We got our first glimpse of the facelifted Fiat Linea all the way back in May 2012, when it was launched in Turkey. It’s been quite a wait, but the car finally made its Indian debut at Auto Expo 2014. When we saw it in the metal, there was no doubting that the facelift had been very successful, but now we’ve managed to get behind the wheel to see exactly how much of a transformation Fiat has managed to give its mid-sizer, and if it has what it takes to take on this hotly contested segment.
The Fiat Linea has always been one of the best looking mid-size sedans on sale, but five years on, it was starting to look a bit dated. Thankfully, this facelift does a great job of giving it a more premium look, while retaining the car’s clean proportions. The top Emotion variant we’re driving has lots of new chrome trim – the prominent two-slat grille and the new, larger air dam are slathered in the shiny stuff. Around the back, a thick chrome strip adorns the bumper, and the number plate is now on the boot lid, beneath another chunk of chrome with ‘Linea’ embossed on it. The rear bumper also gets a black faux diffuser section, there are good-looking new alloys, and indicators now feature in the wing mirrors.
The bigger changes, however, are on the inside, where Fiat has worked hard to improve the ambience. There’s an all-new dashboard that just oozes Italian flair in its design. The new colour scheme is black and cream, with a glossy black finish for the central AC vents and audio system, which are very neatly integrated. There’s soft-touch plastic on the dash too, and even concealed ambient lighting that bathes the cabin in a warm orange glow. The outer AC vents are now round, feel premium and add a little bit more character.
Inside a hooded binnacle, you’ll find new dials that, although elegant looking, aren’t easy to read on the move. There’s also a big digital trip computer screen that gives you a lot of information, including distance-to-empty.
The cabin quality is a step up, with buttons and levers that feel solid and well damped in their operation; look around a bit, though, and you will find the odd rough edge. The perforated leather seats, both front and rear, offer superb support, although knee-room for rear passengers is not up to the class standard, and taller folks will find their heads brushing against the well-finished roof lining. The Fiat Linea remains a well-equipped car, and cruise control has now been added to its long list of kit, which already included things like auto headlamps and wipers, and a collapsible rear curtain.
Under the skin, the Fiat Linea sedan remains unchanged, and that means the same solid chassis with a good mix of ride and handling. The ground clearance is now up to 190mm in certain models, but this is still a car that’s comfortable taking corners enthusiastically. Fiat has stuck with hydraulic power steering, and although that means great feel and feedback, it’s still not as good as a Ford Fiesta’s. The grip from the four 205/55 R16 Goodyear tyres is great too, although interestingly, the spare is a 195/60 R15 space-saver with an 80kph restriction.
The engine line-up is largely the same too, although the naturally aspirated 1.4-litre petrol is now the preserve of the Linea Classic. So that leaves the VGT-equipped, 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engine (which now gets a bit more grunt at 92bhp and 21.3kgm) and the 112bhp, 1.4-litre T-Jet turbo petrol. The diesel, as before, is sluggish until 2,000rpm, after which the punch really comes in strong. It gets quite noisy after 3,500rpm all the way up to its 5,200rpm redline. The T-Jet is familiar too, with its punchy mid-range that’s both useful and exciting; although the little lag until 1,500rpm is still present. The five-speed gearbox feels nice and mechanical to use, and the clutch is light, which should be helpful in traffic.
Overall, Fiat has done a great job of breathing some life and a bit of feel-good factor into its ageing mid-size sedan. Sure, the engines and mechanicals haven’t changed, but then they were quite solid to begin with, and though the competition offers better rear-seat space, the Linea is still a very supportive and comfortable place to be. The changes to the exterior and especially the interior, however, are what have really transformed this car – it definitely feels more upmarket and premium now. Most of all, now that Fiat is quickly establishing its own strong dealership network, and with an attractive price range of Rs 7.6-9.8 lakh, the Linea is well poised to claw its way back into the mid-size sedan rankings.