right border=0 hspace=5 src="/images/news/sept01/stilo.jpg" vspace=5>Fiat Auto is planning on style and substance to sell its new C-segment entry, the Stilo. With a European market roll-out beginning this month, the Stilo, which replaces the aging Brava/Bravo twins, is intended to almost treble Fiat's current sales volume in the segment, writes Angus MacKenzie.

But no matter how good looking - despite its solid, almost Germanic form, the car was designed in-house by Fiat Centro Stile - or how well equipped (anti-lock brakes, traction control and six airbags are standard across the range), the Stilo faces a tough task in what is now Europe's most competitive market segment.

Dominated by VW's Golf, Europe's best selling car, the C-segment last year accounted for about five million units, or one third of the total European passenger vehicle market. But Fiat's aggressive full-year volume forecast for the Stilo - about 400,000 units - combined with the 550,000 units PSA Group says it expects from the new 307 effectively represents a 10 per cent increase in the size of the segment next year.

Only problem is that the European market isn't growing. As a result, these volume aspirations will inevitably put downward pressure on prices. Fiat Auto has already acknowledged as much, telling analysts the Stilo's entry level price will be 10 per cent below that of its rivals. In the UK, Fiat is being rather more circumspect, saying only that prices will be very competitive with the 307, which means the new car will cost more than the outgoing Brava/Bravo.

Although both the three and five door models now have the same name and look similar, they share only their bonnets, headlights and grilles. The very tall five door - 15mm taller than the 307 and the tallest car in the class - is 50mm higher, 60mm longer and 28mm wider than the more dynamically styled three door. Wheelbases are identical at 2,600mm, with the extra length in the five door dedicated to increased boot space.

The car is built on a brand new platform, and features MacPherson strut front suspension and a torsion beam axles at the rear. Both three and five door variants share identical suspension settings, which are aimed at comfort rather than class leading handling.

Fiat will offer the Stilo with four petrol engines, ranging from an 80bhp 1.2 litre four to the 170hp 2.4 litre five cylinder engine mated to the Selespeed transmission, and the 1.9 litre JTD common rail turbodiesel, which will deliver 80bhp or 115bhp, depending on specification.

Fiat Auto CEO Roberto Testore says the company has spent 900 million Euros bringing the new Stilo to market. "It is the product that decrees whether or not our work is a success," he says.

And whether the price is right.


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