By on May 23, 2010

Having some time on my hands, I ventured out again into cardealershipland. Wanted to get my hands on the mini mites that inhabit many an urban Brazilian cowboy’s dream. You know, the call of the sertão (that’s what you think we call the pampas.) In the left corner, all the way from Italy, but made in Brazil, the long-time favorite and market leader Fiat Strada Adventure Locker. In the right corner, the Teutonic tiny titan, the all new VW Saveiro Cross. As the long names suggest, these are the top of the line offerings from each maker. Both offer cheaper, less equipped versions for the daily grind and/or work routine. So hold your cavalos, vaqueiro, I mean, hold your horses, cowboy! Which one comes out on top?

Right off the bat, I must tell you that the two automakers took different approaches when designing their car-based pickups. Fiat kept it more “real” as its contender still feels like a pickup. VeeDub went the other way and, recognizing the reality of the market, strove to give its mini truck all the driving characteristics of a regular car. Thusly, the Fiat Strada is more tail-happy and busy-riding, while the VW Saveiro Cross is surprisingly composed and car-like. But, this comes at the expense of lesser (light) off-road capacity and lower (slightly) capacity to carry weight (685kg for the Italian and 661kg the German – as if anyone would care).

The Fiat Strada offers extended and double cab versions in this trim. The Saveiro Cross comes only in extended cab form. The Fiat is a hair roomier in extended form (300Lx280L, according to Brazilian website vrum.com.br), not to mention the double cab, though you’d be hard pressed to put 4 full-bodied Americans in the double cab (only 2 doors). Of course, deriving as they do from the Fiat Palio and VW Gol, interior dimensions are similar to their originators. So it’s no surprise that the Italians, masters of finding room within scarce real estate, make their car seemingly roomier and more accommodating than the Germany. Shades of Volk ohne Raum.

According to the widely-read Brazilian website bestcars.com.br, the Strada is equipped with a GM-sourced and very antique engine. It’s got 1.8L and packs 112 or 114 horses (if topped off with Brazilian gasoline or ethanol) and is very torquey, albeit rather harsh and noisy at higher RPMs (in character with its American heart and totally out of character to its Italian adoptive parents). The Saveiro comes with a 1.6L mill that’s good for 101hp or 104hp (gasoline the former, ethanol the latter). It’s rather noisy at higher speeds due to its short gearing. The Strada is ultimately faster, reaching a top speed of 111 mph on ethanol, while the Saveiro goes to 109 mph (also on ethanol). The Strada accelerates better, too, getting from naught to 100 km/h in 11.2 sec, while the Saveiro does the same a second slower (both using ethanol to get their best marks).

But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Sitting in the captain’s chair, the Strada makes the better impression on me. The seats, steering wheel and pedals are perfectly aligned. In the Saveiro, the pedals are skewed to the right, so much so that I stalled the car when in a panic stop my left foot shot forward to depress the clutch and found nothing but air. Both are manuals with 5 speeds. The Saveiro has shorter throws and is more precise, but buy is it ever noisy! There is a definite thump every time you move the lever. I prefer the slight vagueness and longer throws of the Strada. I can do withou the audible feedback (thump! thump!) of every gear change.

The Fiat Strada comes with dedicated off-road tires. They squeal and protest whenever provoked. Above legal speeds they don’t really do a good job of keeping the tail in. The Saveiro is much more car like and comes with useless 50/50 on/off road tires, though you can opt for dedicated off-road rubber. It certainly corners more neutrally, though the factory should make up its mind and offer legitimate on-road only tires. For most people buying the car, that’d be ideal. It would improve the car’s handling limits.

Honestly though, test drives in Brazil come with a salesperson by your side. And they don’t like to take more than 15 minutes, either. However, I got them for at least 30 minutes and scared my passenger a few times, even though it was strictly city driving. Braking felt consistent in both pickups as the setup is the same (drums in front, disks in back – ABS optional for both). Being 125kg lighter, the Saveiro felt more spritely, though the numbers show the Strada is always faster (again, according to bestcars.com.br).

Inside, nothing to gloat over. The Saveiro Cross is better as it inherited the new VW Fox’s instruments, but not much else. There’s nothing really exclusive to this version (same blue/red light et al). The Strada offers some gloss-over regular run-of-the-mill Palio instrumenration with different lighting (yellow/red as opposed to the rest of the family’s orange/red) and some totally useless gauges, like an inclinometer, atop the dashboard.  The plastics and finishing are generally better in the Fox, I mean, Saveiro.

As for pricing, it’s one of the few times that you regret living in Brazil. The Strada is listed at Brazilian reais 47.240 ($26,240) and the Saveiro Cross goes for reais 41.840 or $23.240. Nevertheless, the Strada outsells the Saveiro 3 to 1.  No wonder, the Strada comes with power everything, A/C and their “locker” system, which, when engaged, electronically blocks the differential at low speeds to help you out of difficult situations. The base price of the Saveiro is just for show. When equipped similarly to the Strada, it is but a few cents cheaper. And doesn’t even offer something remotely like the “locker” system. Also, now I know what the inclinometer is for. The sales guy quotes the price, you look at the gauge, and it tells you. “Not steep at all!”

Pricing as a way to get customers in the door I understand. Gimmicks like VW is doing with their pricing are self-defeating, as the stats confirm.

Who’s our winner? Depends on our priorities. Want a car-pickup with car suspension and drivability? Take the Saveiro. Want a car-pickup more like a pick-up? With real pickup suspension? Take the Strada. Since I prefer the Strada’s no tricks pricing, pickup demeanor in a pickup, I take the Strada. The sertão beckon.

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15 Comments on “Brazilian Brawl: Battle of the Mighty Mini Pickups...”


  • avatar
    Stingray

    Buon Giorno Marcelo.

    “off-road capacity” ROFL, those things are FWD, jacked up and the only thing that would make them worthy off road over a regular one is the LSD, which IRC came with the Palio Adventure when it came here in 2007. I’d take that gearbox or diff for a drag or circuit Palio.

    “and some totally useless gauges, like an inclinometer, atop the dashboard”

    Man, how can you brazilians buy a car with some much BS (not our german friend) loaded in it? Really.

    The Strada looks the part with that cladding, but without real substance to support it, it’s just a wannabe. Its heart is German-based, not American-based.

    • 0 avatar

      Buenos dias amigo Stingray.

      Yeah, should’ve stressed “light off-roading” more often. In this case it’s perfectly suitable for Brazil, because here, unlike US and Europe, don’t know about Venezuela, the slightly jacked up suspension and off road tires make it a very good car to get if you own a country house or beach house or farm that is just a bit off the beaten path. And I mean just a few km! You wouldn’t believe how fast asphalt gives way to dirt roads once just a few minutes away from main roads. In this setting it makes sense.

      Now, the cladding and gaudy instrumentaion is just sad. Agreed.

      The 1.8 is German in origin? Didn’t know that. But its been in Brazil in some guise or other at least since the 80s. Time for an overhaul.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      The engine is Opel based, family I is IRC.

      Here is similar… but a normal height Palio suffices. Believe me, I’ve tried :)

      Even with the Samand I’m currently driving, I have done some off-roading and “submersion”. Being from Iran, is also slightly jacked-up.

      With a Palio… we went through a flooded street (water at door level) and the thing stopped when we went in a corner, if not, we would have done it.

  • avatar
    cmus

    In the absence of a true small pickup in the US market, I would strongly consider a Fiat Strada Adventure, if it were available here. (please don’t hit me with the “Buy a Ranger” thing…it is a fossil)

    Nice comparison, Marcelo. I enjoy your presentation: toeing the line between objectivity, but still getting your personal feelings about the cars across, very well.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    I would trade my standard cab ranger 4×4 for one. Keep hoping Ford will do a pickup version of the transit connect.

    I am sure a FWD pickup would be fine.

  • avatar

    You are sure about the drums in front and disk in rear? I think its the other way around

  • avatar
    Carlos Villalobos

    Hi Marcelo. Here we receive both the Strada and the Saveiro, but in different, decontented trims. I think the leader here is the Chevy version of this pickups. The interesting thing is that 15 years ago, the Saveiro was the favourite car of choice of young people, because the were fast by those time standatds. Problem was they started “picking up” deaths (no pun intended) due to a lot of high speed crashes and their lack of safety features, so the Saveiro gained the nickname “Camino al cielo” (Road to heaven).
    Saludos

    • 0 avatar

      Saludos hermano.

      Here in Brazil, too. The Saveiro was the long time favorite. But when the Strada appeared, it quickly eroded the Saveiro’s lead, overcame it and left it in the dust. As mentioned it’s the more “real” pickup, so people buy it for work and play. Down here, either in Corsa pickup or Montan guise, has always been a distant 3rd. Even though in the last 2 yrs (before the Saveiro’s redesign), it took 2nd place from the VW, but still no pressure on the Strada. The Saveiro was left too long on the vine, and Fiat’s great idea was the extended cab. That’s what killed the competition.

      As to accidents, whenever I take a road trip, I see them involved in some accident. Or doing crazy things on the road. Since pickups pay less tax than cars, these pickups are the cheapest for young people to get a bigger engine than a 1.0L. And it’s reflected in their insurance rates. Very high compared to their car brethen.

  • avatar
    mrhappypants

    I’d buy that Fiat in the US if they bring it here. I could use a pickup, but can’t bring myself to plunk down 30-large on a me-too Tacoma.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    This is why I don’t sell the 2003 Dodge Ram 2500 Quad Cab with leather and a Hemi.

    Bought it for $2500 back in late 2008. I can haul whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want.

    I only drive it about 5k a year. But it’s worth every penny.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    “This is why I don’t sell the 2003 Dodge Ram 2500 Quad Cab with leather and a Hemi.

    Bought it for $2500 back in late 2008. I can haul whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want.

    I only drive it about 5k a year. But it’s worth every penny.”

    And that’s the best way to use a truck like that, however I see way too many of them “hauling air” as commuter vehicles and parked in the compact spots.

    Let’s face it most of us don’t need a 4WD F850 with an 8 liter to take the kids to soccer. However big trucks are marketed like Viagra and penile implants.

    We don’t all want to be fake cowboys!

    Maybe we should use the word “Ute” for these car based vehicles like the Aussies, so the “real pickup” people don’t feel threatened.

  • avatar
    DaveA

    “viagra and penile implants”
    I thought that is what sports cars were for too? No?

    “ute” – great, so you get the people carrying capacity of a small reg cab truck with the payload capacity of a car.

  • avatar

    Fascinating, well-written article. I’d grab one of those Fiats if they came stateside. With all the super-sized pickups striving for full-size dimensions, these represent a breath of fresh air.

    By the way, I appreciate the South American perspective on TTAC. I look forward to more articles.


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