Last month, as reported by our ever so excellent Matt Gasnier, there was a minor earthquake in Brazil. For the first time in a blue moon, a car other than the VW Gol stood at the top of the heap. That car was the new Fiat Uno. In this ongoing battle to the death (mind you, the rivalry Fiat X Volkswagen is akin to the heated relations between Ford and Chevy of yore) new weapons and tactics are unveiled at all times. Fiat just disclosed their new guns: the new Uno two-door and the Sporting line.
As I told all of you a while back, Fiat has problems to produce the quantities the Brazilian market demands. One thing they did was to close the factory for a little over two weeks back in December and January for some refurbishments. Using some of the money allotted for investments in Brazil and some very clever packaging (whoever has visited the factory can see how space is at a premium), they are now prepared to produce up to 800 000 cars in Betim. This is up from 700 000, but a year ago. They will now cut back on those 20 000 backlogged cars.
This move has also created space for Fiat to finally launch the 2-door version. This will allow them to charge a little less. In Brazil, traditionally, 2-door cars sells for R$1,500 to R$2,000 less than the 4-door version. That is a lot of dough for cash-strapped Brazilians (I wonder when all the wealth everybody is saying Brazil is creating/capturing will reach the hands of the masses…) and will bring the Uno into the reach of even larger number of consumers. Who, by the way, have not shown any wane in their desire to buy the Uno. The Uno is, a year later, still the it car for this segment which is about 50 percent of the Brazilian market. The Uno two-door undercuts by almost that exact traditional spread the four-door. Fiat asks (and gets) R$26.490 for the basic Vivace version. The four-door in the exact same guise will run my fellow countrymen back by R$28.140. A two door will be available in all different trims the Uno comes in. To wit, the Uno Vivace 1.0, the Uno Way 1.0, the Uno Attractive 1.4, the Uno Way 1.4 and the all new Uno Sporting 1.4.
For those Brazilians with a little extra money to spare, Fiat is offering the Sporting trim level. It is the cream of the crop really of the line. In Brazil, all makers charge the hell out of optional equipment. And just so you know, optional equipment in this segment of the market includes power steering, A/C, power windows (all of which more and more Brazilians, thankfully, can’t live without), not to mention such things as air-bags or ABS brakes (which are not offered by all makers for their cars in this segment). So, the further you climb up the trim lines, the more equipment you get for relatively less cash. By the time you get to the Sporting version, you’ll be paying R$32.170 for the two door, and almost 2000 more for the four-door (R$33.970). Of course, makers play this game all around the world. It is entirely possible to option out the basic 1.0 Vivace with so many things that it’ll cost more than the top-of-the-line Sporting version. Of course, this makes no sense. And that is because even if you check all the boxes for the Vivace you won’t get some of the special equipment available only for the higher trim levels.
So, what do you get for anteing up that much more money to get the top of the line? Well, basically you get a lowered suspension (2 cm less, this and all numbers ahead supplied by Brazilian car rag Quatro Rodas’ website), a thicker front sway bar, more rigid coil springs, which all help you through the twisties quicker. You also get a thicker torsion beam out in the back, which helps the car suffer less torsion. This also get you through those twisties faster. You also get better and bigger alloy rims and tires (185/60/15), which also, of course, help out there in the…you get the drill. What you don’t get is a re-worked engine. It’s the same 1.4 present in other versions. It is good for 88 ponies on ethanol and slightly less on Brazilian gas (with a 30 percent ethanol content). Fiat was good enough though to at least provide new hydraulic engine mounts.
What does all of this mean, you ask me. Well it means the car does drive better. The new engine mounts do filter some of the rashness out of the engine (which is different from the one found in the US-spec 500, which was reviewed by our own Michael Karesh ). I barely felt any difference in the lowered suspension. The extra grip I experienced I credited to the bigger tires and bars.
On a purely cosmetic level, the Uno Sporting offers more than the rest of the line. This is what makes it a better deal than the rest of the line (specially the attractive 1.4). Externally you get darkened head lamps, smoked back-lights, a front spoiler, a wing in the back, and (false) dual exhaust tips. Internally, among other less important things, you get A/C, power steering, leather on steering wheel, power windows. You also get an exclusive fabric for the seats (with the Sporting logo etched on to them), exclusive instrument cluster. As the car I drove also came with all extras, it had the good looking factory radio (with mp3 and USB ports), ABS and frontal air-bags.
My friend, who lent me his brand new car for this review, ordered the special Exclusive Kit, which added to his car a bi-colored leather steering wheel, rugs with Sporting logo, orange-colored fabric for seats and doors and a gray dashboard finishing. Though I like the seats and doors, I prefer the piano black, the carbon fiber look alike or the aluminum imitation central dashboard finishing available at other trim levels.
Oh yeah. The drive.
It’s a small car. Short wheelbase. This means it jumps around a little (or a lot depending on your views of cars) on bad roads. Now, I have a long experience driving and owning small cars. My conclusion is that it’s better than my present Fiat Palio (by a good margin), and better than most of the competition in Brazil. Probably only the Gol can really run with it. Maybe the old Ford Fiesta (if it was using the 1.6 engine). Brazilian cars are jacked up to confront our terrible road conditions, though this car is factory-lowered, I didn’t find that it made a difference. It rides like other 1.4 new Unos I’ve driven. Well, maybe acceleration is a little sluggish-er than on the other models, but that’s due to the bigger 15 inch rims. It’s barely perceptible, but it is slower off the line. But those tires and specially the wider contact with the asphalt make it better in the curves. Like all Fiats I’ve driven of late, the suspension is much more supple than a VW’s or Honda’s , but it manages to avoid boredom. Limits are high, but you have to trust the car to reach them. The cars warns you by screeching tires a little and fighting back a little, which most interpret as the car having reached its limit. However, I’ve found that at that point you can still push the car a little and it’ll settle down before really hitting the limit.
Feel of the pants measurements put it from 0-100 km in a little over or at 13 seconds. Top speed I got to was 162 km/h measured by the GPS (the velocimeter at that time was indicating 174 km/h). It felt like it could give a little more, but I ran out of road. And the car is brand-new, too, so both these numbers should improve with time. Now, getting to that speed is another matter. It gets to 100 even 110 km/h quickly, but then it gets faster less progressively. At 120 km/h (highway speed in Brazil) the engine is quite loud with the RPMs going at 3.600. Push it though and by the time the car gets to 140 km/h it has settled down. It feels happier though at between 100 to 120 km/h. At 140 km/h it still felt planted and confident, but the front end started feeling a little loose at 150 km/h. Again the car’s limit are pretty high for a 1.4 L engine and such a short wheelbase.
Noise levels are adequate and in fact better than other Fiat products. I guess the bean counters have not started the strippo process. Get it while it’s hot folks!
The design is excellent. To my eyes it’s a beautiful car, in a handsome way. Like I said elsewhere, what at first appears gimmicky, all the square lines, make sense in person (even more than in pictures). Those hard straight lines are softened by curves at the ends. And all the lines seem to be in the right place and to serve a purpose. The only excess I can see is that maybe the headlights don’t need the fuss on their outside edge, but it’s there to create visual interest and, again, break off the square lines. Inside the design follows a circular theme. An interesting contrast from the outside. Plastics are very meh (for Americans), but better than average as to what Brazilians usually find in the segment.
The driving position is great. I found myself very comfortable in those seats. You sit in them higher than in a VW Gol, but not as high as in a minivan. I find that this position gives you a good view of the road and is not as tiring as the hunkered down position so prevalent today (I’m looking at you 2nd generation Scion xB or Chevy Camaro!). It is even more comfortable than in my Palio (a car I have mentioned several times on this site that seems to fit me like no other), which surprised me. The steering wheel though is just a little “crooked”. The left side of it seems to project a hair more forward than the right side. When I began to see these cars and sit in them, I never noticed it. However, other journalists started pointing this out. I admit it’s there (now that I went looking for it), but to criticize that seems like unwarranted snobbery in a segment in which the Gol’s pedal continue unaligned (and people don’t protest) with the seats and such things as Chevy’s Celta completely unnatural seating position get a free pass. BTW, the Celta’s seating is so weird it never ceases to amaze me that people claim to adapt to it. The instruments seem well placed. General ergonomics seem quite good.
The driving position helps visibility, which is also very good. Well, maybe behind they could have added some windows in the C pillar or made it thinner. But it’s not as bad as in my wife’s Logan or my boss’s Corolla. Anyway parking this car is easy. The factory back-up sensors present in the car are of course unnecessary in such a small car, but made the parking that much more fool-proof.
For families (and make no mistake about it, this car carries out family duties in Brazil) the trunk is about average for the segment. It can hold 280 or 290 L of baggage as the back seats can be reclined. That volume is about average for this segment in Brazil. It’s a tight fit, but it’ll hold the baggage of mom and pop plus two kids for the annual pilgrimage, I mean vacation!, at the beach (just don’t try to bring that beach ball inflated).
So, I liked the car. I respect the direction Fiat is going. Of course a bigger engine would do wonders for it (and Fiat just might oblige fitting its 1.6 16v E-tor.Q engine into a future version). But, as it stands, it’s economic, zippy in the city, frisky on the highway and highly adapted to Brazilian daily grind in traffic. Its success is deserved and I can understand why Brazilians are willing to wait in line to get their paws on one.
As to ‘soul’, a subject that proved quite controversial in the comments section of Michael Karesh’s Fiat 500 review, I’ll say this. I bonded with the car immediately. I found a good seat and enjoyed the ride. I enjoyed looking at it. But it’s heavier than Fiats of yesteryear. It had expensive and complicated machinery like A/C and air bags that add complexity and weight. It attends modern safety requirements. It was fun. But to find the soul I”d have to dig deeper. Keep it and drive it for more than one day. I’ll say this, if it doesn’t have soul, like the 500, it has plenty of character. Which maybe is the closest to soul you can get in a modern car. Maybe today’s cars are just to good to have soul. We all know perfection is cold.
Well then, that’s my review. You don’t have to take my word for it. If you don’t want to take mine, maybe you’ll take my friend’s. The car’s proud owner. He “came down” from a VW Polo to get the Uno. I asked him why he was downgrading. He said that at a year and half old the Polo is noisier than the Uno. And it shouldn’t be if you drink manufacturers’ kool-aid or the ‘unbiased’ opinion of the press. Supposedly the Polo is so superior. He said in fact it’s not. He said he sees little difference in the drive. Of course the Polo outperforms the Uno (as it has 20 more horses), but it doesn’t do it in an entertaining way. Besides, the Uno attracts all the right kind of attention (girls), but no undue attention (cops and kidnappers). You see, my friend is single, but cautious. And loaded. Trust me, he could buy any car he wanted to in the Brazilian market (German lux barges and Italian super prancing horses included). If the little Uno has quality enough to attract such a guy, it has qualities enough for me.