What is it?
The short answer would be an Avventura without the tailgate-mounted spare wheel. But the missing spare has made the car more practical, as it doesn't need the additional space while manoeuvering into tight spaces, and the boot can be opened in a straightforward manner. Reversing is less tricky too since you don’t have to judge the extra length of the spare wheel, which blocks visibility as well. Thus to move around the urban confines of cramped cities, Fiat has brought in the Urban Cross.
Fiat had done a great job styling the Avventura, and it looks great as the Urban Cross as well. While the cars may look identical from the front, the Urban Cross gets a few tweaks including a slightly larger skid plate that runs across the width of the bumper leading to a slight change in profile, and the piano black finish on the grille. Styling-wise, the rest is all Avventura. What’s nice is that Fiat has kept the styling pretty uniform across all the three variants, namely Active, Dynamic and Emotion. So you get the Reindeer antler-like headlights, front and rear skid plates, massive side claddings, rear spoiler, LED tail-lights, roof rails, and even 16-inch alloys wheels on all cars. The ‘Powered by Abarth’ Emotion trim, however, gets the trademark Scorpion alloy pattern.
What’s it like on the inside?
The interiors too are similar to the Avventura's, except for a slight change in the colour scheme, and the omission of the central compass and inclinometer, which is a shame because that cluster was a standout feature that gave the car sense of purpose. However, the Urban Cross’ purpose is more about urban practicality and hence what you get is a small cubbyhole like in the Punto Evo. A big addition to the Punto line-up has been the touchscreen and just like the other cars, all variants of the Urban Cross get it too, but overall it’s quite a let-down. It has all the regular features like SD card-based navigation, USB, aux and Bluetooth. It also plays video, but only when the car is stationary with the handbrake on, in the interests of safety. But at 5 inches, the screen is way too small, making it difficult to read and fiddly to use; some owners will have phones that are larger. The screen isn’t very responsive to touch so it’s a good thing that the steering wheel and head unit get hard buttons and dials for functions such as volume, track select and modes. The dashboard still looks nice and with a decent soft-touch finish, but the speedo and tachometer gauges and particularly the digital display for the trip computer looks quite dated. The front seats are quite large and comfortable but aren't perfect – the driving position is odd and what was once known as the classic Italian position that suited long legs and short arms. So finding a comfortable position will take some fiddling around and even then you won’t quite find the perfect spot.
What is it like to drive?
Ditching the heavy mechanism that mounts the spare wheel on the tailgate has made the Urban Cross 30kg lighter than the Avventura, but that hasn’t translated to a discernible improvement in performance.
The Urban Cross is equipped with the familiar 93hp Multi-jet diesel and the hot and exciting Abarth-tuned 142hp turbo-petrol engine. The diesel motor is clearly showing its age and is far from the benchmark it once was. It’s not as refined as the competition and performance too is below par. Turbo lag is the biggest drawback of this engine. It’s very sluggish at low revs and you have to shift down every time the tacho needle drops below 2,000rpm. The engine redeems itself with a strong mid-range, and it’s quite free revving too. So if you stay above 2,000rpm you can ride a healthy wave of torque without having to constantly change gears and that’s just as well as the gearbox slow to shift and has a very rubbery feel.
The Abarth petrol engine on the other hand sets the performance benchmark. The turbo petrol offers seriously strong performance and puts the car in the sub-10sec club for the sprint to 100kph – we managed 9.82sec. Just don’t expect a great mileage figure. There is a tiny amount of lag low down, but power builds up from 1,700 rpm and keeps going all the way until 6,000rpm. This is a car that urges you to be bad! With ample power on tap and a suspension that scoffs at anything the road throws at you, it’s only common sense and the law that will compel you to slow down.
The suspension is simply brilliant; it’s a Fiat suspension, which means it can soak up just about any bump, sharp edges and all. And now with the raised height, it can tackle even rougher ground. There’s decent grip around corners but it feels heavy and far from nimble on its feet. Fiat has made use of an anti-roll bar in the rear and fatter 205 section tyres to keep the handling and body roll near stock Punto levels, but this has added a heavy feel to the Urban Cross.
Should I buy one?
Fiat has priced the Urban Cross very competitively, and all three variants are priced well below their Avventura counterparts. At Rs 6.85 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the base Active trim diesel comes in a whole lakh cheaper than the base trim Avventura, and at Rs 9.85 lakh the top-end Emotion trim (which comes only with the petrol engine) is also cheaper than the Avventura by Rs 50,000.
With its roots in the original Punto, the Urban Cross benefits from a suspension that's built to deal with our tough roads. However, it also inherits a few flaws, such as the odd driving position and, despite the updates, it still lags behind in equipment and tech for today’s times. No doubt this car is really showing its age and it feels outdated in comparison to most rivals, but going in its favour is sensible pricing and a tough build that’s well suited to our conditions.