Certainly, any model from Fiat's recent range wouldn't come directly to mind in this market, which is why the Italian giant is lavishing plenty of Lira (or should that be Euros?) on glossy magazine adverts and that rather annoying television advert to promote the benefits of the new Stilo.
'Forward thinking' states the advert, but one line in the ad will cause fleets to raise a collective eyebrow – 'With the launch of the Stilo your fleet can always be protected'.
Hmm. That sounds like a rather dubious statement. After all, Fiats in my mind have always been rather quirky and perceived as unreliable.
After spending a week with Fiat's latest challenger and carrying out some number-crunching on tax and running costs, I can confirm your fleets will indeed feel protected.
That's because the model we have chosen to test, the 1.9-litre JTD common rail turbodiesel in top-spec Dynamic trim is not only very good, but it is also the best proposition in fleet terms of the trio of cars featured here.
Among competitors the Xsara 2.0 Hdi 110 SX 5dr and Focus 1,8 TDdi LX 5dr, the Stilo is the cheapest to run. Ford's new common rail TDCi was discounted because it is only available in the higher-spec models and is priced well above our chosen trio.
All three are priced within £300 of each other, with the Focus the cheapest and Xsara most expensive. They are closely matched in terms of combined fuel economy and emissions, although the Xsara leads the way with the highest combined fuel economy, lowest CO2 emissions and the second highest power output (110bhp).
In second place is the Focus, although its economy and emissions figures are counterbalanced by it having only 90bhp. The Stilo all but matches the Focus, but the Italian has the most powerful engine here with 115bhp.
So, it's horses for courses, although all three cars qualify for the lowest rate of benefit in kind tax from April for diesel cars (18%) and Vehicle Excise Duty (£110).
While all three cars are pretty closely matched, it is the Stilo that comes out on top in running cost terms. Over a three year/60,000-mile operating cycle, the Stilo will cost 23.59 pence per mile, edging ahead of the Xsara on 23.72ppm. And in terms of monthly contract hire, HSBC is quoting £285 for the Xsara, £305 for the Stilo and £318 for the Focus.
In financial terms, the Stilo makes a very strong case for itself – combining low running costs with a competitive monthly rental, high fuel economy figures and low carbon dioxide emissions.
Fiat has come up with a winner and it deserves to sell well and mount a challenge to the established lower-medium market leaders.
What Fiat must do now is continue to raise people's awareness of the new model because some will not instantly think of a Fiat when looking for a car in this sector – and that would be a shame.
The Xsara puts up a strong fight to take second place here, with excellent running costs, although its age and styling will probably put some people off.
The Focus would be our third choice because it is equipped with the old diesel unit which mars the great Focus driving experience.
Behind the wheel
What is it about the Germans? They always seem to be at the top of the medal winning table at any big sporting event and they also happen to make some of the best cars in the world.
Which is why the Germanic look pioneered by Volkswagen and Audi has started to spread. Most manufacturers nowadays are offering chunky looking cars with efficiently designed interiors which comply with logic. And this is the case with the Stilo. Outside it is all chunky, angular lines which give the model a solid look. Inside, the huge solid dashboard dominates the cockpit, giving a sense of safety and security.
However, the material used on the dashboard doesn't look particularly nice – it's a kind of pebbledash effect gone wrong. And while we're in a negative vein, there are two really annoying things about the Stilo. The first is the absurdly short amount of time you have to start the engine up after 'plipping' the alarm – on numerous occasions I had to re-lock the car and then unlock it again in order to start the car.
The second point is the indicator stalk which seems reluctant to do its intended job of operating the indicators. It often springs back for no reason.
But on the bright side, the engine is a belter and the gearbox is a delight to use. Handling is good, although not as good as the Focus, but it still offers a positive driving experience. At speed the engine is quiet and refined and the wind noise is very low. The dashboard is logically designed and the front seats are very comfortable. However, the same can't be said for the rear seat – it's almost like sitting on a park bench. But there is plenty of space in the car, with the Stilo following the current trend for lower-medium cars to grow a trouser size, a la Peugeot 307.
In driving terms the Stilo is the winner in this group, although it would be a different matter if the Ford Focus was available with the TDCi engine at a lower price. The Stilo's got the engine, chassis, space, equipment and the quality to be a winner.
Driving-wise, I have to agree with my colleague – the Stilo is a match for the current leaders in this segment.
But I don't like the current trend of lower-medium cars getting bigger. For me the Focus is the right size for a lower-medium car. And in image terms most people driving this sort of car would still opt for a Focus or 307 first and I am one of them.
But Fiat has certainly done well with the new Stilo range, and the diesel model in particular – it's a major improvement on the Brava/Bravo and its safety features, including an eight-airbag system, xenon headlights and various traction and brake assist systems, take it to the pinnacle of safety considerations in its class.