However, having driven the car on its UK launch back in the summer, my misgivings were slightly allayed by the fact that the Croma is a well built car with high levels of equipment and, with a Multijet diesel engine under its bonnet, a good drive, too.
Impressing in isolation is one thing, though, but going head-to-head with its key rivals is another.
Which is how we get here, comparing the Croma with three mainstays of the fleet market – Ford’s Mondeo estate, the Peugeot 407 SW and Vauxhall’s cavernous, and recently updated, Vectra estate.
Look at the Croma and it is immediately obvious that Fiat isn’t treading down the same route as the others. It is a smaller car than the others and is designed to be an upper-medium estate with the interior versatility of a compact MPV.
And the figures bear this out – with the rear seats in place the Croma doesn’t have as much luggage space as the Mondeo or Vectra, and with the rear seats folded flat it falls well short of the voluminous Vectra. However, it does offer a bigger boot than the 407 SW in both measurements.
Staying inside, the cabin feels as well built as any of the others, with a reassuringly solid feel which will be all-important in convincing fleet managers that the Croma can cope with a tough life over three years and 60,000 miles.
There’s plenty of equipment, too. Mid-spec Eleganza models come fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and parking sensors as well as seven airbags, CD player and remote control tailgate opening.
This is one of the Croma’s biggest strengths, and it undercuts the Mondeo and 407 on front-end price, too.
On the road the Croma puts up a decent show, with the smooth 150bhp Multijet diesel engine offering lag-free performance and strong overtaking ability.
Allied to a six-speed manual gearbox and surefooted handling, the Croma strikes a good balance between sportiness and long distance comfort.
Only the lack of adjustment on the steering wheel annoys. The wheel can be adjusted for reach, but not rake, leaving you with a position more akin to a bus driver’s.
In most areas the Croma is a match for its upper-medium rivals in terms of comfort, equipment and performance.
But how it fares in terms of running costs is just as important. Over to the figures...
Fiat Croma 1.9 Multijet 150 Eleganza
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £17,822
CO2 emissions (g/km): 161
BIK % of P11D in 2005 (2006): 19% (22%)
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 12
Combined mpg: 46.3
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,750/27%
Depreciation 21.82 pence per mile x 60,000: £13,092
Maintenance 3.54 pence per mile x 60,000: £2,124
Fuel 9.27 pence per mile x 60,000: £5,562
Wholelife cost 34.63 pence per mile x 60,000: £20,778
Typical contract hire rate: £475
At a glance
We don’t like:
Three rivals to consider
VAUXHALL’S recently revised Vectra estate leads the way on pricing, costing around £500 less than the mid-spec Fiat. The Exclusiv trim level is designed specifically for fleets and is much cheaper at the front-end than the entry-level Peugeot and Ford, which both look expensive here as they break through the £18,000 barrier. The Vectra is also the joint most powerful, sharing a 150bhp engine with the Fiat.
VAUXHALL has introduced the fleet-specific Exclusiv trim to lower running costs, with items such as plastic wheel covers which look like alloy wheels but cost a lot less to replace if they are kerbed. Thinking like that means the Vectra wins the servicing, maintenance and repair section, costing an estimated £1,524 over three years/60,000 miles. The Ford runs the Vauxhall closest, costing £1,650. The Peugeot will cost £1,674 while the Fiat is well adrift on £2,124.
DESPITE offering 150bhp and being the most powerful model here, the Vectra is the most fuel-efficient. Vauxhall claims it will return an average of 47.9mpg on the combined cycle, which translates into a diesel bill of £5,376 over three years/60,000 miles. Our experience of running the same engine in a Vectra over a year didn’t quite match this claim, though – we averaged just shy of 43mpg. The second-placed Peugeot will cost £5,472, just ahead of the Fiat on £5,562 and the Mondeo on £5,652.
NONE of the cars featured does well in terms of holding on to value, such is the nature of this sector where cars are sold in such volume. The Peugeot has the highest RV forecast, with CAP predicting it will retain 28% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles, although its higher front-end price means it does not win. The Vectra is the cheapest to buy and its RV of 27% secures victory. The Fiat is also expected to retain 27%, while the Mondeo has the lowest RV of just 26%.
WITH the lowest front-end price and victories in every running costs sector, the Vauxhall Vectra is the cheapest on wholelife costs, undercutting the Peugeot by more than a penny per mile over three years/60,000 miles. The Peugeot in second is nearly one pence per mile cheaper still than the Ford Mondeo, while the Fiat is a further penny per mile further back, not helped by having the worst projected SMR bills.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
THERE are still a few weeks to go before the deadline to changes to BIK tax come into effect, meaning that cars registered before December 31 will attract the tax bandings as shown in the table (right). This means that a 22% taxpayer will pay £57 a month for the Vectra, £59 for the Peugeot, £62 for the Fiat and £63 for the Ford. However, cars registered after this date will attract the 3% diesel supplement, which means each car will cost £10 a month more for the same 22% taxpayer.
WITH the cheapest company car tax bills and the lowest running costs, the Vectra makes a strong case for itself among fleet managers and drivers. The recent facelift and mechanical revisions make it better to drive than its predecessor, and the fact it has the largest boot space makes it a practical choice, too. The Fiat cannot compete with the Vectra in terms of boot space, running costs or driver tax liability, although it runs the Mondeo close in most areas.