Photography: Salman Kazmi (city) & Arun Tyagi (off-road)
Words: Syed Shiraz
If there’s one country where estates (‘station wagons’ for the uninitiated), crossovers, compact SUVs, and dirt bikes should have ruled from day one, it’s India. Okay, we may have some of the best roads in the world but we still largely have some road surfaces, no, stretches of barren land, which can make driving on Mars’ Rocknest seem like a walk in the park. The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, that we have around two million kilometers of roads (second only to the USA!) but only less than half of that length is surfaced! So it’s quite surprising when low-slung saloons and hatchbacks outsell almost everything else in India when it comes to four wheels.
Of course, economics play an important part here and not everyone can have a car each for office commutes, weekend getaways, attending ‘posh’ functions (where ‘image’ takes precedence over everything else), wooing women, getting groceries, etc., so they choose the best ‘compromise’ from the list of accessible options. A small family might opt for a hatchback or a sedan for city use and would prefer to take the train instead to Manali or Munnar. Or they might buy an SUV for their weekend trips and choose public transport for city travails… Again, we would always have some masochists who would want to climb the Everest in their Tata Nanos, and the scaramouches – who only bought those big SUVs to compensate for their fragile egos than anything else – who think their SUV has a shrinking feature that would enable them to pass through a bicycle-only lane. Still, the point remains, life would be much easier if we could buy a vehicle, without robbing a bank (the Range Rover Evoque is out then), that can do it all.
Now, when I first saw the Avventura in pictures I could figure that it is much more than a slap-on-some-plastic-and-rename-it job, and it also did seem like it could fit into the role of a family’s ‘only’ vehicle. But how successful it is as an all-rounder could only be determined through a full-fledged road test – both in city and out on highways. We did just that in the past fortnight to gauge the capability of FIAT’s latest. We got to test the petrol Avventura that only comes in Active and Dynamic trims, and we drove the latter.
Design and Style
One word: Italian. Most of you would have understood, but for those who didn’t, I’ll take the liberty of borrowing a few lines from my review of the Ducati Diavel to make you understand the relevance of that word. I’d written, “…I have come to a conclusion that God has been partial to the Italians when it comes to creating priceless works of art! Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio were Italians and so was Massimo Tamburini…” We may add the FIAT design house to that list as well.
Why? Because be it the first Palio or the outgoing Punto or the Linea, and even the new Punto EVO – the FIATS have always been the best-looking cars in their respective segments. And now this, the Avventura, looks so insanely gorgeous from every angle that the thought of quitting would have certainly crossed the minds of the Etios Cross and Cross Polo.
Also, unlike the Toyota and the VW, the FIAT is not merely a hatchback on steroids. Of course, it’s a Punto EVO underneath, but the changes go beyond the cosmetics, but more on that a little later. Coming back to the design, the Punto EVO’s snout looks more aggressive on the Avventura, thanks to the add-ons made to the bumper in the form of a faux bash-plate and front & side mouldings.
The spare wheel mounted at the rear looks fantastic and completes the crossover look of this vehicle. Plus, you need not to worry about the rear hatch brackets coming off in your hands or fear about any squeaks and rattles because the hatch does not have to bear the weight of the fifth wheel – it’s mounted on a hinge, attached to the car’s frame, and opens horizontally.
The trapezoidal exhaust tip looks the part too. But what I liked most about the exterior design is that all features like those beautiful alloy wheels, stylish roof rails, roof spoiler, plastic cladding & side skirts, spare
wheel cover, fog lamps, etc., are standard across all variants of the Avventura, and that’s a good move by FIAT. This car for sure is a head turner: my neighbours asked me if it was an import; a chap in a Honda Civic at a fuel station thought of it as a 15-16 lakh rupee car; a mother of two, who currently drives a Santro and is contemplating upgrading to the Elite i20, requested me to send the link of the review at the earliest, and these are a only a few of the many instances where people seemed besotted with this one!
Oh, one more thing: despite electric boot release button being present both on the dashboard and on the key fob, you will have to get down at the mall/hotel security checks and open the hatch for them because the security personnel would certainly be dumbfounded otherwise! The sparewheel assembly would have to be fully swiveled to the right before the hatch can be opened.
Build Quality, Interiors, Features and Instrumentation
The feel-good factor starts the moment you take that chunky key fob in your hand – FIAT calls it ‘Desmodronic’ foldable key. The metal part can be folded in when not in use and juts back out at the press of a button like in a switchblade knife. I like! Open the door and the Avventura greets with you with one of the most convenient and dignified ways of entering into a car.
Taller people won’t need the flexibility of a gymnast to tuck their bodies in and shorter folks won’t need to carry a ladder with them. In fact, all doors open wide and the seat height is just perfect to slide your derriere in or out of the car with minimal stress on your knee caps. Your parents and grandparents would love this car! More so, because the seats are supremely comfortable too – all of them.
There is plenty of legroom and headroom for the front occupants, and at the rear, even with the front seat pushed back by 80 per cent, there is decent legroom available for a six-footer. Anyone taller than that would have an issue with both the leg and head space on offer.
Also, the rear seats can accommodate two well-built folks. and one thin individual in the middle. comfortably on long hauls. Plus, the boot space in the Avventura appears to be more than in the Punto EVO though FIAT India have not mentioned the boot capacity on their website as yet. For the hatchback, it is mentioned as 280 litres…
Back to the driver’s seat then. The steering is adjustable for rake and together with the height adjustable seat one can find the perfect driving position in the Avventura. Visibility all around is good; it’s just that you
got to be a little more cautious while reversing due to the aforementioned spare wheel and the lack of parking sensors. The outside rear view mirrors (ORVMs) can be adjusted electrically from inside but can
only be folded manually. The instrument cluster has analogue speedometer, tachometer, fuel and engine temperatures gauges, and an LCD display that gives out readings for trip meters, odometer, outside temperature, clock, door ajar, etc.
The soft-touch grey on the dashboard looks nice; all controls, knobs, and levers have a solidly-built feel to them; the doors shut with a nice thud, and you know that you are inside a sturdy, well-built car.
The music system can play CDs, and you can also plug in your pen drives, but there is no Bluetooth connectivity here and FIAT should have at least provided steering mounted audio controls. The last two come standard in the Emotion trim of the diesel Avventura.
But, what is also worth mentioning is the sound of the stock system, which is quite good really! Also, standard across all variants are three dials that show the cardinal direction, and angles for elevation, decline, roll, and pitch – stuff that would only be appreciated by hardcore enthusiasts, and not by the majority of masses.
Engine, Gearbox, Performance, and Efficiency
The petrol Avventura gets FIAT’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder FIRE engine that puts out 90 bhp of peak power at 6,000 rpm and 115 Nm of max. torque at 4,500 rpm. Power is sent to the front wheels via a precise-shifting five-speed manual gearbox but you would have to keep the engine on the boil if quick progress is what you’re looking at; otherwise, this Avventura can even crawl away from 20 km/h in third gear without any protest whatsoever. Of course, don’t expect any wheelspin in the process, but you would not be left wanting in city traffic.
But it definitely feels underpowered on highways! No, the cruising speed is not a problem and it would run happily between 110 km/h-130 km/h all day; it’s the overtaking that really has to be planned much in advance. At 80 km/h in 5th gear you just can’t expect that burying your right foot will make you zoom past that truck ahead quickly before the oncoming roadways bus driver flashes his lights. Downshift to third for a safe and quick pass even if you don’t care getting bullied by that bus ‘pilot’ that much… Come on FIAT, if you could give us 100 bhp GTXs, S10s, and Adventures eons ago, you can certainly plonk the 112 bhp T-Jet motor under the Avventura’s hood now!
Fiat claims an ARAI fuel-efficiency figure of 14.4 km/l for the petrol Avventura and I, surprisingly, got 15.5 km/l on the highways with the figure dropping down to around 12-13 km/l in the city. Not bad for a car that weighs around a 100 kilos more than the Honda City!
A 45-litre fuel tank should see around 650 km before the tank runs dry. It’s also good to know that the low fuel warning light comes on when there is still around 10 litres of fuel left…
Ride & Handling
Ride is one area where the FIAT Avventura just smirks sarcastically at sedans (some costing twice as much), which are having a hard time on that potholed three-km stretch on the highway, before looking away and ploughing through the bad patch without batting an eye, and also without shaking the bones of the passengers. That’s revised suspension and raised 205 mm ground clearance for you!
For a change I was happy to encounter broken roads because that’s where the Avventura just stamped its authority. It glided over the worst of terrain without ever scraping its underbelly, and took to off-road trails like a pro! We all wondered what it could do in a 4×4 guise… I’ll take one FIAT even if it comes without power windows and power steering!
Plus, the ride on smooth stuff is just sublime – nothing in the segment comes close to this FIAT in this aspect, and it can even teach a thing or two to much more expensive machinery here. This vehicle will also allow
you to take the biggest speed-humps head on and not at an angle, and the best part is that the increased ride height has not come at the cost of high speed stability. The Avventura remains well-planted at high speeds, thanks to the fat 205/55 R16 and grippy rubber, and body roll has been kept in tight check as well.
Aah, and it handles brilliantly too! The hydraulic steering is well-weighted and is rich in feedback as well. And together with those relatively low-profile tyres, it makes the Avventura a fantastic handler. High-speed
cornering does not ruffle up its feathers and neither do sudden evasive manoeuvres. The brakes provide excellent bite but the feel at the brake pedal is almost dead. Oh, that makes me remember an ergonomics issue – the dead pedal. It could have been avoided by the manufacturer as it comes in the
way while pressing the clutch pedal if you have big feet or are wearing boots. Also, tyre or road noise finds its way into the cabin at speeds just over 90-100 km/h. But that’s a small price to pay for the brilliant ride
and handling package on offer! But what cannot be overlooked is the fact that, at present, you cannot buy the petrol Avventura with airbags and ABS (Antilock Braking System) even as ‘optional extras’! We seriously recommend FIAT India to provide these life-savers as an option at least!
I told you earlier in the story that ever since I first set my eyes on the Avventura I had an inkling that this could be a family’s only vehicle that could do the daily city grind untiringly but won’t also shy from
stretching its legs over the weekends. After testing it extensively, I can tell you that it has amazing road presence, which is a boon in both the city and outside it, and it is just the right size – neither too big like an SUV that it becomes a pain to negotiate in heavy city traffic, nor too small like a hatchback that it gets lost
in the sea of other small cars within city or becomes fidgety to drive at speed on highways. That spare wheel at the rear acts as a ‘Keep Distance’ warning for tailgaters while the butch front-end will look
intimidating in the rear view mirrors of ‘lesser’ vehicles. And as I had mentioned earlier, it does grab attention, for the right reasons, wherever it goes. Yes, the engine is a tad underwhelming; the lack of ABS+airbags is really appalling, and in-cabin features are nothing to write home about either. But, considering the recent dismal performance of many of the Indo-Jap and Indo-Korean hatchbacks,
in Euro NCAP crash tests, where their body-shells disintegrated to a level where even the airbags wouldn’t have saved the occupants, I would rather bet my money on the metal of this Indo-European any day than worrying about rear AC vents and electrically folding ORVMs. Also, the fact that it looks a million bucks and starts at just INR 5.99 lakh (petrol Active trim) seals the deal for me.