of the pricier models in order to enjoy a better cabin ambience; I have seen much more agreeably trimmed Cromas that were full of wood and leather in the style of the rather Roverish modern Lancias that aren't sold in Britain any longer.

On the road, the 2.2-litre petrol engine made a reasonable job of moving the Croma along smoothly and quickly, but it would also be worth considering the versions fitted with Fiat's impressive diesel units.

It's unlikely that this new Croma is going to set the market alight - big, slightly bland cars without posh badges have an even harder time getting noticed than they did in the past - but it is a competent effort.

Richard Evans, 33, Software developer from Solihull
USUAL CAR: BMW 3 SERIES

I'd never have considered driving a Fiat, but doing so was an eye-opening experience. Whilst not perfect, the car was easy to drive, provided a good driver view, good head and leg room and felt reasonably well put together. The petrol engine felt gutless, and the diesel option would probably make more sense. The Croma was deceptive in size and offered generous family sized proportions. Annoyingly, the speedometer only displayed figures at 20mph intervals. Would I consider buying one new? No. Would I consider buying nearly new? Possibly. I think the Croma has too much competition to be the class leader but would make a viable alternative once initial depreciation had been incurred.

Keith Morris, 39, Software engineer from Ely, Cambs
USUAL CAR: LEXUS IS200

The styling is inoffensive - it's just that it's nothing out of the ordinary. I quite like the interior; it's got a simple layout. It's quite airy with the deep windows. There's plenty of interior space and the seats are comfortable although they seem to be covered in rather budget materials. All the controls are very easy to use and are in the right positions, although the position of the central front arm rest makes it difficult to operate the handbrake. I'm not too keen on the ride. It's fine over things like potholes and ridges - it soaks them up OK, but it can be a bit bouncy over bigger bumps. To drive, it's fine; it's a comfortable cruiser and picks up speed well when joining a motorway or overtaking.

Tom Grocott, 26, Public relations consultant from Leamington Spa
USUAL CAR: ALFA ROMEO SPIDER

When I first saw the Croma, I was underwhelmed by its looks. But on closer inspection there are several features that do stand out from the crowd, including the front grille and the sleek headlights that combine to create a pretty aggressive look. Unfortunately the look and feel of the interior had no such design highlights. However, it is surprisingly spacious inside, with lots of space in the back for passengers. And it's the same story in the boot. If you need a practical car with plenty of space for pets or pushchairs then the Croma does the job. But I don't have any of these, so I was looking for something that the Croma just couldn't provide - excitement!

VERDICT

If you would like to take part, e-mail motoring@independent.co.uk or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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