Fleet News

Fiat Croma

Fiat

Review

THINGS can go one of two ways for Fiat’s new Croma. It is either a clever solution to shrinking sales in the upper-medium segment, or it will be another white elephant.

Why? Because the Croma is packaged as a ‘crossover’ car, meaning it combines the size and driving characteristics of a traditional upper-medium saloon car with the practicality of an estate and a versatile interior more akin to a high-roofed compact MPV.

So drivers who are deserting Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra-type cars could well be badgering their fleet managers to get this car on to company choice lists.

Or they’ll react in the same way as they did to the previous Croma of 12 years ago and avoid it like the plague, although Fiat will be hoping its market research – which states that 85% of people don’t remember the last Croma – will prove to be true. The Croma is a big gamble for Fiat, a company with a rich tradition in building small cars.

But with the firm’s finances back on an even keel, and the decision to move away from high volume daily rental business in the UK in a bid to shore up residual values, Fiat Auto’s fleet and used car director Tony Dittli is confident.

He said: ‘The Croma is a breath of fresh air for us and we are going to use it as a halo to build the brand. Our volume aspirations are conservative – 1,000 units this year and 5,000 in 2006, but we are addressing the quality side of the market.

‘More than half of sales will be fleet-orientated. The Croma will attract user-choosers because it has a high specification but a lower price than upper-medium estates.’

What user-choosers are being offered, claims Fiat, is ‘a well weighted combination of company car and family car’.

It also promises a focus on quality. With a former BMW head of quality now on board, the Croma looks and feels much better made than any of its stablemates, either current or past.

Dittli added: ‘We have made some big strides and the Croma is well put together. It has got to have an emotional and a logical appeal.

‘This car has got a feeling of quality but we have got to break down perceptions.’

But the mention of quality is more than just marketing speak. Sit inside the Croma and the materials used, and the way they’re screwed together, is impressive – certainly as good as the Volkswagen Passat, one of the Croma’s key rivals along with the Citroen C5, Renault Laguna and Peugeot 407.

Three trim levels are available – Dynamic, Eleganza and Prestigio – with the choice of three engines; a 2.2-litre petrol with 147bhp, and 120bhp and 150bhp versions of Fiat’s 1.9-litre Multijet diesel engine.

Later this year, a 200bhp five-cylinder 2.4-litre Multijet diesel will arrive, offering easily the most power from an upper-medium diesel, while early next year a 140bhp 1.8-litre petrol will be offered.

All trim levels are well-equipped, with the entry-level Dynamic offering seven airbags, CD player, air conditioning, centre console cool box, 16-inch alloy wheels and remote tailgate opening.

Eleganza models add bigger 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, parking sensors and more luxurious materials for the interior surfaces.

In range-topping Prestigio spec, the alloys reach 18 inches and there are tinted rear windows, rear side window blinds and a Skydome sunroof which covers the majority of the roof space.

Behind the wheel

THE main impression you get when you settle in behind the Croma’s chunky steering wheel is the feeling of space. Not only is the Fiat wide but it is very tall, giving a really airy feel to the cabin, especially when the huge Skydome sunroof is fitted.

You also sit high up in the cabin, a nod to that MPV feel which Fiat is keen to emphasise. The gearbox is also located on the dashboard, much like the Citroen Xsara Picasso, so there isn’t such a stretch for the driver to change gear.

The only downside of the driving position is restricted adjustment on the steering wheel. Even when in its lowest position for rake, it is still angled too far away from the driver, giving it a bus-like driving feel.

On the road the Croma is a competent performer, especially in the high-spec Multijet diesel version we drove. With 150bhp and 236lb-ft of torque from just 2,000rpm, the Croma offers smooth, relaxed mid-range performance and easy overtaking ability which is on a par with the most powerful diesels from the Fiat’s upper-medium rivals.

Ride and handling are also impressive, although the ride is juddery on country roads. But this gives way to a composed feel on motorways, where most Cromas will rack up their miles. It also handles well, with crisp turn-in to corners, although the steering is over-assisted and lacks feel.

Driving verdict

IN 1.9-litre Multijet diesel 150 form, the new Croma is a comfortable, spacious and well-built car in which to cover high mileages. The diesel engine is smooth and powerful, and the fact that fuel economy and CO2 emissions hardly differ from the lesser 120 model make it the obvious choice for company car drivers who really want a big Fiat. The question will be: just how many of these drivers are out there?

Model: 2.2 1.9 M/jet 120 1.9 M/jet 150
Max power (bhp/rpm): 147/5,800 120/4,000 150/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 150/4,000 207/2,000 236/2,000
Max speed (mph): 130 121 130
0-62mph (sec): 10.1 11.3 9.6
Fuel consumption (mpg): 32.8 46.3 46.3
CO2 emissions (g/km): 204 160 161
On sale: Now
Prices (OTR): £15,745–£20,345

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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