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the FIAT LINEA in depth review - features, pricing, and drive

Saturday, January 17, 2009

/ by Srikanth Eswaran

You might ask me why this review is coming up so late! That's because I admire and appreciate the company behind the product. And I believe that I must be ethical to them. So one day after the FIAT LINEA was launched by FIAT INDIA for the country, here I am writing a full detailed test drive report with pictures to make your decisions easier. Thanks to Prerana for providing me with a test drive car. The Prerana motors showroom was well decked up with shining red Fiat logos and was well prepared. for welcoming the Linea into the country!

Without much of beating around the bush, let me go straight onto the review of the car. Me and my friend Kiran wanted to check out the LINEA (since we heard its already in the showrooms of TATA) on a Saturday evening. Since my son too was looking for an outing with his parents, it was decided that we take him to see the LINEA as well. One thing that strikes me about FIAT is its simplicity. They have never made a fuss about their cars, they always have told customers about the car even before its launch date and have never kept things under wraps for long. As usual, FIAT's LINEA launch was nothing short of spectacular with dazzling fashion shows and beautiful females, just as in the case of the FIAT 500 launch.

When we reached the showroom, the white/silver LINEA caught my attention. It was neatly displayed in the showroom. Its presence was so enthralling to me. It occupied the showroom like a gigantic being in itself and was all over the place. In the melee I forgot to see a red Linea parked outside! Since there was someone else admiring the car, we decided to see if a test drive was possible and sure to our surprise, they did say they could offer us a drive. So before I really write about the drive, let me first talk about the car. I own a swift VDI hatchback which also sports the FIAT multijet engine, which is the same with Linea with a few subtle differences. This lies in a tune up to 90bhp and variable geometry turbo or VGT feature. The comparision ends there.

Looks

This car is a stunner in whichever way you look at it. Agreed some say that the front portion looks too bulky and short, but its seriously does not malign the overall look of the car. The side profile is impressive by all standards and it feels like you are looking at a skoda octi in a way. The rear has got one of the most beautiful studded red lamps, which gel well with the overall body of the car. The boot is not too hunched up, but just in right proportion. No ugly pillars as well. So all in all a great looking car from the exterior. I did not get to check the headlamps since it was still sunny outside. But the jeweled headlamp cluster itself looks shiny and brilliant. Italian design always is considered top notch and the Linea like the Palio keeps up that promise.

Interiors

Its been an endeavour of mine to anticipate and judge the quality of interiors in cars in India. Toyota and Honda set benchmarks for this, and in the smaller car segment, nothing to beat Hyundai. In this context lets see where FIAT's interiors fit in. Frankly the Palio's interiors were not something to write home about. But the Linea - hold on - is way off that mark, with pleasing interiors, dashboard design, ergonomics and comfort in that order. Want more facts? Why not?

The dashboard is symmetrical, grey and silver finishings with soothing orange backlighting to set the mood for driving. The buttons, sliders and dials, offer a plush feel found only in high end luxury cars. Mind you even Honda does not fit in to the quality offered by FIAT. The best things about the buttons is the fact that they are so neatly fit into the slots meant for them and still make the dashboard seem like one flat piece where you could rest your hands on. The writing on the buttons are informative to the last level (for eg, power window buttons even show how to open the window, ie., which direction to push the button to open the window). The pad for moving the side view mirrors electically left, right top or bottom is very nicely placed and is not like the ugly joystick offered by Sx4. The dials themselves are small and nice to hold and is not about the ugly aspect of putting up chrome everywhere like in the Sx4. The door levers are much like the Fiesta's but I personally wished they were more usable or atleast feel durable than breakable in future.

Having said this much there are a few other things inside which is worth mentioning about. There are separate lamps for both rear and front and they look solid and well built into the roof. The driver and rear passengers both have an armrest each which is thoughtful. Also, the speaker enclosure is of high quality and feels upmarket. The car I drove came with four speakers and two tweeters but was sounding quite good considering that it was a fitment straight out of the factory. I thought it also had USB/AUX support. There is also an A/C vent towards the rear which is again thoughtful and provides good cooling. FIAT's consistency was always with the AC which chilled people within seconds (not even minutes). By adding a climatic control one can set precise temperature inside this car which makes the cooling just right and not unbearable. The headroom in this car was more than sufficient to accomodate tall people both in rear and front. No complaints here. Also one another thing I really loved in this car was the simplicity of the dials. They looked so (Oh!) retro and gave me an ambassador feeling when I first saw them. But dont be fooled by these looks. The digital display on the dash shows you really interesting information on fuel left, distance you can travel, etc. The boot is huge and you can hide two kids in it! Jokes apart, its really sufficient to carry your luggage whereever you wanna go.

The steering itself is meaty and chunky even without a leather wrap and this has again been a strong point of all FIATs until now. It gives you the sense of direction and steer, along with the feeling of stability on the road. The horn though was a let down and perhaps it needs a more skoda-ish horn which is what people respond to these days on the streets.

The Drive

So finally how was the drive? I ll get to it in a moment. But before that lets understand VGT or variable geometry turbocharging, which is the latest thing in today's diesel engines. You can read more on that here. What this really means for a layman is that the time it takes between your accelerator pedal press to the time it takes to move the car at that speed, is called as a turbo lag. The VGT aims to reduce this turbo lag, leading to a more linear pull at any gear and any speed. Here is where I would like to draw a comparison of the linea to the swift I possess. Since both have same engines, the turbo kick appears in swift at about 1800 RPM, which pushes the car abruptly but swiftly forward giving a roller coaster experience. What they have done in the Linea is to keep this turbo kick come in only beyond 4000RPM (to reach this RPM you would be on the highways usually) and at lower RPMs they let the VGT feature give a more linear pulling experience even at lower speeds. So this basically means you would perhaps not get the kick you get in swift with Linea, but it will give you a sense of luxury a sedan is supposed to offer at any speed without jerking the car much abruptly. This is one area where I found it to be a bit unenterprising if not disappointing. You cannot race with the Linea, its not meant for that. However you do get a plush feel with the car, and that is what matters most. Also the suspension is soft and easily soaks down potholes without disturbing the passengers. However this also means one must be worried about ground clearance. When you load the car with many people, it tends to go down a bit, making it easy for the car to scrape on bumps underneath. This is an unwanted characterestic of the Honda's which also seems to affect FIAT, but only when the real driving happens, one can justify if this is really as bad. As of now, we will say that this is not really much of an issue.

Technology and Safety

This car does come with Blue & Me, an initiative by FIAT and Microsoft to incorporate bluetooth sync of your mobile phone with the car. To read more about it, go here. You could answer your mobile calls on your car, without having to lift your phone. Its all about hands free functionality with voice recognition. So you could say your friends name out, and it will dial your friend and connect you to him or her! As for safety the car comes with ABS and EBD. As usual Airbags are offered only on higher models, which according to me is a shame. Every Indian must have the liberty and birth right to feel safe, even say after spending money, and automotive manufacturers have to wake up to this requirement. It is them who introduce new cars, and it is them who must also lead the way for safety. Lets hope FIAT does provide this as an option for all variants of Linea and other cars in the fray in future.

Price and Conclusions

By keeping the price point really affordable, FIAT has ensured that its next innings will go smoothly. A diesel engine with all this luxury at a little above eight lakhs seriously makes common sense compared to the Sx4's and Aveo sedans, which dont offer the same. At this point we cannot compare the Indigo and Linea in any possible way. But just wait a while and Tata will unveil a new Indigo sedan which can be comparable to any luxury car. My conclusion on the linea - the linea mania is here to stay for a while. Lets not expect FIAT to sell millions of Lineas in a short while, but its preparedness for the launch, the launch itself and Rajeev Kapoor at the helm this time, might make it easy for FIAT to get its due recognition with the Linea. Before I end this post, here, here and here are links to the launch party, and further a couple of photos of this imposing car.

For more details, visit www.fiatlinea.in

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