Fiat Avventura: Reviewed

Poor sales figures are not acceptable by any means, by any manufacturer. Sighting shrinking demand for cars, every manufacturer looks at an alternate way to drive in sales, and hence, more revenue. Such is the case with Fiat in India. The Italian automaker has a huge fanbase in the country, some still driving the Fiat Uno and absolutely loving it till date. But this does not reflect in the real time sales figures. If Fiat is surviving in India, the sole reason is because of being an engines supplier to Maruti, Tata etc. The company sells engines in figures which they can’t even imagine to sell their cars in. With the SUV and crossover culture gaining popularity in India, Fiat thought of jumping in the bandwagon and trying their luck; and then comes the Avventura in the picture. Although the company would want to call it as a CUV (Contemporary Urban Vehicle), it is nothing but a beefed-up Punto. The EcoSport in comparison still lives upto the compact-SUV badge by the looks, but the Avventura is a low slung hatchback, with more muscle to pose. Coming up with a full-grown compact-SUV is still a distant dream for Fiat, and till then, the company is looking forward to the Avventura to bring in some much needed sales numbers. The car will be launched on the 21st of this month, and will fight against the Toyota Etios Cross and Volkswagen Cross Polo.

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Exteriors:
For an average Joe, one look at the Avventura will let him thinking what just happened to the Punto. The body shell is the same and the overall dimensions remain more or less the same save for the spare wheel on the tailgate. At the front, the Avventura gets a restyled bumper which is more imposing than the one on the Punto.  The upper section of the grille remains the same like the one on the Punto with honeycomb mesh and chrome surround but the lower section is different. The lower end gets plastic cladding and the fog lamps are also enveloped in this cladding. It tries to pose like a tough skid plate, but is just plastic / fibre. The plastic cladding is in a dual tone shade, black for the cladding which wraps around the car and slightly grey for the one at the front and rear bumper. It looks good though and the front end looks noticeably different from the Punto only because of this. Power bulge on the bonnet remains identical and so does the Fiat logo placement. Headlamps are identical to the Punto and are pulled-back and smoked out units.

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Side profile sees a lot of black. Black plastic cladding on the lower end, chunky side body moulding in black with Avventura branding, blackened B-pillars and black door handles. The other most noticeable change on the Avventura is the ride height. The car has a 205mm ground clearance, equal to the Renault Duster and hence, the Avventura looks fairly tall. Not to forget the chunky and functional roof racks in grey and black which add to the overall height. Fiat will offer 16″ alloy wheels as standard across the variant range on the Avventura, to keep the exteriors premium all through. Although 16″, the rims do not fill the wheel well completely due to the increased ground clearance. ORVM gets integrated LED turn indicators, identical to the Punto Evo. The body does not see any sheet metal changes and the doors remain identical. A neat design touch on the Avventura is the cladding on the rear wheel section. Fiat could have easily gotten away by providing the plastic cladding only on the lower body section on the rear wheel arch, but they chose to complete the ’round’ arch design by adding a small section even on the rear door.

The game changes big time at the back, with the tailgate mounted spare wheel. But its not conventionally bolted on the 5th door, but has a swivel motion. Functioning is as follows; first press the boot release button above the head unit, then press the button on the spare wheel handle and it pulls outwards and later, you can pop the boot open. Too much to do just to take things out from the boot right? Even we found ourselves using the 60:40 rear seat split to be more functional to get things in and out. To close everything at the back, you need to first shut the bootlid secure, then press the button on the spare wheel cover again and then push it hard. A slight push will not do the job and don’t even think of driving away if the spare wheel isn’t locked in place. You will end up slamming cars behind left, right and centre. Another downside of this functionality is that you need a lot of space behind to open the boot, noticeably more than what a conventionally opening boot requires. Hence, you need to get things out before backing your car up in the parking lot. The spare wheel when secure, still rattles quite a bit. We had 4 cars in the convoy during the media drives and the spare wheel on the cars in front constantly showed some amount of movement. Also, the rattling noise is audible inside the cabin, and this is bound to increase with more use and abuse.

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Other stuff at the rear include LED tail lamps similar to the Punto Evo. Restyled rear bumper to accommodate the spare wheel hinge. Lower end gets the same grey section encompassing the fog lamp and reverse lamp on either side. You also get a single chrome exhaust tip under the reverse lamp. The spare wheel cover is body coloured with blackened sections and Fiat logo in the centre. Avventura is written here in chrome and a reflector strip is placed below which will not only help in visibility at night, but also lateral visibility when the spare wheel is out-open. There is a small rear spoiler with a stop lamp. Mudflaps are missing, but this reveals the fat 205 section tyre patch which looks business on the Avventura.

Overall, just like all Fiat cars, the Avventura also feels well built and the doors and other body panels are heavy. The doors shut with a heavy thud assuring you that once inside, you’re secure. Exterior paint quality is decent and the body panel gaps are average by segment standard. Fit and finish of all the cladding outside looks like it would last the distance, although keeping it clean will be a task.

Interiors:
Just like the exteriors, the Avventura tries to differentiate from the Punto Evo in bits and pieces. Dashboard design remains the same as seen on the new Punto and will offend none. The interior colour theme includes three colours such as light grey, black and brown. The light grey section on the dashboard is of soft touch material and looks and feels better than the one on the Punto Evo. It also has a slight texture to it which makes it look a bit different. The other big change on the dashboard is the addition of high-terrain gauges above the AC vents in the centre. These gauges include a compass and an inclinometer. Not that these will be used much given that the Avventura is still a hatch on stills, but a good cosmetic addition nonetheless. These gauges have replaced the small storage bin we saw on the Punto Evo. Apart from this, the dashboard stays identical in design. It gets the amber ambient lighting under the passenger airbag section as well. Steering wheel is also the same old Fiat unit with audio controls mounted. Contours to rest your thumb come in handy during long drives. Fiat has also changed the horn on the Avventura and it sounds stronger than before. Instrument cluster also remains the same amber backlit unit with a MID in between the speedometer and tachometer.

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Top end variant gets the Blue & Me stereo system while the base variants don’t. Still, the head unit remains the same and just the steering mounted controls and voice command function go missing. The Blue & Me connectivity is far from seamless and we found it a bit difficult to simply plug and play as on other cars. Higher variant gets the fully automatic climate control, with controls similar to the Fiat unit we have seen for quite some years now. Lower variant’s manual AC controls with rubber knobs has good touch and feel. Gearknob is leather wrapped and has a conventional 5-speed layout.

Front seats are in dual tone brown and grey shades. The outer portion is wrapped in brown art-leather while the centre portion has fabric inserts in grey stripes. Seat back has Avventura slapped on it. Seat has a good bucket like feel and keeps you in place when driving enthusiastically. Seat height adjustment and the front and back movement will keep taller and shorter drivers happy. A driver armrest should have been provided in the Avventura, it adds so much more to driving comfort. The same brown shade we see on the seat has been carried over on all four door panels as well.

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Rear seat characteristics remain identical to the Punto Evo, with absolutely 0 change except for the art-leather seat upholstery. Contoured seats give two passengers a good bucket like feel, but the 5th passenger lacks similar support. However, the floor hump is minimum and the 5th passenger will have lot of room for his feet. The Punto is a spacious car at the back, and likewise, accommodating three behind in the Avventura isn’t a problem either. Leg room availability is also on the average side and we could live with it. Rear passengers also get a AC vent on the higher variants and a bottle holder below. Boot space is good for 3-4 medium sized bags and is illuminated too. Rear parcel tray also allows you to store those extra oddities when on the go. Spare wheel mounted on the tailgate is an alloy.

Engine, performance and handling:
The Avventura is available in both petrol and diesel engine options but in a single state of tune each unlike two states of tune for the Punto Evo. The petrol variant however does not get the higher Emotion variant. We wonder why Fiat did not choose to launch the Avventura in diesel only, since the petrol sales in this crossover segment are anyway negligible.

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Powering the petrol Avventura is the 1.4L engine producing 90 PS of power @ 6,000 RPM and 115 Nm @ 4,500 RPM mated to a 5-speed gearbox. We expect Fiat to explain this once they read it, why did the petrol motor have such poor NVH? Once fired up, the 1.4L petrol motor vibrated and it was audible too. Vibrations were felt noticeably on the steering wheel as well. The motor is not going to be the preferred choice anyway, and this would surely put-off a few customers. Slot it in first and gun the accelerator, and the petrol motor revvs freely all the way above the 6,500 RPM mark. Driveability of the 1.4L DOHC motor is acceptable by segment standards and the car can perform well even at highway speeds with 4 on board. 2nd and 3rd gears are brilliant for city commuting and pulling away from traffic. Engine sounds decent at high RPMs but when idling, the vibrating sound is a big let down. We first thought it was the AC compressor, but even after shutting it down there were audible vibrations. Inside the city, coupled with a light clutch, driving the Avventura won’t be an issue; but for the highway runs, we would have loved if Fiat offered the T-Jet motor. Nothing wrong in expecting more right? ARAI fuel efficiency for the petrol Avventura is 14.4 kmpl.

Powering the diesel Avventura is the 1.3L MJD motor producing 93 PS @ 4,000 RPM and 209 Nm @ 2,000 RPM mated to a 5-speed gearbox. As always, the motor feels lazy and turbo-lag is prominent. It is a shame that the same 1.3L motor works like a gem in other cars such as the Swift, Dzire and even the Manza; but not the same on Fiat models. Low range power delivery is poor and city commuting on lower RPMs is a pain. Downshifting is the only choice with the 90 HP Fiat engine. However, the mid-range performance is punchy. Highway cruising is acceptable by segment standard too but the engine starts losing breath above 120 kmph. You need to keep working on the gearbox to make brisk progress on the highway. The weight has gone up on the Avventura and hence the power to weight ratio is not something great. On inclines, you have to build revvs well in advance not be caught up by the turbo lag when shifting up. Also, the movement from the 2nd to 3rd gear is rather jerky. The car feels at home between 2,000 – 4,000 RPM and there is no point revving beyond this, as the power delivery tapers off. Also, revving hard will allow the engine drone to be audible inside the cabin. ARAI fuel efficiency for the diesel Avventura is 20.5 kmpl.

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Fiat is always known to deliver spot-on driving dynamics and the Avventura is no different. The balance between the ride and handling is just about perfect. However, the ground clearance has now increased and if you drive around in a Punto, you will notice some amount of body roll on the Avventura. Not that it is unsettling, the Avventura still drives around as a segment best package. Suspension has been slightly tweaked to bear the additional weight and there is a anti-roll bar provided at the back which helps in the handling department. With the increased ground clearance, you need not slow down over bad patches either, simply glide over it. The Avventura with 4 onboard did not scrape even once on roads where you would have to slow down and crawl in 1st gear when driving other hatchbacks.  The setup is perfect and can tackle broken roads with ease. But make no mistake, this is a front wheel driven hatchback on stills, and will not get you out of slush or other such off-road situations, so be careful. When on the highway, you do feel you’re riding higher than in a Punto Evo and also, stability is a notch below the Punto, only because of the height. Suspension although spot-on in terms of the handling department, does allow some thuds to be heard inside the cabin. Steering feedback is rich, thanks to the hydraulic setup. We are glad Fiat has still not gone behind the EPS setup which is plagued with poor feedback. Another reason for the good ride and handling package are the 205/55/R16 Goodyear Eagle NCT 5 tyres. These shoes are known for the exceptional levels of grip they provide and the fat section by hatchback standards allows the Avventura to stay put when pushed around corners. The tyres do not squeak or squeal one bit around corners or under panic braking. Braking power is adequate too and the car stops in a straight line without any fuss. If you care less about outright performance and focus more on ride and handling, Fiat cars will always please you. Ride and handling abilities are one of the biggest assests of the Punto, Linea and now the Avventura. The car feels so stable, that you would want some more power to be available to play around. To point out another negative, the car suffered from a lot of audible road noise. But we think this was mostly because of the wider tyres. Still, Fiat could have worked a little more on noise cancellation inside the cabin.

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So does the Avventura stack up well against the Etios Cross and Volkswagen Cross Polo? It does. It simply thrashes the Etios Cross by the looks. Compared side by side, the Avventura will look more muscular and more business to carry the crossover badge. The tail gate mounted spare wheel also helps customers connect with the SUV character better. In sync with the Italian design language, the Avventura offers plenty of visibly appealing changes and the customers will love a poser next to an off-road track. Engine performance is mediocre but the ride and handling package makes up for it. Compared to the Ford EcoSport though, the car does lack some equipment and that overall SUV-like exterior profile. The key aspect remains the price. If it goes anywhere above 60-70k over the regular Punto Evo variants, Fiat will have a tough time convincing customers which are already in a short supply. Also, more increase in price will take it closer to the Renault Duster which is much larger not only in size, but also in terms of capabilities. Fiat has surely not made a half-hearted attempt like Toyota did with the Etios Cross. The Avventura is almost upto the mark in terms of quality and looks and should be able to make a cut.

Click here to check out the Fiat Avventura photo gallery.

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Parichay Malvankar

Parichay Malvankar

Founder, owner and editor-in-chief of www.shifting-gears.com; a born gearhead, nothing apart from a set of wheels gets his pulse racing.

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