I alongwith my parents was out the last weekend for a well-deserved holiday. One thing that both of them love is to come along with me for test-drives...literally savouring the moment as I high-revv the latest products on offer from Indian car manufacturers.
So on saturday morning, when we entered Nasik city...we saw a gleaming white Fiat Petra waiting outside the authorised Fiat dealership in this city. Well, dont need an invitation to drive a 100 horses.
A word of mention is due on the Fiat Petra. The companys Indian subsidiary is putting in some really strong efforts to revive its brand image, pull up its dealerships to high customer-oriented standards and offer a reliable and value-packed product ownership experience. I think its only fair to view the Fiat Petra with a fresh perspective, and dispell any Fiat Siena experiences.
The revised pricing also demands a second look from any prospective C segment buyers. At 4.79 lacs you get a proper sedan with a 1.6L DOHC 100 bhp engine which churns out 14 kgm of torque at 4250 rpm.Its fully loaded with power steering/windows/central locking. 175/65/R14 Bridgestone rubber is standard. Currently this is the only one variant that is offered - A very smart move IMHO. *
It was pleasantly surprising to be greeted by a well-informed and charming salesperson - Mr. Vinod Yadav at Kamal Carlines. This chap cleared my preliminary qualifying round with ease (Some Q's that I throw about DOHC's and MPFi engines) and the impression one gets is that the company has spent some time training its staff. One irritating factor was his persistent reassurance that the Petra will deliver 12 kpl in the city - Well, I didnt ask about the fuel efficiency and dont expect me to believe the 12 kpl either!!
We moved around the car, and the Petra really stands apart from the regular fare on offer in this segment. Its looks decidedly European and has a very "heavy" stance to it. The build quality is typically European and the sheet metal used is surely far superior to that of its Japanese competitors. The front end looks amazing with the chrome grille and neat looking headlamps. The doors shut with a distinct "thud", panel gaps and paint finish are top-grade, you can also tell that this body will not ding that easily. The Petra 4 colour range is not as vibrant as that of the Palio (Orange, green, red, yellow etc.) but I think this car looks best in black, with white coming a close second.
The car stands high and my parents found it darned easy to jump into the front and back seats - compared to the Esteem and Accent. the Interiors are airy and pleasant, and there is just so much room for 4 adults to travel in comfort. You sit in a very comfortable stance with the seats offering your backside great support. The steering is one size bigger than what I would prefer and the rpm gauge is placed to the right of the speedometer!! I cant understand why, as most of the world follows the pattern of placing the rpm to the left of the speedo! A nice touch is that the seatbelts are height-adjustable. The interiors are also pre-wired for six speakers. Except for a height-adjustable seat, stereo and power-mirrors (current are manually adjustable from the inside), this car has everything that higher-priced cars offer. Interior plastics are just about average in quality, but the air-con louvres really suck.
The boot is H-U-G-E with 500 liters of baggage carrying capacity. Whats good about the design is that two king-size bags can fit in on top of each other leaving a load of room on the side for handbags and oddities.
Start the engine and you are reminded of the 100 horses. Whenever most car-heads think of a 100 horses, the previous gen City 1.5 immediately springs to mind. But mind you, a 100 horses is the only thing they have in common. This engine is nowhere as free-revving and refined as the Hondas.
All that build quality and incorporated safety takes it toll on the weight gauge. Despite a superb 100 bhp figure, the power to weight ratio of this car stands at a not to superb 89 bhp/ton. The drive does feel very spirited though, and you dont need to shift gears as often as in the high-geared Esteem. The ratios are spot-on. Steering feedback is better than average while the gearbox is smooth but typically European notchy. Yes I know you are dying for the Gtech figures - It pulled in a 0 - 60 mph timing of 11.69 seconds!
In straight line stability, the Petra cant be beaten. Around the corners, it can. There is an good amount of body roll and you can really feel that big rear-end upsetting the composure. I would rate the braking for feel and stopping power at a 7.5/10.
The ride quality and comfort levels are what the Petra is all about. From the comfortable seats to the extremely effective suspension, this Fiat does not get fazed by the worst roads that rural India has to offer!! Ride quality is the best from any in the C segment, the Esteem/Accent/Ikon/ are not even close. Speed breakers are dismissed with an arrogant attitude of superiority..."kaccha" rural roads arent even felt. On the higyway, the teutonic build gives you a very secure feeling, even at a 100+ km/h. This is one machine that the Asian band of manufacturers ought to take lessons from in the ride department. Its a never ending debate on who is superior - The Opel Astra or the Petra. My vote is with the Petra.
An important factor that contributes to increased practicality is the higher ground clearance of this car. The Siena used to scrape speedbreakers et all with its 140 mm of ground clearance. The Petra has no such issues with 170 mm of clearance.
Even with a 100bhp, I still wont term the Petra as a drivers car. But its a great all-rounder. Its got a 100bhp, the best levels of ride quality, classy looks, teutonic build quality and comfortable interiors.
In addition, this car scores huge on safety and would hold up much better in crashes than most of the competiton. Its also got a Fire Protection system (FPS).
But what gets my mouth watering is this package for 4.79 lacs!! And thats before dealer discounts that the salesman was willing to discuss with me. This is not a good deal...its not a steal...its not highway robbery...ITS CORPORATE CHARITY!!!
Dont worry about the service and commitment, just shut your eyes and pick up a Petra if you are contemplating a C-segmenter. Diesel lovers should also keep in mind that the Petra with a 1.9 liter Diesel is due very soon.
P.S. Does anyone want to buy a nicely maintained '96 Esteem VX?