BY JONATHAN CROUCH
Fiat's Brava was launched at the very end of 1995, the five-door twin to the three-door Bravo, announced at the same time. This was the car that finally began to convince the British buying public that Fiat could indeed make a class-leading family hatchback that would last.
Models Covered: BRAVA - DECEMBER 1995-FEBRUARY 2002: 1.4 5dr / 1.6 5dr / 1.8 5dr / 1.9TD75 5dr / 1.9TD100 5dr
The five-door-only Brava range was launched in December 1995 to replace the Tipo which had gained a reputation for poor build quality that Fiat was anxious to banish into history. It shared the same platform, chassis and engines as the three-door Bravo range announced at the same time. Like its smaller stablemate, the Brava's styling was unique, resembling nothing else in the class. Initially, buyers chose between three petrol engines: a 12-valve 1.4, a 16-valve 1.6 and a sporty 1.8. Most customers opted for the 103bhp 1.6, which develops most of its power in the mid-range, exactly where you want it for easy overtaking. In November 1996, two turbo diesel engined-versions were added - the TD 75S and the more potent TD 100SX and at the same time, automatics were made available for the first time. In early 1999, second generation models reached the UK, complete with a revised series of engines (including a 1.2 petrol unit from the Punto range and a new 1.9-litre JTD 105 common rail diesel unit), handling improvements plus subtle interior and exterior cosmetic changes. In late 2000, the petrol 1.8 was dropped, as was the 1.4, leaving just 1.2 and 1.6-litre petrol options, plus the JTD diesel.
What You Get
Forget anything you ever thought about small cheap Italian cars: doors that clang, switches that separate in your hands and driving positions designed for primeval beings. The Brava has none of these drawbacks with build quality that, in the main, was pretty good. There are some nice design touches too. Like the jack that converts like a Swiss army knife into a complete tool kit. Or the security screen that pops out of the facia to hide the high-mounted anti-theft stereo. Admiring the easy, sculpted lines that dominate both inside and out, it's easy to speculate that practicality may have given way to personality. That's a claim which Fiat dealers quickly refute. Those swoopy lines may suggest styling took priority over function but the Italian designers have also managed to create a surprisingly roomy car. True, rearward visibility isn't quite as good as some competitors, but in every other respect you'll be extremely comfortable, wherever you end up in the cabin.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Nothing particularly notable, though there have been reports of minor trim defects and some awkwardness in engaging reverse gear.
(approx based on a P-reg 1.6 excl VAT) A clutch assembly will be around £120 and a full exhaust system could be up to £190. An alternator should be close to £80 and a starter motor around £100. Front brake pads are around £39, rear brake pads will be £54 and a replacement headlamp close to £113.
On the Road
As previously mentioned, the 1.6 is probably the pick of the three mainstream petrol engines. Two sophisticated turbo diesel engines are also an important part of the line-up - the TD 75 and the TD 100 (the figures representing the brake horsepower output of the respective engines). The fuel consumption figures for both are near enough identical (you'll average around 32mpg around town), but, as you might expect, the TD 100 is significantly quicker, making rest to sixty in 11.0s on the way to 112mph. On the road, you don't need reminding that the body structure is one of the stiffest in the class - it feels it. Not only over potholes either, when you wait in vain for the whole car to shake. A VW Golf might feel equally solid, but it wouldn't keep a Brava in sight on a twisting country road. Fiat is now a company run by car enthusiasts and it's obvious from behind the wheel. The rubbery gearchange, wayward steering and woolly handling of previous models have been banished in cars that are accurate, instant and enjoyable in their reactions.
On the face of it, then, Fiat invested its £1.4 billion development budget wisely in this car. Its only drawback is that it doesn't feel quite as solid as a Golf or an Astra, though in most cases, this feeling is illusory. For used buyers, that means affordable prices. And a solid family buy. Take the plunge and you'll probably like this Italian job almost as much as Fiat does. In the land of pasta, designing cars is a passion. These days it shows.