15/08/2005 00:00 | By By Richard Aucock

Fiat Croma review (2005-2007)



First Drive:Fiat Croma

The original Croma was developed by Fiat in a joint venture with Saab. So how fitting that the all-new Croma, developed from underpinnings supplied by GM, should share its platform with the current 9-3. As starting points go, it’s not bad.

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Fiat needs the help. It’s not had a D sector car to sell for a decade, a glaring omission for a maker with an eye on winning fleet business. It’s effectively been excluded from a market worth half a million sales each year. Fiat will be happy with 5,000 of those – but what sort of car will buyers be choosing? Good question. Certainly in terms of pricing, Fiat’s pitched it bang alongside hatchbacks such as the Vectra and Ford Mondeo. £15,745 for the 2.2-litre Dynamic opens proceedings, while the cheapest diesel is just a little more at £15,995. No arguments there.

First Drive:Fiat Croma

The ‘what is it?’ debate is much more contentious. Visually, its height, flat sides and vertical rear give it the appearance of an MPV, encouraging you to peer in the back to count the seats. They’re not there, but estate-car-challenging space of up to 1,610 litres (without the van-like lines) is, even with the seats up, the boot is a gargantuan 500 litres. You can see why Fiat’s keen to label it a ‘crossover’, combining the best of all worlds, we’re told. With D-sector sales declining as they are, perhaps this will become an increasing trend in the future, but for now customers may find it a trifle confusing.

First Drive:Fiat Croma

Styling is neat but hardly revolutionary. There are VW-Audi influences in places but you can’t help but feel it’s too anonymous. The new grille treatment introduces a new Fiat family face though. Future models such as the new Punto will draw from this as Fiat moves away from previous rather disjointed styles. As for quality, the Croma has Germanically tight shutlines and smooth, even paint. The Italians poached an ex-BMW quality boss, and his influence is evident from the outside. The aerodynamic drag factor is an exceedingly low 0.28. Very slippy, in other words.

First Drive:Fiat Croma

His influence is less stark inside. The dash boasts some high-quality, soft-touch mouldings (and high speed driving over rough roads yielded not a single creak) but look more closely and you’ll discover surprisingly cheap, scrappy-looking plastics. The centre console box is ugly and the cubby by the driver’s right knee is both badly finished and fixed with an ugly great exposed screwhead. Amusingly, to cut costs, the same red-line-less rev counter is used on both petrol and diesels. We’d love to see the oil-burner spin to the 7,000rpm suggested…

First Drive:Fiat Croma

Fiat’s almost cracked the driving position. Drivers of MPVs will find the high seats and sit above pedals familiar, but the relationship between the controls is not ape-like. There’s still a gripe though: The angled steering wheel is too high even on its lowest setting. The rear is exceptionally cavernous and, again, high-mounted seats and bags of legroom provide genuine cruising comfort. All seats are supportive and trimmed in cut-above fabrics.

First Drive:Fiat Croma

The engine range is not huge – 1.8-litre and 2.2-litre petrol, 1.9-litre turbodiesel with 120bhp or 150bhp, plus a 2.4-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel with an impressive 200bhp. We chose the 150bhp diesel, expected to be the best-seller (diesels will take 85% of sales overall). It an engine we’re familiar with and, once you’ve mastered the short-travel, high-geared throttle, performs with considerable refinement and suppression of clatter. It’s effortlessly torquey and decently quick (0-60mph in 9.6 seconds). Fast motorway cruises are effortless, aided by very low noise levels and a sure-footed feel. You feel you could drive it all day long, so good is the refinement and stability. No arguments with 46mpg, either.

First Drive:Fiat Croma

Handling is tidy and roll is well-contained, despite the Croma’s height. The ride displays good bump absorption but the damping allows some up-down motion on both faster twisties and, at times, on the motorway. It can get a bit frenetic if you’re pressing on. The brakes are also excellent, but let down by a very grabby pedal. Low efforts are the key, or you’ll have the Croma standing on its nose. The dash-mounted six-speed gearbox is much easier to master, but while it’s well-defined, you’re conscious of the length of the linkage.

First Drive:Fiat Croma

We’ve waited until now to talk residuals, but not because they’re bad. Instead, they’re the most surprising aspect. Glass’s predicts 35% will be retained after three years, which represents a significant advantage over mainstream rivals. Unlike before, buying a Croma needn’t be financial suicide, particularly with those ultra-keen prices and (Fiat says) class-leading equipment levels; air con, alloys, seven airbags (including a driver’s knee bag) and ESP are standard across the board.

Verdict

Verdict

In many ways, the Croma is just the car Fiat needs. It displays a transformation in quality, introduces the new family nose and provides an entry to the D-sector without having to battle directly in the Mondeo/Vectra/Laguna bloodbath. Shame it’s not a little more distinctive, although intriguingly, designer Giugiaro speaks of how the Croma was influenced by his 2000 Maserati Buran concept. Sure enough, do an image search and you’ll see clear Croma cues. How’s that for ‘underground cool’?

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