Fiat Mobi is a high stardard car in a price sensitive segment: driven and evaluated

MotorChase had the opportunity to drive and evaluate the new Fiat Mobi, presented in April 13, 2016 in São Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world. Its 11.32 million people have a fleet of cars that reaches 8.21 million units. This gives this metropolis one car for each 1.4 inhabitant, a huge amount of vehicles. That is the sort of public the Mobi will try to seduce: crowded places citizens with disputed parking spaces. And it would fit these demands nicely if São Paulo was not inhabited by Brazilians (US$ 11,727 of GDP per capita), affected by a notoriously low purchasing power. Fiat chose to make Mobi a high standard car in a very price sensitive segment. And this is probably what will restrict its sales and reach.

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As we have already told our readers, Mobi is 3.57 m long, 1.63 m wide, 1.49 m tall and has a wheelbase of only 2.31 m. But it costs R$ 31,900 in its cheaper version. That much Brazilian money is equivalent to US$ 9,000 or to € 8,000. While it does not buy anything but a used car in the USA, it allows an European (US$ 30,240 of GDP per capita) to buy a brand-new Dacia Sandero. An European could choose the Mobi as a second car. Most Brazilians cannot do the same: the car they buy will be their family transportation. Period. In case you had to carry a family, which car would you prefer: a Mobi or a Sandero?

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Fiat should have learned from the Volkswagen experience with the up!, Mobi’s main competitor in Brazil. It is more expensive than the “smaller Uno”, at R$ 34,890 in its 5-door version (the Mobi is only sold with 5 doors), but it is also roomier (3.61 m long and a 2.42 m wheelbase). It was presented in February 2014 in Brazil and it still sells rather poorly. The up! is deemed as a small and expensive car. The same description the new Fiat Mobi will duly receive.

This is the ad that will run in TVs and in Youtube from now on. Fiat executives have been clear on who is the targeted audience for this car: young people. The ones that would relate to the “I Like to Move it, Move it” song from Madagascar animation movie. The same ones that are facing a hard time finding jobs and making a living in the current Brazilian economic crisis. But Fiat sees them as trendsetters. This may be why the Italian carmaker has filled up the event with bloggers and youtubers: to try to make Mobi look like a cool car. Volkswagen has also targeted young audiences as the main public for the Brazilian up!. And it has not worked. Why not make it different with a 2 year delay in the presentation?

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One clue we got was the good finishing of Mobi. Unlike most Fiat vehicles until the presentation of the pick-up Toro, the plastics present no burrs, the body panels have even gaps and there are very little parts of the body exposed inside the cabin. You do not hear the fuel moving inside the fuel tank walls, as larger and more expensive Brazilian cars do, because of a good sound insulation. Such care may cost more than a R$ 25,000 vehicle (US$ 7,000 or € 6,300) would be able to present. But, at the same time, the cheapest Mobi does not offer anything but the basics: wheels, seats, engine and steering wheel.

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Everything else is an option. Chinese cars managed to appeal to customers in Brazil with fully loaded models sold at much less than that. A second generation Chery QQ, about the same size of the Mobi, costs R$ 28,790 and offers climate control, power windows, power steering and a radio. And a more modern engine.

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While the QQ uses a 1.0 3-cylinder that delivers 51 kW, Mobi is powered by a 1.0 4-cylinder Fire engine that produces 55 kW with ethanol and 54 kW with petrol at 6,250 rpm, with a respective torque of 97 Nm or 93 Nm at 3,850 rpm. Mobi will receive the 1.0 3-cylinder GSE engine next year, but has been launched with an engine Fiat already has kept in the shelves for more than a decade. With a low weight of only 907 kg (against 936 kg of the Chery QQ), Mobi is supposed to have a better performance. We would have to compare them in order to be sure about it.

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Conveniently, Fiat has not offered the 907 kg more-than-basic version of Mobi for our evaluation. The Easy and Easy On trims will be kept off of the press view for a while. Only customers will be able to know what it is like from April 16 on, when sales begin. The only available versions were Like, Like On, Way and Way On. The Way trims have a higher ground clearance, and are 1.55 m tall. We hopped into a Like On and a Way On in order to see how the car behaves. The test drives departed from the Hotel Hilton in São Paulo, in a warm day. That gave us an unwanted hitchhiker: the unpleasant smell emanating from the river Pinheiros, an open sewage that crosses the city almost entirely. A good opportunity to test Mobi’s climate control in recirculating air flow.

 

Like On

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Our first contact with the interior of Mobi introduced us to the impression of a high standard car we have already reported, but also to its crampedness. The only chance you will not feel that is if you are as tall as 1.60 m or less. A 1.85 m tall driver will not have enough room for the legs unless the seat bottom is adjusted as high as possible. If you do that, you will not be able to read traffic lights unless you put your head down every time you reach one. There is room for the front seats to be put a little further back, but Fiat has chosen not to give them enough track to get there. It was an effort to preserve some room for the legs in the back seats, but no one over 1.60 m will feel comfortable there. Our friend Henrique Rodriguez, from the Brazilian website Primeira Marcha, informs us that the front seat tracks have a limitator that can be removed. We have lost the chance to check that, but we doubt it would solve the lack of space. If the driver feels more comfortable, no one will be able to seat behind him. Even with the limitator on, there is little space for the legs and headroom is also very poor. Mobi has a high H point in both seat rows, but it is clear that it does not help the car solve the problem created by its short wheelbase and offer more room.

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We start the car and there is very little noise, something that reinforces our good feeling on the car construction. The suspensions are soft enough not to bother the passengers in shitty tarmac, very common in São Paulo, but are also firm enough for the car not to give any unsafety sensation. The body does not roll as previous Fiat models used to, but the short wheelbase makes the tires squeak easily in tight bends.

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While driving, I had the bad impression that my knees where too close to the dashboard. They would hit it badly in a hard braking. Fiat has said Mobi was developed to earn 4 stars in Latin NCAP crash tests. Why not aim for the top marks, or 5 stars? We are both anxious and worried about these tests. When my left foot is not on the clutch, it keeps on hitting the door armrest.

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In a long trip, that is very likely to bother you. On the other hand, it brought our attention to the good ergonomics of the car. Check where are the rear-vier mirror electric adjustment commands: very easily reachable. If Renault does not learn how to do it, as it has shown us with the Duster Oroch, the Kwid is in serious danger in what relates to the driver’s comfort.

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Pay attention to the instrument panel and the sound system. The round housing for the speedometer reminds us of the one used by Fiat 500, while the radio feels elegant and easy to use. Honestly, we do not see why anyone would choose the Live On system over this one. It presents some of its commands on the steering wheel, what helps the driver not to deviate its attention from the road. The only thing we would change is the steering wheel column adjustment. It only allows you to decide at which height it should be, not the distance.

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The brake pedal is progressive, adequately weighted, with no excessive assistance. The 1.0 Fire engine, while enough for the car, inspires no sportive use. We would have to test it with passengers to see how it behaves loaded, but it was not possible in this opportunity. With the driver, and the driver alone, the lack of power is mostly evident in climbs.

Visibility is good, with large rear-view mirrors, but the narrow doors and the B column right on your shoulders and the large C column make it more difficult to try to see if there is anyone on your blind spot coming from behind. In the narrow and tall trunk, the cargo box Fiat says helps organize goods is loose and difficult to operate. We do not advise anyone to buy it as an option. Nor to use it if it comes as standard. The spare tire is hidden undeneath the cargo box and partially under the rear seats bottom. We have not tried to take it out of the car, but it does not seem to be an easy task.

 

Way On

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The taller Mobi looks more rugged, with plastic frames around the wheel arches, and presents different front and rear bumpers. Tires are no different from the ones used by the Like version (175/65 R14) and the speedometer has different graphics. This is pretty much all that is different in it. We only wonder what makes it cost R$ 43,800 (equivalent to US$ 12,400 or to € 11,000).

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It was inside it that we felt the screens of the radio and of the instrument panel reflect too much light in sunny days. And that makes it harder to check info. Anyway, it was also driving the Mobi Way On that we have realised the central screen on the speedometer, the one that shows the board computer information, has a gear shift indication. Right beside the clock, when it appears.

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But that was also when we realized that shifting to the 5th gear presented a problem. Every time we did so, it seemed to have something broken making noise. The shifting was not harmed, but we feared that the car could present some mechanical problems due to that. While this may be a problem on that unit, it is worth reporting it in case anyone faces the same problem in the future.

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The main advantage of the Way versions is not worrying about kissing the ground in places where even SUV ladies are afraid to damage their cars’ bumpers. But even the standard Mobi has a high suspension and very little risk of this sort of problem, so choosing the Way over any other trim is more a matter of aesthetics than anything else.

Fiat said it does not want to be seen as the company that sells the cheapest cars in Brazil anymore. It’s been a while since it isn’t: ever since the Chinese brands started selling cars in the country. Anyway, there is a huge risk Fiat starts to be considered as the company that used to sell more cars in Brazil and that does not achieve that anymore. Even if all it sells has a much larger profit margin. This may be Mobi’s mission, even if it does not fully accomplish that. Unless it gets more standard equipment or has a massive price reduction, it will be harder to sell than any other Fiat car.

Gustavo Henrique Ruffo

I have been an automotive journalist since 1998 and have worked for many important Brazilian newspapers and magazines, such as the local edition of Car and Driver and Quatro Rodas, Brazilian's biggest car magazine. I have also worked for foreign websites, such as World Car Fans and won a few journalism prizes, among them three SAE Journalism Awards and the 2017 IAM RoadSmart Safety Award. I am the author of "The Traffic Cholesterol", a book about bad drivers that you can buy at Hotmart, Google Play, Amazon and Kobo.