Start small, get bigger and Fiats get steadily worse. Let’s have a fun look at the Fiat sliding scale from excellence to plop, shall we? Panda and 500? Class leaders and world beaters, characterful little machines full of sparkle and brio. Punto? Well, not quite as brilliant, but still proper Fiat fare; nippy, cute, quick and instantly recognisable, a refreshing Latin antidore to the anodyne Polo or anything Japanese of a similar size.
Then we get to the car on this page, the new Bravo. We like it, quite a lot in fact, but it's slipping into slight mediocrity, holding on to some of the Punto's style and energy, but falling behind its rivals in other important ways.
Things are tough in this class in Europe, hideously tough, whether it's the value end of the market with the Kia Cee'd and Hyundai i30, in the centre with Focus and Astra, or higher up with the VW Golf and Audi A3. The Bravo is keenly priced, falling somewhere between Cee'd and Focus. It doesn't quite beat the Ford, but it destroys anything cheaper because it has proper character. And it's way, way better than whatever the larger Fiat is called. Er, I've forgotten. Cryo, Cromey, thing.
The new Bravo deserves to sell well on its styling alone. You'd have to be a pretty harsh critic to call it ugly. Park it next to its rivals and there's no mistaking its sleek, Maserati-esque nose with its elongated headlights and bold grille - more than you can say for the Focus/Golf/ Auris/Cee'd circus, which are playing it way too safe. The tail is neat and fuss-free, too. There's always demand for Italian flair and that's why Fiat is making such a tidy profit these days.
Hop into the Bravo and you're greeted by a fresh, bright interior with plenty of contrasting textures and materials. High quality it's not, sadly, but at least it's different to the standard German, bland, black/grey fare. The dash has an organic sweep, with a driver focused upper console and classic Italian-style embedded dials.
It's not comfortable behind the wheel if you're tall. The driving position compresses your legs - a result, it seems, of pedals that are too far from the floor. Your ankles and knees flex severely and there's no foot rest. Not good.
Still, the car rides well, points well and goes very well, especially this T- Jet 150, a 1.4-lirre turbo with l50bhp. All of the engines are excellent, but the Bravo is too unrefined and unfinished to mix it with the best in this class. Maybe it's just too big to be a great Fiat.