Fiat Avventura review, test drive
31st Aug 2014 12:28 am
A drive in Fiat's new crossover the Avventura proves that it is more than just a rugged looking Punto.
The car you see here is Fiat’s ticket to cash in on the popular compact SUV segment, although this Fiat is more of a crossover. The Avventura, as it is called, may look like just a Punto Evo in a strongman suit, but the changes are more than just skin-deep. Read on to find out why the Avventura promises to be a more potent package than the likes of Toyota’s Etios Cross or VW’s Cross Polo.
First, let’s look at the exterior design. The big spare wheel cover that will be offered on all trims is tastefully styled, and I think, is the defining design element of the Avventura. What’s interesting though is how the spare wheel is mounted on the tailgate. Although it appears to be attached onto the bootlid, it actually sits on an arm that is hinged on the bumper. While it looks simple, the entire mechanism required some really clever engineering. The aggressive styling carries over to the front, with an all-new bumper that has the tough-looking cladding integrated into it, and a pseudo skid-plate that completes the crossover motif. In fact, there are aggressive design bits everywhere you look.
And it’s not just aesthetics. The roof rails are made from aluminium, serving two purposes. One, it keeps weight at the top at a minimum (hence not raising the centre of gravity by much) and secondly, the strong metallic construction makes them suitably functional. The Fiat Avventura also wears bespoke16-inch alloy wheels and larger wheel arches to facilitate chunkier rubber (both will be standard across trims). However, what fundamentally sets this crossover apart from the likes of the Volkswagen Cross Polo and Toyota Etios Cross is that the Fiat has been raised by 20mm over the already high-riding Punto Evo. The results? The Avventura’s belly rides a good 205mm over the ground; same as the Renault Duster.
To keep dynamics intact, Fiat has recalibrated the suspension set-up and added an anti-roll bar at the rear. The anti-roll bar is very similar to that found on the Linea but has been fine-tuned here. Then there are the fatter 205/55 tyres that, besides elevating aesthetics, are quite grippy too. All of which adds a significant 65 kg(approximately) of weight. And these changes are quite evident from behind the wheel.
However, when you first slip into the driver’s seat you will be pleased with the new equipment here. The addition of a ‘tilt-meter’ and digital compass sitting on top of the AC vents immediately grab your attention. It’s aimed at off-road use and works like the gyrometer in your smartphone and displays the car’s tilt along both its axes; quite a cool party-trick. Just like the Punto, the dash gets a part-soft touch, two-tone treatment but the soft portion here is finished in a light grey Alcantara-like material and the door pads are made from art-leather. Save for an added boot-release button, the overall dash and equipment is the same as the top-spec Punto. So you get climate control, electric windows, a rear AC vent and an audio system that supports CD, MP3 and an Aux-in. Unfortunately, while the ‘Blue&Me’ Bluetooth interface works great with voice commands and telephony, it still doesn’t support audio streaming.
The Avventura also gets bespoke hybrid leather and fabric seats and these help spruce up the cabin. The middle of the backrest and seat squab is made from fabric to keep you cool while the rest is leather which makes them visually appealing and purposeful at the same time. Also, the soft seat cushions and ample lumbar support makes them one of the most comfortable front seats in this segment. Since the Avventura shares its wheelbase with the Punto hatchback, rear seat space stays the same, which means it isn’t the most spacious rear bench but for most frames, knee room won’t be an issue.
The tarmac roads on the outskirts of Pune allowed me to put the Avventura through its paces. Immediately, the ride and handling balance of this crossover shone through. Despite the stretched springs, there was limited body roll around bends. Even while negotiating curves in quick succession, the Fiat didn’t shift its weight around much, the rear anti-roll bar helped it no doubt, while the fat rubber kept the front planted. As with the Punto, the hydraulic steering felt well-connected to the wheels, allowing for a fair bit of dialogue to come through. The downside is that it suffered a bit from road noise at typical highway speeds; the wider tyres the likely culprit here.
Ironing out potholes wasn’t a problem either. The well-calibrated suspension remained unfazed even over rough patches and the Avventura tackled potholes even a bit better than the Punto. In fact, it has the wherewithal to handle mild off-roading and as long as you don’t subject it to slushy, slippery mud (since it lacks four-wheel-drive traction), it should do fine on broken, dusty trails.
Power comes from the same 92bhp diesel motor found in the Linea and the Punto Sport. The motor felt a bit lazy when spinning below the 2,000rpm mark and this meant I had t work the slightly rubbery 'box often to keep the engine where it punches best , which is between 2200 and 3500rpm. While driving on a small hillock, the dearth of bottom-end grunt meant I had to really dial in the revs when starting up an incline to prevent it from stalling. This means, in an urban setting, it isn’t the best car to tackle stop-and-go situations. However, on the highway, it was much easier to keep the motor in the meat of its powerband and the performance was more than acceptable.
All told, the Avventura is a great effort. Sure, there are some shortcomings – the driving position is odd, the engine isn’t very tractable by today’s standards and it could do with a bit more equipment. But its fantastic ride quality, chic interiors and tastefully styled exteriors make it rather desirable.
The Avventura is expected to be launched by Diwali. Our sources tell us they are working hard on undercutting the Ford EcoSport in terms of pricing. If they manage, the Avventura could be just the car that helps Fiat regain a foothold in the Indian market. It is the most promising car from Fiat we’ve seen in a while.