Its been raining cross-hatches lately and the latest hatch to get the cross treatment is the recently launched new Fiat Punto. We take the Avventura,as Fiat calls it to the lofty hills of Mahableshwar to see what this new baby is all about!
Going back in time, one might recall the Fiat Palio Adventure. This was pretty much the daddy of all cross-hatch/cross-station wagon converts. The funda was pretty simple. Fiat took a subtle looking Fiat Palio weekend, slapped it with some butch looking plastic cladding, dual purpose tyres and increased ground clearance and made a lion out of a mouse as far as the looks were concerned. While the engines and the transmissions were the same, just the butch looks and slightly better bad road capability was enough to get it a lot of attention. Since then a lot have followed suit, with VW Polo Cross and the Toyota Etios Cross being the recent ones. The Avventura aims to stand out amongst its cross-bred rivals, but will it succeed?
While the cross variants are essentially based on the regular hatchbacks, it is imperative that they look the part. India has always had a strong affinity towards SUV's because of their size and rugged appeal, so while the cross-hatches may not have have the size they need to over compensate on the ruggedness factor. In the flesh, the Avventura looks brilliant and no matter where we turned, it garnered plenty of second, third and fourth glances. The Punto is already a handsome looking hatch and Fiat have done a commendable job of adding more beef to it.
The first thing you notice is the taller stance of the car. While the standard car has a ground clearance of 195mm, the Avventura gets jacked up to an even higher 205 mm. At the front, there lower end of the bumper gets revised thanks to the car getting a full body cladding.
Three meshed slats along with a faux skid-plate gives the Avventura a chin-up brawny look.On the side the cladding continues along with the addition of a chunky door strip with "Avventura" engraved on it which looks quite good. The Contemporary Urban Vehicle also gets sturdy and functional roof rails which can be used for a variety or purposes.
Its only when you get to the back that you spot the biggest change. Just like in Jeeps, the Avventura's spare wheel is mounted on the tail gate which really gives it that SUV-ish appeal. While tail-gate mounted spare wheels have their own set of short comings, in the Avventura, the spare wheels is mounted on a separate bracket which swings in and out of the way when the tail gate needs to be opened which seems to quite a smartly operating mechanism. How vibration or judder free it really is can be told only after the car puts some serious km on the odo. The spare wheels also gets a really smart looking wheel cover which blends brilliantly with the overall design of the car. The tail lights get a clear lens effect which look quite smart and the faux skid plate at the rear completes what is clearly a fantastic looking car.
Getting inside the Avventura reveals a few different bits. For starters there is the new dual tone fabrics on the seats which look quite nice. Looking at the dash, you immediately notice the two tone shades which is a combination of grey and black. In fact the grey bit in the centre is actually a soft touch material which feels and looks great.
The audio unit is the same as the Punto Evo, but just above the aircon vents lie some very interesting dials. There is a compass along with pitch and roll dials as well which basically show the angle of incline and the approach angles. While this might be more of use in a vehicle like a Jeep Wrangler, it only adds a cool factor in the Avventura which is never going to see extreme off-roading.
The dynamic variant gets manual aircon vents but with rubberised dials which add to the tough look. The Emotion variant gets climate control and steering mounted controls which is missing in the lower variants.
No changes in space, and the Avventura is just as spacious as its standard sibling. The emotion variant gets a rear aircon vent which does obstruct the middle passenger slightly. Space is similar to the regular Punto and there are no increments or decrements whatsoever.
The driving position is retained and sadly so is the narrow footwell. Its always been a common grouse when it comes to Fiat's about the footwell feling cramped and it was even more apparent in the Avventura. The clutch pedal and the dead pedal have barely any gap between them and as a result you foot keeps hitting the dead pedal during frequent clutch engagement which gets quite annoying. Hopefully Fiat will have this rectified post the launch.
Engine and Performance
The Avventura gets the same engines as well. Thankfully, the 1.2 lire FIRE engine has been omitted from the line-up. Powering the car is the 1.4 litre FIRE petrol unit and the 1.3litre 90 PS Multijet diesel. We got in the petrol first and immediately you notice that the engine is hauling a heavy car. The 1368 cc engine pushes out 90 PS @ 6000 rpm and a modest 115 Nm @ 4500 rpm. All throughout the rev range the engine felt quite refined and happy to rev when performance was called for however, it does call for frequent gear shifts. Keep it over 3000 rpm and there is decent poke available to take on those steep climbs and overtaking maneuvers, but a little more agility would definitely have done wonders.
The diesel is the same multifarious1.3 litre Multijet unit which powers plenty of non-fiat cars as well. 90 PS of power and 209 Nm of torque to play with, the diesel is easier to drive thanks to all that torque, but out on the highways, the engine starts feeling strained the moment you start pushing it. These engines have been around for a while now and its about time Fiat brings in slightly punchier engines to counter the extra weight that Fiat cars carry.
Ride and Handling
This is one department where Fiat has excelled like none other. With the Avventura Fiat has made sure that the changes are more than skin deep. Increased ground clearance at 205 mm and those large 16-inch wheels are ready to take on whatever potholes are roads throw at it. Adding to it, the excellent suspension set-up means the Avventura simply glides over bad patches.
Steering feels slightly heavier in the diesel but both offer plenty of feel and are quite well weighted. We can safely claim that the Avventura is the benchmark when it comes to the combination of ride and handling. Straight stability is quite good too and this Fiat handles the good just as well as it handles the bad.
Just another crossover then?
Well the answer is a yes and no. Let me elaborate on that oxymoronic answer. Fiat has concentrated hard on the details like the fantastic looks, that tail gate mounted spare wheel, the high ground clearance and then some. As far as looks are concerned, the Avventura looks simply fantastic and I'm sure a good number will be bought just for the way it looks. The interiors are good too and those off-road specific dials add a cool touch as well. However, the engine do not do justice to the Avventura's looks or its dynamic capabilities. Its about time that Fiat brings in some interesting engine options or at least plonk the 1.4 T-jet unit as an option. 21st October is when the Avventura will get a price tag and we hope its as interesting as the car itself!