Road Impressions: Fiat Croma Turbo i.e.

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It is only right that Fiat, the largest and most powerful car-manufacturer In Italy, should rnarket a luxury model. In vintage times there was the great Fiat Forty, with a very clean-outlined 4.7-litre ohv six-cylinder engine and enormous drums for its servo four-wheel-brakes, a car which could certainly take its place, in the eyes of its nationals, as the Rolls-Royce of Italy. Other luxury models followed, but in later times Fiat did better with little economy cars.

However, I recall how impressed I would have been with the Tipo 130 Fiat, as sampled in the Alpine heights in 1969, the passengers shielded from the hot Italian sun by the venetian blind in its back window (also fitted to the Croma), and driven again in 1972, had the V6 ohc engine possessed a bit more power. In recent times I missed trying the short-lived Argenta but have now sampled the new Fiat top-model, the Croma, although in Turbo i.e form it is more of a sports-saloon, capable of 130 mph and of going from rest to 60 mph in eight seconds, for instance, than a pure luxury offering.

In my time I have had several illustrations of the sheer might of the Fiat Empire, and I have had a high regard for many of its products, so I was curious to see how this Croma four-door booted saloon would appeal. It was in smart turquoise blue with black window frames, but with much blue plastic within, offset, however, by high-quality blue cloth upholstery and pleated door panels. It uses the long-established twin-cam four-cylinder Fiat engine, set transversly, and given a fresh lease of life by the turbocharger, Bosch LE2 Jetronic fuel-injection, and Microplex electronic ignition with the Marelli distributor driven as an extension of the inlet camshaft, so that this 84 x 90 mm (1995 cc) power unit now develops 155 (DIN) bhp.

The engine will pull from around 1500 rpm in the high fifth gear but the revs require to be kept up to produce real power. The turbo has made this a silken-smooth power producer and there is no apparent turbo-lag, but the power is really too much for the front-wheel drive and unless used judiciously there is unpleasant reaction of the kind the experts call “torque-steer”, but I would class as bad torque-non-steer! This can happen with the Turbo Croma even on dry roads. Nor is the ride anything but choppy, with pronounced “bump-thump”, in spite of all-round strut-type independent suspension, with trailing arms at the rear. There is, though, the sophistication of a self-levelling device, working automatically as the load varies.

The clutch requires a modicum of care or starts are jerky, the stubby gear lever controls a quite nice but slightly “sticky” change, and there is nowhere comfortable to rest one’s clutch foot. The power-steering (3.25 turns lock-to-lock) works well but I did not feel quite the precision of control that I have come to expect although this Fiat is good at fast cornering, with no undue roll; perhaps I have become too accustomed to 4WD!

The Croma Turbo i.e. has very comprehensive instrumentation. Apart from the usual dials there are an oil-pressure gauge reading 40 to 60 lb/sq in, an oil-thermometer gauge that sat at 37°F, and a turbo-boost gauge reading up to 15 Ib/sq in. In addition there is a water heat gauge, which read 190°F. The steady-reading fuel gauge, supplemented by a low-level warning light, is, curiously for a Continental car in this day and age, calibrated in gallons. There are a great many warning lights, eleven in all, along the base of the instrument panel, and an electronic check-panel which did not light-up on the test-car.

The expected Fiat triple stalk-control-levers are used, that on the right for the wipers, with a twist action to bring in the rear-window blade, the l.h. one for the lamps, and the shorter l.h. one above it for the turn indicators. The parking lamps go out when the ignition-key is removed unless a little “pip” is depressed. Six fascia press-switches look after the various services, including remote release of boot-lid and fuel-filler flap, and as the test-car had the optional Fiat Automatic Heating System (in lieu of the normal rotary heater-controls) there were another half-dozen press-switches involved, as well as three rocker-switches for controlling fresh-air ingress, heat from 64° to 83°F, and for setting the thing to function automatically. Even so, the driver’s side of the windscreen tended to mist over. Between this and the multi-adjustable vents panel was a Philips stereo/radio set, with non-retractable roof aerial.

Fiat have provided plenty of stowages and a spacious boot, the high top of which gives the car’s styling a distinguished look, and there is the now commonplace folding-back seats arrangement, to increase load capacity. The 8 ft 8.7 in wheelbase, 24.8 cwt (kerb weight) Croma Turbo has notably full equipment — electric glass sun-roof with covering panel, central locking, electric adjustment of the two external mirrors, rear seat-belts and head-restraints, electric window-lifts all round, front-seats electrically adjusted in three dimensions (but not for tilt), Cibie low-slung spot-lamps, washers for the Carello headlamps, the dipped beams of which are effectively widespread, a roof map-light, Vegliaflash digital clock, a hinge-up arm-rest between the front seats, side windows of Saint Gobain safety glass, etc. The heavy bonnet-lid, rear-hinged, props open after releasing easily, and has sound-damping. There is optional ABS braking and four-stud light-alloy wheels, the latter shod on the test car with Goodyear Eagle NCT 60 low-profile 195x 60VR14 tyres. The brakes on the test car were spongy and not altogether convincing. The red marking on the tachometer starts at 6000 rpm. The sun visors are recessed as Rover once did it, but the untidy weld-spots and exposed sealing strips at the rear of the roof caused surprise, also that in heavy rain drops of water fell onto the driver’s right foot.

The noise-level rose higher than is seemly for a purely luxury car but at an ordinary pace this is not apparent. I quite enjoyed driving this Croma Turbo and, for a joke, used it to see whether or not I could pass the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ driving test. Perhaps its best attribute is its easy cruise, its worst the unfortunate inability to put the power through the front wheels without spinning them. But Fiat now have, if not a full luxury car, certainly an executive model again, in their wide range. The overall fuel consumption was 25.3 mpg and the tank holds a useful 15.4 gallons. The basic price of the Croma Turbo is £13,500 but as no press information was supplied with the test car, I cannot work out the total price.—W B.