Fiat Strada 1,4 Working (2009) Driving Impression

Fiat Strada 2009

South Africa’s obsession with the so-called half-tonne pick-up segment is a peculiar one shared almost exclusively with some South American markets. Still, for a country so in love with pick-ups in general, these vehicles’ popularity is not too difficult to understand. But for manufacturers keen to tap into this lucrative market, there is a big stumbling block – availability. You see, because so few world markets consume these products in any significant quantity, they’re not exactly high-priority products, and therefore not many companies produce them, and even fewer do so in right-hand drive. Fiat, however, has now managed to bring a new contender to the market. The Fiat Strada is already quite popular in the Americas, and now it faces up to the recently launched Nissan NP200 and ageing Opel Corsa Utility in South Africa. Does it stand a chance?

Good looks for Fiat Strada

Although these vehicles are primarily business tools, especially at entry level, the Fiat Strada has good looks that will certainly not be a hindrance to market acceptance. With its rugged-looking black plastic front bumper, sporty headlamps and wheelarch extensions, the Fiat Strada appears to be more expensive than it is, and possibly a trifle more upmarket than its mainstream rivals. Like these competitors, of course, it makes used of steel wheels, shod in this instance with attractive plastic covers.

It also seems to be more than just a pretty face. The Fiat Strada payload rating is a very good 715 kg, which trumps the Opel but lags the newer Nissan. Tie-down hooks are also provided. At the rear there is a neatly integrated step bumper.

So far, so good, but unfortunately there are a few snags in the cabin. Although the Fiat Strada is a late entrant into the South African market, it uses much of the Palio hatchback’s facia inside, which looks and feels dated, even when compared with the ageing Opel Corsa Utility, a vehicle that is nearing the end of its lifecycle. The facia is constructed out of hard, shiny black plastics and the fit and finish are simply not up to scratch. As an example, there’s a shelf above the glove compartment, which is nice in theory, but rendered almost entirely unusable because items slide around and eject themselves under acceleration and cornering. The gearlever, too, feels cheap, and there’s plenty of exposed metal on the doors.

Of course, the above criticisms need to be seen in the context of the Fiat Strada being the “Working” badged, entry level model. Yes, there is power steering and central locking, but no audio system, air-conditioning, airbags or ABS. The windows are of the manual wind-up type, and the mirrors are adjusted by hand, too. Still, the news isn’t all bad. The driving position is not uncomfortable, though the seat adjustment levers could use some refinement. The steering wheel is a reasonably sporty looking item, and the instrumentation actually looks more comprehensive than expected at this price level. We’ve mentioned the shelf and the glove compartment, but the cabin is otherwise relatively devoid of storage space. There is space behind the driver’s seat, but a full-size spare wheel is positioned behind the passenger seat.

Willing engine

The Fiat Strada is powered by a 1,4-litre engine that delivers “only” 60 kW and 120 Nm of torque. Don’t worry too much about the low power outputs, however, because this is an engine that punches above its weight. There is good throttle response and an inherent eagerness that endow the Fiat Strada with an energetic character, whether it carries a load or not. Expect a fuel consumption figure of around 7,5 litres/100 km, which is consistently achievable. Another upshot of this not being a high-tech, complex engine, though, is that Fiat has been able to stretch the service intervals to 20 000 km.

On the go the Fiat Strada continues to impress. The low-speed, unladen ride is not too choppy, but it certainly smoothes out considerably with a load. Bear in mind, however, that there’s no ABS... In normal, daily running, however, the brakes were impressively easy to modulate and even hard stops were executive with little sign of “being on the edge”. The steering is nicely weighted, too, and the five-speed manual transmission provides pleasantly light, yet mechanically solid-feeling shifts. Overall, this Fiat Strada is quite an energetic, agile little pick-up, with the only negative really being its stability in windy conditions. It only weighs 1 060 kg, so admittedly this is to be expected.

Fiat Strada - Verdict

The Fiat Strada appears to be a very competitive entrant into a lucrative segment that boats few, but very strong, rivals. It may be a latecomer, but it exhibits good load carrying ability, a strong, economical engine and the promise of low running costs due to stretched service intervals and good fuel economy. It will take some time to convince the South African market, however, as the Fiat name is not exactly famous at the moment for reliability and good service, two things that are crucial in this segment. That said, t he Fiat Strada does deserve consideration.

We like:

  • Load-carrying ability
  • Willing engine
  • Good fuel economy
  • Long service intervals
We don’t like:
  • Dated facia
  • Fiat reputation
Fast facts

Engine: 1,4-litre, four-cylinder, petrol

Power: 60 kW @ 5 500 rpm

Torque: 120 Nm @ 2 250 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Wheels: 14-inch steel

Top speed: n/a km/h (170 km/h est)

0-100 km/h: n/a seconds (13,5 sec est.)

Fuel economy: n/a litres/100 km (7,5 L/100 km est.)

Source: www.um.co.za

Also consider:

  • Opel Corsa Utility 1,4: Nearing the end of its product lifecycle, but still a class-leading product, although the Fiat Strada has the superior payload capability. The Opel has better build quality, a more car-like interior and a bigger support network.
  • Nissan NP200 1,6 Base: The replacement to the iconic B140 is a rebadged Dacia, but a solid all-rounder. It has the best load-carrying ability in this segment, but the engine isn’t as sprightly as the Fiat Strada and the cabin doesn’t feel as well put together as the Opel’s.

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