Fiat Bravo Arrives

Well here it is — Fiat’s new Bravo compact. This is the car that has to power the Italian automaker’s recovery into higher gear. Unveiled in Rome on Jan. 30, the car hits showrooms in Europe in the coming weeks.

The challenge for the Bravo, which goes up against the long-time compact segment leader, the Volkswagen Golf, was to turn heads the way stylish Italian fashion does. And the early votes are thumbs up. “We are seriously digging the Bravo’s styling,” says Autoblog. It’s true. This model is sportier and more Italian-looking than a generation of Fiat cars has been. The low-end model has 90 horsepower, but the upper end includes two 1.4 liter turbo-charged engine variants that boast 120 and 150 horsepower.

Fiat has long excelled at inexpensive, chic small cars like the Panda Mini and Punto sub-compact. The Bravo was first launched in 1995 and was replaced by the Stilo in 2001. But the over-engineered Stilo failed to match the benchmark Golf in quality build and it’s German look-alike design was dubbed BOORRRING. Sales fell far short of the ambitious targets, provoking massive losses for Fiat.

Fiat invested $454 million to develop the new Bravo and rushed it to market in just 18 months, half the usual development time. The new Bravo represents, “the speed with which Fiat moves today,” said Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne, who has reversed a disasterous string of losses at Fiat that threatened its survival. The turnaround started with the relaunch of the Panda and Punto in late 2004. But the real test is whether Fiat’s new Bravo can battle for a slice of the European compact segment.

Fiat’s management is betting on it. During a gala launch dinner near the Roman Forum, the Bravo was feted by Cirque de Soleil dancers and fireworks. To put a little pizzazz in Fiat’s finances, though, the new Bravo will have to claw market share from the hot-selling Opel Astra, the Peugeot 307 and the Renault Megane. I’ll be back telling you about the car after I drive it. Meanwhile, does anyone out there approve the Bravo’s rediscovered Italian design?

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