As I write this I’m sitting in Roma airport and there’s a Europcar Fiat Bravo parked right in front of me. They’ve wheeled one into the terminal to lure recently deplaned tourists to the Europcar rental desk so they can get their hands on their own Bravo hatchback with which to explore the Italian countryside. It says a lot for the Bravo that it, rather than a new 3-Series or an Alfa Romeo Spider, is being used to catch people’s eye as they stagger off the plane. Despite its role as humble family transport, the Bravo manages to be handsome, seductive and curiously classy, the perfect vehicular ambassador.
Driving through Co. Meath, the Bravo looks just as good. Our test car is the same dark bronze colour as the car in the airport, which also seems to be the exact same hue as the impressive cleavage that’s constantly on display in Italy, so it’s understandable why everyone turns for a second look. Our car has Italian plates, is left-hand drive and is kitted out to a very high specification level, too, which makes it look just a little more exotic than perhaps it has a right to, but despite the jewellery it’s still quite a great looking car in its own right, especially compared to the likes of the drab Golf and snoozy Focus. If only the Bravo’s rear view matched the front end and profile for drama and aggression. It looks a little shapeless and unfinished, I feel.
Inside, it’s clear Fiat has also been working on the design and build quality to take both to a new standard for the Italian brand. Visually, it’s a lot more cohesive and upmarket than any previous Fiat model and it seems like it should be fairly straightforward to use, too, provided you avoid the fussy satellite navigation system. The driving position on our LHD car could be adjusted to cater to just about every shape and form imaginable, while the gear lever and pedals are also located exactly as you’d expect them. We’re going to assume RHD models will be no less accommodating. Having said that, though, the Bravo’s cabin is not the revolution I had hoped for in terms of interior execution. The plastics get progressively cheaper the lower you go in the dashboard and by the time you get to the door pockets and around the handbrake you’re back to the hard, shiny, scratchy stuff we had hoped to leave behind. Rear space isn’t as good as I’d expected either, with legroom and headroom at a premium for anyone over five-foot-eight. A Golf or Focus are much roomier in the back and have more airy cabins also. Fiat could do with lightening things up in there.
On the move, the Bravo is, again, a mixed bag. We like the welldamped ride, the hushed cruising and the exceptional stability even at speed. We like the responsive steering and the positive feel to the brakes, clutch and gear lever. We also very much enjoyed the 150hp and 305Nm its 1.9-litre MJET turbo-diesel churned out with ease, while sipping only 5.6 litres per 100km driven. But we didn’t care for the lack of steering feel or weight, nor did anyone in the car enjoy the excessive body-roll in corners, which makes it feel like it’s about to fly off the road even though it’s actually gripping quite strongly. These are small matters that should be ironed out once the car goes on sale in right-hand-drive (we hope) but they’re enough to make someone like me, who likes to drive, go running to the nearest Ford dealer for a Focus Zetec instead.
But then another pair of bronzed bombshells goes bouncing by and my eye is drawn once more to the handsome dark brown car in the corner. It’s fickle, I know, to choose a car purely on its looks but it’s just so much more interesting to behold than the opposition. Perhaps when I see a milky white one in boggo Irish spec I’ll feel differently. For now, though, seeing it all bronzed and Italian… Bravo indeed.