By on March 20, 2011

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.

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29 Comments on “(Long) Review: Brazilian 2011 New Uno Sporting 1.4 (Plus Report On New Two-Door Uno)...”

  • avatar

    Hola Marcelo

    I wonder when all the wealth everybody is saying Brazil is creating/capturing will reach the hands of the masses…
    I read somewhere that an important % of the population over there went out from poverty during Lula’s administration.
    I still don’t understand why in Latin America one settles for such sticker special, I guess there’s no alternative. Well I guess that’s the explanation, after seeing the local supermarkets and the cars in the streets down here. I’m Matt’s neighbor, so to say (he’s in NSW, I’m in VIC)
    Nice review. I’m getting worried with your Palio fixation. I drove mom’s Siena for 7 years and got bored of it. Comfortable, nice handler, lots of space, good fuel economy, EXCELLENT gearing, but eventually got bored and yes, the high driving position is really good. Don’t get me wrong, they’re very good cars for what they are, in fact I haven’t seen one with bigger inside volume save for Twingo or Logan. Hopefully you’ll be able to get one of the totally new they’re launching this year.
    Have a nice day Marcelo.

    • 0 avatar

      Buenos días amigo. Or in your case< I guess, good evening.

      Don’t worry. It’s not a fixation. It´s just that at this level, the new Uno is the first one that sits me more comfortably than the old Palio (Sandero and Logan do it too, but in a different way). BTW, if my garage were not so small, when I posted that article on getting the Siena, I only focused on the Siena ’cause the Logan won’t fit (well it will, but taht much tighter) in my garage space. Siena versus the rest: Siena or Logan. Palio versus the rest: only new Uno (maybe Sandero, though I have issues with the spare tire placement, under and outside the trunk, in Brazil, sadly – thief magnet).

      As to people getting wealthier, yeah, it’s happening. But it has only trickled down. It has made these cars barely reachable, but only for s still very modest number of the population. Make the math 3.5 million new cars a year for 190 million people. Plus inflation has come back this year. Prices have risen. So, people are already less better off this year than last. Let’s see what the major labor categories will get come May 1 (day that a lot of ategories of workers collective agreement comes up). It looks like the unions are getting restless. With Lula out, they have more political space. The new presidenta doesn’t have them enthralled and in her hands (pockets) like Lula did.

      Thanks for compliment. The reason for this sticker special is the extra equip for basically same price. The Attractive version has somewhat less standard equip, but for only little less. Have to see insurance rates though. Insurance companies pen alize any car with sporting pretensions very heavily down here.

    • 0 avatar

      krhodes 1
      24 000 people a month in Brazil would beg to differ. What car, fashion statement or not sells at those levels in America? Of course this is a very well targeted and executed car for the Brazilian market. It could find a niche in America, though.
      Thanks for reading!

    • 0 avatar

      I wouldn’t have played the “sticker special” card if a bigger engine was offered. I’m sure it looks nice (seeing what they did with the Palio R, both the red and yellow ones) but still. The same thing with the Adventure trim, I liked the looks of the 1st Palio adventure I saw, but when I read that the only off road “parts” fitted were jacked up suspension, LSD (which should have gone too to the Palio R) and “off road tyres” I was disappointed.
      About the spare tyre. The french did a clever solution on the 206. The bolt to lower it is located inside the trunk. It’s fancy and cute (it’s a french car), but I guess it avoids other people from stealing it.

    • 0 avatar


      No, the 206 solution doesn’t work. The par t that covers the tyre isn’t that strong, so thieves make short order of that, too. Other cars here have a similar system, from memmory Ford Ka and Fiat Palio Weekend. These things just don’t work i n  3rd world

  • avatar

    Honestly, I think that this FIAT looks to be better suited for US roadways and traffic than the 500.

    • 0 avatar

      Just for you to picture it, it’s bigger than the Mini, not a whole lot (imagine how much bigger it is than the 500), but bigger to make it a lot more passenger friendly. Plus it actually has a trunk. The downside is the engine. Smaller than the 500’s. However, an engine transplant would be no problem. In fact I think you could get the 1.8 in there quite easily.

      Thanks for reading!

    • 0 avatar

      better suited for US roadways and traffic than the 500
      There are parts of the U.S. where the roads are very similar to Europe and smaller is much better in traffic. Maybe not the ideal car for most parts of the US, but perfect for those of us who are lucky enough to travel roads that benefit from 17th and 18th century traffic engineering methods.
      There’s a large Brazilian population in the Boston area and I wonder if this cars popularity in the home country would carry over here? Many of them live in areas with scarce on-street parking, so smaller would be better.

    • 0 avatar


      You’ve hit on something. A large part of the Brazilian population living in the US comes from my home state, which is the home of Fiat in BRazil and where the company has had its greatest success. The last time I had access to data, Fiat’s participation in my home state (the 2nd or 3rd largest state market in Brazil, much behind São Paulo state but neck and neck with Rio de Janeiro state) and the state capital is completely eschewed. Statewide it hovers at around 43-44%. In the capital (Belo Horizonte), Fiat’s participation hovers at around 48%. Compare that to Fiat’s nationwide share of 22%.

    • 0 avatar

      People need to stop thinking of the 500 as a car. It’s not, it’s a fashion statement on wheels. Which actually makes it pretty practical as fashion statements go – it will get you from place to place. It’s not like they are planning to sell Camry volumes of the things – they will be all over the place in the coastal urban areas and all but non-existant in the flyover states. Just like Minis.

      I’d like a 500 in white with the red and white interior, but unfortunately I have no use for it as I don’t even commute. Sure would look nice in my garage though.

    • 0 avatar

      Wonder how jumpy it would get on the BQE near Ocean Parkway.  Sound fun at $14K with A/C.  At $18K dream on, Mr. Fiat, I’d get a Fit or maybe even bare Golf. But Uno has good proportions, always liked that model.

      Nice review, thanks.

    • 0 avatar

      Hi tallnikita,

      Without Brazilian taxes it’d cost 40% less!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So it could reach the US for, what? 10-12k USD? Less?
      Fun it is.

      Thanks for reading!

    • 0 avatar

      I recently went to the local auto show and sat in a 500, in the back. It was cozy, but not uncomfortable, but then I’m of average height and weight and I’m used to sitting behind my brother in a 94 Corolla. Although I will say that the shifter knob is comically huge. There was also an original 500, or close to it (had collector plates and those aren’t available for anything under 25 years old) and that thing makes the current 500 look like a school bus in comparison.

      Not sure if this post has any relevance to the topic at hand.

  • avatar

    Nice review, Marcelo! As an American living in Northern California, I look forward to the day that Fiat has enough success with the 500 intro into the USA to give them the confidence required to follow up with products like this.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks General!

      Well, one can hope! The fact that Americans are willing to buy the Mini gives me hope. I mean this car is bigger than the Mini by a good margin. With Fiat’s 1.6 16v or 1.8 16v Brazilian-made E-tor.Q or even the made in Italy 1.4 16 v turbojet engine, it would be adequate for American roads. Who knows?

      A small, light, safe modern car. What’s not to like?

  • avatar

    E aí, Marcelo, beleza?
    Any changes to fuel consumption in this trim? I imagine the bigger tires made it less economic, but the lower height may have compensated that  at least for the highway.
    Which road did you use for top speed test? At what time of the day? Back in my GM days I remember “test driving” cars for wind noise at Dutra in front of the São José dos Campos factory… not enough time to go to the test track at Indaiatuba, the car was about to be launched!

    • 0 avatar

      Beleza, e você?

      As to fuel consumptio you answered your own question! I didn’t have it for enough time to test the comsumtion like I like (at least over 2 tanks(, but the press in general have been saying impact is minimum. IIRC official city numbers (alcohol) went from 8,4 to 8,2 and highway from 10,1 to 10,3. But that’s off the top of my head, I could well be confusing something.

      Humm, your tests sound like fun!

      I generally use the BR040 (exit to Rio – I’m in BH). We have a long straightaway there, known as reta do Expresso Canadá. Time was early, early morning last Sunday. Fewer truckers, almost no traffic, little police (and the radars are off for now, DER mess you know well). However, have to keep an eye out for holes.

      ANyway, I like to measure it going up as it forces the car to work for the speed. That was the best time, but that day there was some movement so maybe I could have gotten better. I do it going up ’cause going down gravity helps and it wouldn’t be fair. Going down the Uno could easily break 170km/h. Once I reached the end of the speedometer(which marked at most 180km/h) in an Uno Mille 95, by putting it in neutral and letting gravity take its course (that was of course in younger stupider days)! I have no idea how fast that meant we were actually going.

    • 0 avatar

      Did you met any of GM Venezuela personnel?

    • 0 avatar

      Stingray, sorry for the answer that took a week: no.

  • avatar

    “Uno Attractive?”  To my eyes, the faux-SUV styling is not attractive (or sporting) in the least, but rather in utilitarian-looking.  Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • avatar

    Ah yes, the new Uno. I’ve been at a Fiat dealership recently and I’ve been inside it. Really exceeded my expectations: good quality plastics, confortable seats and a good price. There is one problem however: apparently Fiat thinks people are midgets, because the roof is REALLY low. This seems to be a common problem nowadays, but in the Uno, it’s really apparent. My dad, who’s 1.75m tall, barely fit in there, and his hair was touching the ceiling. I can’t believe Fiat made such a huge oversight considering the polish the rest of the car had. Really sad.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you sure? Maybe he had the seat adjustment lever at the most highest? I`m taller than your father and I didn’t feel this at all. In fact I felt the cabin was pretty airy…Strange

    • 0 avatar

      Weird, the salesman said that there is no level to adjust how tall the seat is.

    • 0 avatar

      Weird and weirder. I’m pretty sure there a seat height adjustment lever..Have to check my notes. Fact is, when I sant in car I didn’t think of adjusting the height cause it was right for me. As my friend is the usual driver, he’s a little taller than me, I just adjusted the dstance of the seat. Is it possible that even in the higher trims there is not this possibility?

      I’ll have to check

  • avatar

    Nice work, Marcelo! Seeing how the Uno is based off a modified Panda chassis, is there a 4WD model available? A 4WD 1.8 Uno would sell hike hotcakes in my economically depressed area; an area where UPS trucks get stuck in the mud and anyone who is foolish enough to have 17″+ wheels has to get them straightened yearly. Fiat just needs to make sure it has a great heater!

  • avatar

    I’m sorry i thought Brazilians had better taste than this.  It looks like a bad Halloween mask, with graphics left over from some 1960’s World’s Fair.

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