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Road Test & Review: Fiat Abarth-powered-Avventura

  • Nov 30, 2015
  • 1522 Views
[caption id="attachment_18653" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Fiat Abarth-powered-Avventura Fiat Abarth-powered-Avventura[/caption]

Pleasing auto enthusiasts, who are on a “tight budget”, has always been a hard nut to crack for automobile manufacturers in India. Over the span of last 15 years or so, many auto makers tried their hands at making products that’d cater to the needs of this particular sect of buyers. And we need not to remind you that all of the resulting products failed miserably (sales wise, that is). That, of course, forced those few manufacturers to take a step backwards. Meaning, they started concentrating on what the masses wanted, and not on what they could deliver.

Fiat is a classic case in point here as it’s one amongst those who tried catering to the enthusiasts of the country. Back in 2001, it launched the country’s first ‘hot hatch’ in the shape of the Palio 1.6 GTX that produced over 100 horsepower. Coupled to that was a sophisticated and sporty suspension setup along with a lively hydraulic steering.

The Palio 1.6 GTX immediately set the petrol-heads’ tongues wagging upon its launch here. However, only a handful of this exited bunch actually dared to put their money where their tongue, er, mouth was. Sales of the car were bleak and many adjudged it to be ‘ahead of its time’ for that era. Fiat’s lackluster aftersales services and its reputation in our market in general only made matters worse.

[caption id="attachment_18657" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Fiat Abarth-powered Avventura gets a new and more powerful powertrain Fiat Abarth-powered Avventura gets a new and more powerful powertrain[/caption]

After discontinuing the Palio 1.6 GTX for a brief period of time in 2004, Fiat brought the 1.6 engine back to life in different iterations of the car in the following years (1.6 Sports and 1.6 Stile). Eventually, the 1.6 petrol unit was discontinued owing to lack of demand in 2010. Once that was done, Fiat turned its attention towards typical small car owners of the country. Their newer offerings sported small and efficient petrol and diesel mills, which was in line with our market’s demands. Surprisingly, the change in strategy did not quite work in Fiat’s favour. Monthly sales of Fiat cars have been stagnant since time immemorial; just about enough for the company’s car division to stay afloat in our market.

Five years on, Fiat has now realized that the best way to go forward is to go back, i.e., play to their strengths and make cars for the enthusiasts. To ensure that no stone is left unturned this time around, Fiat rang its ‘Abarth’ division for some help. With close inputs from them, Fiat has now launched the Abarth Punto and the Avventura-"powered-by-Abarth" in India. At the launch day of these cars, we took both of them for a short spin and came back impressed with the India-specific Abarth versions of the Punto and Avventura.

We just had the opportunity to drive the Abarth-powered Avventura for a couple of days recently. So, can the Abarth-powered-Avventura live up to the initial hype? Lets find out,

Exterior:

[caption id="attachment_18625" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Abarth-powered Avventura gets minor yet significant visual updates Abarth-powered Avventura gets minor yet significant visual updates[/caption]

Despite featuring an explosive engine under the hood, the Abarth Avventura does not shout about its intent with scorpion stickers and badges running all over the bodywork. On the aesthetic front not much has changed in the Abarth Avventura vis-a-vis the regular model.

Upgrades over the standard Avventura comprise a new set of 16-inch Abarth-themed alloy wheels, ‘Powered-by-Abarth’ monikers as well as a scorpion badge on each of the front doors (our ‘first drive’ car had these on the rear doors, so, it’s a bit confusing!). You do also get a bright red scorpion pasted on to the engine cover that serves as a visual reminder to show it’s got that ‘extra’ firepower underneath. Other than that it’s mostly unchanged on the design front.

[gallery link="file" ids="18657,18656,18658,18659,18643,18644,18647,18626,18629"]

Even though it comes without any flashy decals or racing stripes, you still can’t call the Avventura understated in any way, thanks to its pseudo-crossover looks. Body-cladding all-around, aluminium-finish roof rails and that bulbous spare-wheel coupled to an intriguing (and complicated) wheel-mount on the hatch are unmissable.

[caption id="attachment_18658" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Abarth-powered Avventura rear three-quarter Abarth-powered Avventura rear three-quarter[/caption]

The bulkiness over the Punto hatchback still remains. Sitting 50mm higher than its hatchback derivative (with a ground clearance of 205mm), the Abarth Avventura actually looks quite intimidating- so much so that some may actually fool it for a real crossover.

Interior, Ergonomics and Features:

[caption id="attachment_18636" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Interiors remain unchanged Interiors remain unchanged[/caption]

Everything on the inside remains exactly the same as it’s in the regular model. The dashboard continues to come finished in a dual tone grey-black theme with the grey bit featuring soft touch material. The steering wheel is also a direct lift, meaning it feels nice and sporty to hold as before. The seats come wrapped in part leather part fabric material offering comfortable and adequate support.

Three dials sit atop the dashboard to tell you the car’s direction of travel, yaw (body-roll) and pitch at any given time. While they are easy to read, and surprisingly work accurately, you are likely to loose interest in them in no time. Good time pass for the front co-passenger, nonetheless.

[caption id="attachment_18642" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Off-road dials are a cool touch Off-road dials are a cool touch[/caption]

The overall design and layout of the cabin looks classy, but the quality and fit and finish of the materials could have been better for a Rs 10 lakh + car.

Finding the correct driving position in a Fiat in one go is a task only a few can marvel at! The pedals are quite close to each other and are offset towards the right while the steering is only tilt-adjustable (up and down), and does not adjust for reach (back and forth). The clutch pedal has a long throw, and once fully depressed your foot will rub against the steering rod. It’s not that you won’t find the right adjustments, but it requires a lot of head scratching.

[caption id="attachment_18637" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Center console features electric boot release The music system has a crisp and decent sound quality, albeit Bluetooth streaming is sorely missed; center console features electric boot release for the hatch[/caption]

Elsewhere, you will find an electric release for the boot hatch. It’s hard to make sense out of this feature in the name of ‘added convenience’ since only a few can get their head around the complicated procedure of opening/closing the hatch of the car. Feature wise, the car comes equipped with USB/AUX/CD/MP3 connectivity; auto climate control with AC vents for the rear bench, multifunction buttons on the steering wheel etc.. Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls is offered, but audio streaming feature has been given a miss.

[gallery link="file" ids="18636,18638,18639,18640,18641,18646,18635,18649,18648"]

 

Parking sensors are not available as well, which quite literally makes reversing the car a pain in the backside because of the protruding spare wheel and limited rear visibility. Safety net comprises ABS with EBD, dual airbags at front and seat-belts that come with pre-tensioners.

Engine, Gearbox and Performance:

[caption id="attachment_18645" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Abarth-powered Avventura features the 1.4 T-Jet powerrtrain developing 142PS! Abarth-powered Avventura features the 1.4 T-Jet powerrtrain developing 142PS![/caption]

Before the Avventura was given the Abarth treatment, the petrol variants of the car were offered with a naturally aspirated 1.4-litre FIRE engine. Ironically, the 1.4-litre unit does not have much fire under its belly unlike how its name suggests. It only produces 90PS of power and 115Nm of torque.

The Abarth-powered-Avventura uses the 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol engine from the Linea, albeit it now gets a bigger turbocharger along with thoroughly re-worked internal components. The end result of that sees the petrol unit receive an astronomical power and torque hike. The 1.4 T-Jet in the Abarth Avventura develops 142PS of maximum power output at 5,500 rpm and serves a diesel-engine-like torque of 210Nm between 2,000 - 4,000 rpm. The engine is mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox. The ARAI certified fuel economy is 17.1 km/l, but that's not exactly the point behind plonking the Abarth powertrain into this car.

[caption id="attachment_18655" align="alignnone" width="1024"]The Abarth-powered Avventura will do 0-100km/h in 9.9 seconds as per official claims The Abarth-powered Avventura will do 0-100km/h in 9.9 seconds as per official claims[/caption]

There’s no other way to put this- the engine is the heart and soul of the Abarth-powered-Avventura. It’s an absolute all-rounder in every respect. Below 2,000 rpm, when the turbocharger is running lethargically, the speed progression is decent if not electrifying. Get past that barrier on the tacho though and the engine comes to life quite frantically. It’s the torque spread across the rev-range that works wonders here more than its outright power though. Shift above the 5,000 rpm mark and the short gear ratios ensure that you land up in the meat of the power band on each occasion. In-gear acceleration is phenomenal too; overtaking other vehicles only requires a feather touch on the accelerator pedal. All in all, the engine-gearbox combo spoils you silly in such a way that you struggle to lift your foot off the right pedal. It’s an addictive powertrain, no doubt.

While the gear-ratios are evenly defined, the rubbery feel and long throws of the gear-lever are a bit of a bother. It is one aspect that can be completely overlooked when you are driving the car solely for fun. Like when you are gunning the car down on an empty stretch of road, the speed and the surge of power is an all-consuming affair, so, you are hardly ever noticing the shift quality. However, when sense prevails or when you hit traffic, and you need to shift cogs to slow down, the rubbery feel of the gear box is quite evident -especially while downshifting from 5th to 4th gear, the gear stick never slots in correctly. Is it a deal breaker? Not actually!

[caption id="attachment_18638" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Gear-shifts still feel rubbery, but are not a deal breaker either Gear-shifts still feel rubbery, but are not a deal breaker either[/caption]

What lets the experience down by a bit are the engine’s muted acoustics. At idle, the exhaust produces a deep thrum but it disappears immediately once you’re on the move. It would have been nice if it had even some sort of induction noises like you used to hear in the Palio 1.6, but even that’s missing.

Fiat boasts the Abarth-powered-Avventura will hit 0-100 km/h in 9.9 seconds. While we were not able to time that out, we are pretty certain of the claims made by the manufacturer. This car is freaking quick by any standard.

Ride and Handling:

[caption id="attachment_18651" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Despite its crossover like ground clearance, the Abarth Avventura impresses with its balanced road-manners Despite its crossover like ground clearance, the Abarth Avventura impresses with its balanced road-manners[/caption]

Even in its standard guise, the Avventura’s balanced ride and handling characteristics make it a delightful car to drive. The same setup is carried forward in the Abarth-powered-Avventura. The ride height in the Abarth derivative is exactly the same as the regular version and so is the suspension setup. Improvement over the standard model includes disc brakes on rear wheels, and that’s about it.

For a sense of perspective, the Avventura has a ground clearance that is equal to that of a Renault Duster. So, despite carrying Abarth badges and a stonker of an engine underneath, don’t expect it to behave like a go-kart around corners. At the same time, you can’t turn it down as a lousy handler either since the Abarth Avventura is largely a Punto Evo hatchback under the skin.

[caption id="attachment_18650" align="alignnone" width="1024"]A fair-amount of body roll is there as expected A fair-amount of body roll is there as expected[/caption]

When you throw the Abarth Avventura around corners enthusiastically, there’s a fair amount of body roll as expected. Inspite of that, the car feels alive around bends, thanks to its communicative and direct steering. The feedback from the hydraulic unit is crisp, the suspension is pliant and the shock absorbers have a near-perfect damping rate - neither too stiff nor too soft. You can infact take the Abarth Avventura for mild off-roading sessions once in a while, and you will still be grinning from ear to ear.

There’s of course a minor flaw here , and one that becomes evident only when you bring the car’s now more powerful engine into the equation. Like we had also noticed during our first drive, the stock/raised suspension setup of the Avventura struggles to handle the fury with which power reserves are being fed to the front wheels, especially while launching the car from a standstill or during a fast corner exit.

[caption id="attachment_18643" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Disc brakes on all four wheels is standard Disc brakes on all four wheels is standard[/caption]

Every time you set off with slightly heavier right foot inputs, you are greeted with a crazy and frightful amount of torque steer. However grippy the front tyres are, they always struggle to put the power down cleanly, desperately searching for traction as the vehicle squats under hard acceleration. Same happens when you encounter tight bends. Step on the throttle mid-corner or a little too early, the steering wheel immediately goes into frenzy mode, making the front-end misbehave waywardly. For first timers, it’s quite a scary experience, although, once you get the hang of that, it becomes more of an occasion and is quite enjoyable.

Disc brakes on all-four wheels with ABS and EBD are a boon. The brake pedal does not have a sudden or ‘wooden’ feel to it- deceleration is progressive and the bite from the brakes is excellent.

Verdict:

[caption id="attachment_18652" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Performance of hot hatch and versatility of a crossover- that's Abarth-powered-Avventura for you! Performance of hot hatch and versatility of a crossover- that's Abarth-powered-Avventura for you![/caption]

To sum it up, the Abarth-powered-Avvetura has many flaws as an overall package like, the fit and finish of the cabin is sub-par; a lot of necessary bit of kit is missing; the ergonomics are flawed; the gearshifts feel rubbery and then there’s the Fiat badge, which in itself can drive away people in droves. However, if you are one among those who only seek outright fun and driving pleasure from a car, the Abarth-powered-Avventura will tickle your taste buds like no other in its segment. Performance wise, it soundly thrashes most of the hatchbacks and sedans in the same price range, let alone its competitors. Its composed on road-behaviour and driving dynamics further sweetens the whole experience. The sheer drama of power and speed (wheel-spins, torque steer etc.) will liven up the hooligan even in the meekest of men.

The only thing that would cross an individual’s mind before putting their hard earned money on the Abarth Avventura will fortunately not involve any of the rival brands, but its very own sibling- the Abarth Punto. As a performance offering, the Abarth Punto is a more focused car. It features a re-worked suspension setup that is mostly up for the job while it also gets the much needed sporty visual elements inside-out.

[caption id="attachment_18634" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Abarth-powered Avventura Abarth-powered Avventura[/caption]

The Abarth Punto is singlehandedly built for performance and driving pleasure, but what the Abarth Avventura brings to the table is the versatility of a crossover along with the feverish pace of a hot hatchback. For enthusiasts on a strictly tight budget, that’s as good as it gets.

Photography by Rohan Dayal
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