Product Type: Fiat cars
Newest Review: ... any problems were minor and cheap to fix so when i decided i fancied a change i opted for a fiat stilo active and then began the endless... more
My Italian love affair
Member Name: rdobbie
Date: 25/07/04, updated on 25/07/04 (14494 review reads)
Advantages: Amazing value for money, wonderful to drive
Disadvantages: Fiat's reputation for dealership repairs
My initial thought was that this seemed too good to be true ? surely they?d made a mistake on the price! It was an ?02? reg in immaculate condition, a little over two years old with 19,000 miles on the clock. The reason for the low price was because this car was imported from Ireland and therefore didn?t have the 3 year Fiat UK warranty. On top of that, used Stilo prices are rock bottom because the car just isn?t popular.
As soon as I took a test drive I knew I wanted this Stilo. I was able to sell my Clio privately for a good price, so the Stilo ended up costing me next to nothing.
My Stilo is the 5 door variant of the 1.2 Dynamic. Now it all gets very confusing. The Dynamic spec was never sold on the 1.2 version in the UK, only in Ireland and some other European countries. In the UK the 1.2 was only sold as the lower-equipped Active model. So I will review the car without taking into account the extras that come with the Dynamic, but I will mention them at the end in case you are looking at buying a 1.6 Dynamic.
To put it simply, the Stilo is a beauty to drive. When I first drove it I refused to believe that it only had a 1.2 engine ? you would swear you were driving a 1.6 or even an older 1.8. That?s modern technology for you. In every way it feels like a big car, and a very sporty one at that. It?s quiet and refined but gives a hugely entertaining and punchy ride and the roadholding on bendy roads is the best I have ever experienced in my 12 years of driving many different makes and models.
There is also a feature called electronic traction control which is supposed to correct the wheels if the car starts spinning out of control. I haven?t tested this feature, and don?t wish to, so let?s just assume that it works.
All the 1.2 Stilos come with a 6 speed gearbox which makes driving more fun and is great for extra fuel economy at high speeds (about 45mpg at 70mph in 6th gear). The gearchange is as smooth as velvet, and the whole car feels extremely solid and well built. It absolutely takes off on motorways ? with 4th, 5th and 6th gears giving plenty of acceleration. Purely for research I took the Stilo to 90mph on a local test track (the M6) and there was no more road or engine noise than you?d get at 60mph.
There is real evidence on the inside that the designers have gone for a minimalistic look with a German feel. The dashboard is made from a squeezy rubber foam material with a matt finish ? I have only seen this on BMWs before. Gone are the bubbly curves found in the Fiat Bravo/Brava (the Stilo?s predecessor) ? it?s now straight lines all the way. Altogether, it?s modern and sleek ? and if it wasn?t for the Fiat badge you could genuinely think you were sitting in an Audi or BMW. I have no doubt that the interior build quality is on a par with the very best cars that money can buy.
The front seats are roomy and fantastically comfortable and are adjustable in numerous places. Rear legroom is ample, and the rear seats can slide back and forward so you can customise the size of the boot. There are clever storage compartments all over the place, even on the ceiling! It?s good to see that Fiat are still masters of innovation. And I should mention the air conditioning (which kicks in swiftly and effectively), a good ventilation/heating system and electric windows in the front ? all with high quality, simple-to-use controls.
It?s perhaps worth mentioning at this point that although the 3 door and 5 door Stilos look similar,
they are completely different sizes and shapes ? the only common panel they share is the bonnet. The 3 door is supposed to be more of a sporty coupe-style affair but I can?t see what?s un-sporty about the styling of my 5 door model, even if it does have echoes of the angular Citroen ZX. The exterior design is understated, especially compared to the groundbreaking Fiat designs of the past but I think the Stilo has a real panache that only the Italians can pull off. But you don?t care about my opinion of the car?s looks as it?s an entirely subjective matter. You can decide for yourself on that one.
The Stilo?s on-board computer is a whole story in itself ? it knows the day of the week, knows which door is open, knows when a service is due, lets you set a maximum speed, works out your fuel economy and gives so many custom options that it would bore you if I listed them all.
The power steering is very responsive and feels as light as a feather when negotiating roundabouts. The Stilo also features Fiat?s now famous ?girlie button? (aka the City button), first introduced on the Punto, which makes the steering so light you could do it with your little finger. Although it has gimmick written all over it, I promise that the City button does make reverse parking into tight spaces much easier. The downside of the Stilo?s power steering is that the front tyres need changing every 20,000 miles.
Driving around town in lower gears, the car can feel a little cumbersome and less refined. You really get the impression that the Stilo is a motorway car in every way. There is a bit of growl from the exhaust box in 1st and 2nd gear which reminds me of the Alfa Romeo 146 and 147. A coincidence maybe, or Fiat might have shared certain elements with their sister company Alfa Romeo when they designed the Stilo.
Although the brakes are power assisted (and come with ABS as standard), they feel a little spongy compared to most modern cars. But this will not
be a problem if you drive sensibly with a good stopping distance in front of you. The Stilo also comes with eight airbags as standard, located all over the car.
My only real complaint is the lack of footrest next to the clutch. There is nowhere to put your foot except on the floor in front of the clutch pedal, which means having to move your whole leg every time you change gear. In stop-start traffic this can lead to awful aches in the left leg. Perhaps this is an oversight on the part of the designers, or perhaps it is further evidence that this car was created with the open road in mind rather than congested British town centres.
Although Fiat has well and truly shaken off its stigma of rusty sills and door handles that come off in your hand, the Quentin Wilsons of this world still have a valid point when they say Fiat lacks the superlative build quality offered by the likes of VW and Toyota. And true to form, the gap down the right side of my Stilo?s bonnet is a fraction of a millimetre greater than the gap down the left hand side.
But the thing is, I just don?t care. Why should this matter? Cars are disposable lumps of metal and rarely last for more than 12 years before being crushed in a scrap yard.
More of a concern, however, is Fiat?s dubious record on reliability and the quality of dealership repairs. Fiat as a manufacturer often ranks bottom in customer satisfaction surveys and is renowned for under-skilled teenagers playing around with the car in the workshop without having the faintest idea how to remedy the ever increasingly complex problems on cars that are now packed with electronic everything. Yes, this is a bit of a worry to me.
But I?m going to be philosophical and look at the enormous saving I?m making against an equivalent Ford Focus or VW Golf. With an extra four grand in my pocket I think I can stomach one or two things going wrong on the car and perhaps forking out a few hundred quid in unexpected re
pair bills. You could take this a step further and invest in mechanical breakdown insurance when you buy a used Fiat, and you?d still be quids in.
Finally, a look at some of those extras that come with the Dynamic model. A driver?s armrest which folds down and sits over the handbrake ? superb on long journeys. An integrated slot-in CD player on the dashboard (incidentally, the sound quality of the Stilo?s fitted stereo will blow you away) with secondary controls for volume, etc, on the steering wheel. A leather gearbox surround and leather steering wheel. Illuminated mirrors in the sun visors. An aeroplane-style food table that folds down from the passenger seat, enabling one rear passenger (but not both) to dine in style. Independent reading lights in the back. And a quite fetching set of alloy wheels and body coloured door mirrors and door handles. All of these things you could live without but they?re nice to have.
I am reliably informed that Fiat dealer servicing costs are cheaper for the Stilo (around £130) than for any other car of the same size. But then I?m not a believer in dealer servicing anyway ? I?ll have somewhere that?s cheaper and offers better workmanship, thanks very much.
There are many people who are highly critical of the Stilo, but if you can avoid the inevitable ?lemons? that are out there on the market, I genuinely think it is a superb car which strikes a perfect balance between maturity and fun, and ? perhaps most importantly ? offers the best value for money in its sector. The Stilo is a delight to drive and puts a great deal of pleasure back into motoring.
I noticed that most of the other Stilo reviews make a direct comparison with a VW Golf, but I think this is a false comparison because of the huge price difference.