Road Impressions

Fiat Uno Turbo ie

A little Cracker!

When Fiat introduced its turbocharged Uno to the UK in July, the combination of the British Grand Prix and our production schedule meant that we were unable to attend its launch. We regretted it at the time and our feelings were compounded as we received reports on the car from colleagues. Still, over Christmas we were compensated by a longer than usual road test during which this perky little car proved to be a delightful companion.

Fiat has married the turbo to the engine exactly right, which is not surprising since the engine was designed with the turbocharging option in mind. There is nothing of the “Turbocharger, What turbocharger? Whoops! Ah. that turbocharger” which you get with some units, particularly with small engines. This unit’s action is progressive, the boost actually comes in at around 2,500 rpm but you only know that by watching the instruments for its very willing at the bottom end of the range.

The iron-blocked engine, transversely mounted and tilted 18 degrees forward, is fitted with a water-cooled IHI turbocharger. Bosch electronic fuel injection, electronic ignition with knock sensor and oil radiator. It’s well over-square (80.5 x 63.8 mm) with an alloy head, a sohc, and it delivers 105 bhp at 5,740 rpm and 108 lb ft torque at 3,200 rpm, which are impressive figures for 1.299 cc.

Drive is through the front wheels (naturally) and there is a slick, pleasantly weighted, live-speed gearbox (from the Strada 105 TC) which is quick and precise when on the move but which frequently required double de-clutching when selecting first or reverse. The ratios have been chosen for practical driving conditions and the longish third gear makes most overtaking very easy.

This being the top of range Uno there are a number of special features; alloy wheels (the spare is steel) titted with 5 1/2 in J x 13 in Pirelli P6 tyres, front air dam with integral fog lamps: “Turbo” transfers along the sides (something I’d remove, for the Uno is an ideal ”Q” car as the owner of a Porsche 924 discovered), and, on the car I drove, a glass sunroof. This latter item was presumably added to bring up a price to ensure exclusivity and also to pitch the car in the market against the Peugeot 205 GTi, its direct rival. At £6,899 the Uno comes £246 cheaper than the Peugeot, and is better equipped. The trouble is that the sunroof is recessed which limits the already skimpy head room – even though I’m only 5 ft 9 in tall, my hair brushed the roof and I dreaded hitting a pot hole. Wind noise becomes noticeable at 80 mph and at 95 mph it is intrusive and most of it at that speed seems to centre on the sunroof.

Fiat UK has substituted the sunroof for central locking and now offers it as a £200 optional extra, but it’s one to be avoided by the tall. The odd thing is that there seems no reason why the front seats, which are comfortable but a little lacking in lateral support, should not be lowered by an inch or so by relocating the securing bolts in the floor pan. The height of the seats can also affect one’s view of the main dials and I found the top of the steering wheel obliterated the most crucial segments of both the speedo and the tach’ which could be serious in the latter case for the orange and red sections are marked only on the circumference of the dial.

The indicators and horn are operated by a steering column stalk while the lights, wipers and washers are controlled by long-levered switches mounted on the dashboard and can easily be used with one’s finger tips. Less admirable are the heater controls which are located too Iow on the dashboard to be easily seen while on the move.

Most of the rest of the detail design is good. There is a handle to raise the tailgate for example (lots of room in the boot and the rear seats have a 60/40 split) which is always welcome on a hatchback for the tailgates frequently become filthy and not every maker seems to have realised this. There is a large single windscreen wiper which was well tested and passed with flying colours and, bliss!, both the front and rear washers can be operated without a mandatory four wipes which, in some conditions, are two or three too many. On the other hand the panel covering the boot has to be removed and stored if the rear seats are to be folded forward. This is fairly common practice but then i’m used to the superb practicality of my Golf GTi.

On the road, the engine puts down its power entirely without fuss, you have to accelerate fairly hard in the wet to get wheelspin or a hint of wheel tramp and even in almost uniformly rotten driving conditions, I experienced only occasional slight torque steer — most impressive. Front suspension has coil springs, telescopic dampers, lower wishbones and a floating stabiliser bar while, at the rear, is a torsion axle located by semi-trailing arms, coils springs and telescopic dampers.

The Uno’s ride is a good compromise, imparting a taut feel with comfort and the rack and pinion steering is light and precise with a fair, but not exceptional, amount of feel. Much of the test period was conducted in wet or icy conditions which did not equate with spirited driving and in such conditions I had reservations about the amount of bite from the front wheels in cornering. This seems to be down to the Pirellis which do like to have heat in them.

On the odd dry day during the test, however, the car was transformed. Then you could power it through corners with complete confidence. The understeer present in the wet (and cold) then vanishes and one is left with neutral steering. This little car has cracking performance, a genuine top speed of 120 mph and a 0-60 mph time of 8.3 seconds. There’s a little roll, true, but in most practical terms it will hold its own in most company, short of exotica, and is particularly outstanding when it comes to applying quick squirts of power.

It begs comparison with the Peugeot 205 GTI, as it has been deliberately priced against it and the raw performance figures are similar. It doesn’t give the driver the sheer pleasure of the 205, the brakes (discs all round, ventilated at the front) are good but do not have either the bite or the feel of the Peugeot. It has a better ride compromise, and a smoother engine, but neither the handling nor the grip quite match the standards set by the 205; but then hardly anything does.

The 205 remains the best performance “Supermini” from a driver’s point of view but when one takes a family into consideration, the perspective shifts. The Uno is roomier and has much better boot space. It returned an overall average consumption of 31 mpg and, all things considered, is a thoroughly practical car for the motorist who wants sparkling performance on some occasions but is also mindful of family needs on others. — M.L.