Sedans are more popular than hatchbacks in Brazil

Sedans are more popular than hatchbacks in Brazil

It is not just by chance that Fiat manages to sustain market leadership in automobiles and light commercials amidst fierce competition here in Brazil.

Now the new Grand Siena has arrived to strengthen Fiat in the specific cars segment where it is comparatively low-ranked after Volkswagen and GM.

In Brazil, the Italian automaker relies on the strength of its Strada pick-up to top the market overall though this might not be enough in the future.

At the Grande Siena launch the biggest challenge to the new Fiat seemed to be forthcoming Brazilian production of the new compact-medium Dodge Dart due on sale in the US by mid-year.

Fiat is currently building a new manufacturing plant in Goiana, state of Pernambuco, but the first product will not be a subcompact to replace the ancient 1980s Uno-based Mille. Insiders told just-auto the Italians instead chose a small sport utility to compete with the Ford EcoSport, Renault Duster and coming rivals.

Fiat's version of the Dart, the Viaggio, will probably be made in Brazil starting late in 2014. It will probably be much the same as the version to be produced in China, scheduled for unveiling at the Beijing show next month.

One of the Grand Siena’s merits is it is different enough from the first generation three-box Palio version introduced in 1997. The platform is based on the new Palio but with changes to exterior dimensions, tracks and the rear torsion beam axle has some Punto elements.

Prices range from R$38,710 (US$21,270) to R$52,137 (US$28,650), the latter including automated-manual transmission. No doubt it will negatively affect Linea sales, which had always been far from successful due to poor market positioning.

The new Fiat is a stretched compact saloon in the style of the Cobalt, Versa and, to some extent, Logan, the latter betting more heavily on price.

The latest version gained approximately 5.5 inches both in wheelbase and overall length and now has a third side window plus more rear seat legroom but is still inferior to the local Chevrolet Cobalt in this area.

The design follows the current trend towards side edges aligned to door handles. The front grille is not inspired (including by the exaggerated chrome trim on the top Essence ) but the spoiler is nice. The already good 17.65 cu ft boot was boosted to 18.35 cu ft.

Other Grand Siena highlights are improved driveability, better handling and improved 'robotised' gearbox.

Among the weaknesses, driver seat height adjustment and cruise control are both available for the top version only and the mirror adjustment control is poorly located.

And it's missing currently trendy turn indicator repeaters in the door mirrors.