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The Fiat Bravo is a stylish Focus rival. It's good value, but has an odd driving position

When the five-door Fiat Bravo hit the UK market in 2007, it wasn’t so much a debut as a comeback for the Bravo name. Production of the original Bravo/Brava had halted in 2001 but, after the dismal Stilo singularly failed to set the car-buying world alight, in 2007 Fiat dug the Bravo namebadge out of the bottom of the corporate branding drawer.

As far as Fiat is concerned, the revived Bravo is the car to put it back into contention in the hard-fought family hatchback segment. That pitches it against rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, among others.

Potential buyers are almost inevitably lured by the Bravo’s looks. It is probably the sexiest small hatch bar the Mini. It also marks a departure from the dull Fiats that have done so much to undermine the appeal of the brand these past 30 years, because it flaunts some tasteful, sexy Italian flair.

By doing so, it invokes memories of some of the most sensuous and exquisitely crafted cars in the world, from Alfa Romeos and Lancias to Ferraris and Lamborghinis. But does it have the all-round abilities to deliver on those looks in what is probably the most hard-fought car class of them all.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Fiat badging

The Fiat Bravo rides on a reworked – and thankfully more refined – version of the unloved Stilo’s platform, but the Grande Punto-ish styling and improved quality cabin show a marked improvement over the Bravo’s predecessor.

The Bravo was the work of the Fiat Styling Centre and is unusual in its class for being handsome – svelte, even. The distinctive design works well from most angles, slightly nose-heavy front aside, and the cabin is well finished, spacious and comfortable.

In fact, its looks have done a lot of good for the Fiat brand as a whole, and for ensuring the Bravo’s continued popularity among buyers. There have been plenty of beautiful Fiats in the past, of course, including the barely remembered Dino Spider and 850 coupé of the 1960s, and the recently departed Barchetta and Coupé, but with this Bravo Fiat has firmly banished memories of cars such as the unloved and frankly boring Tipo, Tempra, Seicento, Marea, Stilo, Ulysse, Doblo and Croma.

The car’s suspension is a MacPherson strut front/twist beam rear axle set-up. It’s less sophisticated than the fully independent multi-link arrangements of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, but it has been extensively refined, with hydraulic rear axle anchorage bushes, for instance, and a variety of modifications intended to improve the front axle’s strength and precision.

The Fiat Bravo also has a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating for adult protection, plus a three-star child protection rating.

INTERIOR

Fiat Bravo dashboard

Those used to the dull, fragile feeling of Fiat's past will be agreeably surprised by the Bravo’s cabin, which is stylish, attractive and well made.

The main dash is dual-textured, the main occupant-facing section finished with a soft-feel faux carbonfibre material. The wheel is attractively leather-bound, the instruments look classy, the seat trim is attractive and the ambience lifted by tasteful flashes of chrome and piano black. If the lower reaches of the interior are lower grade, the overall effect is nevertheless pleasing and individual.

But while the Bravo’s cabin is spacious, your enjoyment of it may be compromised. The driving position does not suit all. Despite a four-way adjustable wheel, a seat height adjuster and an infinitely adjustable backrest, some testers found themselves endlessly adjusting each in a vain attempt to get comfortable, possibly because the classic Italian ‘short leg, long arm’ stance is forced on you.

There’s disappointment in the rear, too. Under-thigh support is limited because the cushion is mounted too close to the floor, an upshot of the coupé-like roofline. Which is a shame, because knee and foot room aren’t bad, and the seat itself appears well shaped. Less of a compromise is the boot, which is big, well shaped, easy to get at and extendable by folding rear seats that hinge to form a protective bulkhead.

Three key trim levels are currently offered in the UK line-up – Active, Dynamic and Sport – with ABS, air-conditioning, remote central locking, six airbags, electric front windows, a CD player, electric power steering, foglights and follow me home headlamps fitted as standard across all trims. ‘Eco’ badged cars get a set of longer gear ratios and an ECU adjusted to major on low fuel consumption.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

1.6-litre Fiat Bravo Multijet diesel engine

The entry-level Bravo gets an 89bhp 1.4 motor, a lightly modified edition of the long-lived Fiat FIRE engine with 128 lb ft of torque that returns 44.8 mpg and 146g/km of CO2.

A more popular petrol option is the 1.4 T-Jet is an extensively reworked, turbocharged version producing 118bhp, the downsizing process providing 10 to 20 percent fuel economy and emissions improvements over comparable 1.6 and 2.0-litre engines.

As far as diesels are concerned. The 1.6-litre Multijet is the centrepiece of Fiat’s family of common-rail direct-injection turbodiesel engines and comes in either 103bhp or 118bhp form.

The 118bhp motor puts out just 115g/km of CO2, and will return 57.6mpg on the combined cycle. It’s also exceptionally refined. The higher powered car gets a variable geometry turbo and this, coupled with a more relaxed and meaty power delivery means smoother, more effortless performance. The only criticism we can find of the engine is a hint of breathlessness at low revs - even though Fiat claims that maximum torque arrives at just 1500rpm.

The Bravo 2.0 Multijet 165 diesel is now the most powerful Fiat Bravo, fitted with Fiat’s new common-rail 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine. It is an upgrade of the old 1.9-litre range-topper that enjoys a power boost of 15bhp – up to 165bhp – and added a further 40lb ft of torque, to 266lb ft at 1750rpm. It emits 10g/km less CO2 (139g/km) than the older unit and, at 53.3mpg, it delivers 2.9mpg more than the 16v 1.9-litre engine on the combined cycle.

It provides a strong and steady stream of power and doesn’t noticeably run out of grunt until the top end of the rev range. Top-gear cruising is similarly effortless and, despite the known weakness of the bouncy Fiat Bravo ride, it's easy to maintain a steady, quiet and comfortable motorway pace. It capably blends petrol-like refinement with gutsy diesel clout that the other engine options in the range don’t deliver. 

All Bravos come with manual gearboxes apart from the 1.6 MultiJet 120 Dynamic Dualogic, which is fitted with Fiat’s six-speed Selespeed automatic transmission. 

RIDE & HANDLING

Fiat Bravo cornering

The Fiat Bravo hasn’t really got the sophistication of the top cars in this class, but it is good enough – just – to pass muster when compared against rivals in the middle ground of this category of car.

The surprise is that despite its biggish wheels and low-profile tyres the Bravo rides with a firm pliancy that feels quite sophisticated, even if sharp-edged potholes make the suspension crash.

Bravo chassis' improve rigidity brings benefits in both ride and handling

Better still is that the Bravo’s bodyshell feels very rigid, an impression underscored by a robustness that Fiats rarely display.

The story is similar in the handling department. Turn-in is quite sharp and the chassis pretty obedient up to a point, this being the moment when the engine’s enthusiasm gets the better of the tyres.

So far, so decent. But the steering is the weakest dynamic link. Fiat’s Dualdrive electric assistance is fitted; press the Sport button on the dash and the resistance is firmed below 19mph. But while the Bravo changes direction with fair accuracy, the sensation of mild woolliness never departs.

The brakes are a shade over-servoed at first, and they could use more bite once past that point. There is nothing unsafe about them, though, and you do get used to their operation with time.

If that sounds positive overall, that’s because it is. Overall the Fiat Bravo delivers adequate ride and handling. However, its merits are dwarfed by those of the more mainstream opposition.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Fiat Bravo

The Fiat Bravo is sold with the choice of five engines.

The entry level 89bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine kicks off the range, but is vest overlooked unless you drive purely in the city as it is a bit gutless on open roads. If you want a petrol engine, we’d recommend the 1.4-litre Multiair, which combines decent all-round pace with the promise of decent mpg and low emissions.

Essential procedure for doing a low-cost Fiat deal: haggle in the showroom

All three diesels are decent, although the 118bhp 1.6 is only available linked to an automatic gearbox, which will dissuade many buyers from considering it. If it’s economy you’re after, the 1.6 Multijet 105 Eco is the variant to consider. It emits just 115g/km of CO2, dropping it into band C for road tax. It’s refined and smooth enough to rank among the best four-pot diesel family cars. Frugal and good value, the only concession an Eco driver will have to accept is less low-down poke thanks to the Eco’s longer gearing.

Generally speaking, the Bravo is good value and turns in better-than-average fuel economy. But depreciation, the bane of many a Fiat, may undermine it. The latter can be compensated for by some decent haggling come purchase time – discounts are usually achievable.

On the positive side, the Bravo’s style and Fiat’s concerted attempts to improve its dealer network should help, as will the evident improvement in quality.

But against it is history, and fearsome competition. Depreciation apart, though, the Bravo should prove painless to own.

VERDICT

3 star Fiat Bravo

The Fiat Bravo is a stylish Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf rival – but style alone is not enough for us to recommend it. Nor, indeed, is the fact that it offers good value, a reasonably attractive interior and decent standard equipment levels, as well as a range of appealing engines.

The negatives are simply too big and too numerous to make the Bravo standout from the multitude of family hatchback opposition. The first thing anyone getting behind the wheel will notice is the odd driving position.

Get more for your money with a Bravo, but haggle well and watch the depreciation

Then they’ll look out the back window and realize visibility is poor. For these reasons alone, this is a car that you simply must try – extensively – before you buy.

Then there is the chassis to consider, which – while decent enough – is not as accomplished as the class best. The ride and handling combination is reasonable but far from outstanding, as with the best cars in the class.

Depreciation, too, can be substantial. But nothing obscures the fact that Bravo is a decent car with a smaller asking price and larger kit list than most rivals.

It deserves serious consideration. 

Fiat Bravo 2007-2014 First drives