Road Impressions

The Fiat Uno 70S

While the Alfa 6 was being serviced I was able to do quite an appreciable mileage in the supermini that everyone is talking about and which is already to be seen on British roads in considerable numbers, namely the Fiat Uno. Declared "Car of the Year" for 1984 by an international jury, which may or may not seem impressive, the Uno is certainly a significant addition to the small hatchback family of rninicars.

The 70S is the top model of this new Fiat range, sold in the UK only in five-door form — what in pre-hatchback days would have been described as a six-light, four-door saloon. Now we have the considerable convenience of that fifth door at the back, which on the Uno comes right down to the floor, thus obviating having to hump loads over a sill, and it opens to reveal a shallow but still accommodating stowage area, which can be rendered a true load-swallower if the divided (Metro-fashion) rear-sea, squab is folded down. Moreover, this hatchback can be opened with a little lever beside the driver's seat, as on many Japanese cars, if one does not want to get out and use the key on the back body-panel. A similar facility for opening the fuel-tank cap, another Japanese amenity, is omitted on the Fiat Uno, but the cap unlocks easily with the ignition-key. I did not have to drive this compact Uno (wheelbase 93 in, overall length 143 1/2 in) very far to descover that it is one of the best in its class, and no bad substitute (at all events for a while) for the larger and more sophisticated car it was temporarily replacinig. For one thing, it cruises at rather more than an indicated 90 mph with almost no wind noise and subdued mechanical sound. It rode quite well over bad roads, had unexpectedly good (FWD) traction over snow-covered surfaces, and the impression of spaciousness and a generous window area belied the afore-quoted compact size of this willing little Fiat.

The Uno 70S has the largest engine of its range, the ohc 86.40 x 55.5 mm (1,301 cc) 70 bhp transverse four, which gives excellent urge for a car of this class, in terms of a top speed of just over 100 mph and 0-60 mph pick-up in 12 sec. Another good feature of the Uno 70S is its petrol economy. The five-speed gearbox makes it possible to devour Motorways legally with the engine running at only fractionally above 3,000 rpm and by making maximum use of this fifth gear and coasting at times, a habit I cannot cure myself of when driving economy cars, I obtained 40.5 mpg of four-star fuel, allowing for the very optimistic mileometer, on an average-fast long run and some local commuting, which augurs well for the Uno 45 energy saving version. So here is a supermini that really does do better than 40 mpg, which slower driving would clearly improve on. As the tank holds 9.2 gallons, there is a useful range as well, with the warning light coming on with rather more than 2 1/2 gallons remaining. I have seen the Van's heater criticised. But although it is of the water-valve-control type, after emerging from the warmth and comfort of a weekend at Lord Montagu's Palace House and going straight on to a cold and exposed Goodwood circuit, the heat it produced and distributed was more than adequate for the Uno's occupants. There are three slide controls to adjust this, and a two-speed fan. Four doors are useful in such a small car as the Uno, and while I thought the driver's seat cushion a bit short and the seat-squab adjustment rather wide, a large passenger said the back seat was very comfortable; Fiat claim narrow runners for the front seats as a contribution to increased back-seat leg room. A somewhat restricted, unlockable cubbyhole, a sensibly deep fascia shelf, and front-door bins look after oddments stowage, and the instrumentation is very easily read, although surprisingly the tachometer and check panel are extras even on the top model Uno, a clock otherwise replacing the rev counter; this and a digital clock and the read-out panel cost £139.53. The test car had electric front windows and central door-locking (£350.07 extra) and a sunroof with slatted visor (£174.41 extra). All of which add up to a luxury minicar. Fiat had paid Michelin the compliment of fitting 13 in MXL tyres to the test car, instead of Pirellis. . . .

It was something of a relief to find just a single (lh) control stalk, for horn and turn indicators, after Fiat's long use of confusing triple stalk-levers. This, however, has meant putting the lamps switches on an electrical panel above the steering column, with two lever switches for lamps' selection and headlamps dipping on the left, and the controls of the very effective single-blade screen wiper and the equally efficient rear-window wiper on the right. On this panel there is provision also for six press-buttons, of which only those for rear fog lamps, emergency flashers and rear-window demister were in use on the test car. Various heater / ventilator vents, a high-set lidded ashtray, and a Stockholm 21 radio / stereo player were other denizens of the centre fascia panelling, with the little window-lift switches below these. There is an internally-adjustable rear-view door mirror. The Uno 70S has smooth light steering, and its low gearing, at four turns lock-to-lock, is not particularly noticeable. The disc/drum brakes are spoiled by a pedal travel that at first does nothing, thus destroying progressive retardation, although braking is otherwise light and powerful. The pedals are off-set but a clever detail is the shaping of the accelerator plate to conform to the wheel arch, thus giving a more normal stance.

That about sums up this interesting and very worthwhile newcomer and Metrochallenger. But one wonders whether members of the jury that voted the Uno as 1984 "Car of the Year" drove it at night? If they did, they presumably had their hands at "10-to-two" on the steering wheel as in any other position the distance to the separate headlamp dip-switch must have become terribly tedious! Nor, it seems, did they object much to a notchy gear change that baulks when one wants bottom gear from rest . . . The Unit's headlamps give a good full-beam but are less effective on dipped beam. This bright little Fiat Uno 70S costs £4,420.22 without the named extras and would make an admirable second-car for those who can also afford the kind of motoring MOTOR SPORT is all about. It needs main servicing only at 12,000-mile intervals, with oil and oil-filter changing every 6,000 miles, and it comes with a six-year anti-corrosion warranty and a year's unlimited mileage guarantee, which are other endearing aspects of this likeable economy car. — W.B.