Fiat Bravo 1.4L Sport

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Okay, lets get the obvious "road test" stuff out of the way first – the Fiat Bravo looks great, is surprisingly quick (surprisingly because it "only" packs a 1.4-litre engine, but it is turbocharged and boasts 110kW and 206Nm, or 230Nm in the sport "overboost" mode) and is easy to spool around in the city in. Because of the small engine capacity it is economical, it has a sexy Euro-style interior and a nice little snarl under acceleration.

Downsides? The steering and clutch action are way too light and fluffy, the six-speed gearbox has a too-long throw to it and you have to row through the gears around town, lest you get caught a gear or two too high, whereupon it has little grunt.

But all round it is a good little package, and a worthy Golf alternative, if you are in the market. It has five-star crash ratings, high levels of standard equipment for the price and is better built than any other Fiat before it.

So why rush to get the main points out of the way? Because the Fiat Bravo also packs one of the best entertainment/communication/multi media packages available today. Called "Blue and Me" it sounds more like a mind-numbing, condescending kids TV programme, rather than the cutting-edge Windows Mobile-based voice recognition interface that it is.

Voice recognition in cars (and anywhere else, for that matter) has generally been junk, and for that reason I barely ever bother with them. But the system in the Bravo is surprisingly good – it requires no set up (you don't have to spend hours teaching it to understand your voice) and is remarkably simple to operate.

From it you can control the media player, that has a USB port that enables you to play music straight off a memory stick or MP3 player, and your Bluetooth enabled mobile phone.

Skipping tracks is a matter of pressing a button and saying "next", although you can also take the quicker, simpler route and just push the "next track" button on the other side of the steering wheel…

But the real value of "Blue and Me" is the phone interface. The system stores your phone's contacts list, and this can be accessed through either the menu between the speedo and tacho, or through the voice recognition system, but the real surprise comes when you get a text message – the car announces you have a new message, and then proceeds to read it out to you! This could be awkward if you are having an affair, and the other woman sends a text, but otherwise it is a neat idea. And yes, it does swear well…

What We Like – Mini-Maserati looks. Quality interior. Surprising grunt from small engine. Lots of space. It can say rude words!

What We Don't Like – Chassis isn't as sporty as the "Sport" moniker suggests. Cheap carpet. Steering way too light and lacking in feel.


Fiat Bravo 1.4 Sport

Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Driveline: Front-wheel drive

Power: 110kW @ 5500rpm

Torque: 206Nm @ 2250rpm (230Nm @ 3000rpm with overboost)

0-100km/h: 8.5 seconds (8.2 with overboost)

Top speed: 208km/h

Fuel consumption (combined): 7.1L/100km