When the engine is more important than the car, or the 2017 Fiat Uno: driven and evaluated

If you were a car manufacturer, what would you do to put a former sales champion back on the business? A new generation? A facelift? A new engine? Fiat has chosen the last 2 options to revive the Uno. The B-segment hatchback has had its 2nd generation presented in Brazil in 2010. And it has sold very well ever since, helping Fiat ensure a market leadership in the Brazil that is now in its 14th year in a row. But things in 2016 are way worse. Not only due to the Brazilian economy crisis, which has reduced new car sales in 20.9% compared to 2015, already a weak sales year. The Uno is also slow on sales, losing 58.1% compared to 2015. It evidently needed a boost.

And the boost came with an entirely new engine family, the GSE, which is so interesting we have written about it before speaking about the Uno. But there is a missing aspect of these engines that only the car in which they are applied can unveil: behavior. Are they harsh? Noisy? Do they build up revs like an Italian engine should? How do they feel from behind the steering wheel and the gas pedal? This is mostly what the new Uno has provided us: impressions on the GSE family. Mostly because the car has had improvements, but it essentially the same one in what regards to comfort and room availability. We have driven it with the 1.0 and the 1.3 GSE engines.

 

Uno 1.0

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The Uno is 3.82 m long, 1.64 m wide, 1.48 m tall and it has a 2.38 m wheelbase. Its Way version is slightly taller, at 1.55 m. It is a pretty small car built over an old-fashioned platform, the 327, an evolution of the Palio platform, called 178. It is a project from before the presentation of the Dacia/Renault Logan. From a time when you could offer a small car since it was very cheap. Now the competition offers roomier vehicles for a lower price.

This is probably why Fiat has invested in making the Uno more refined. It is now one of the few B-segment hatchbacks to offer ESC and ASR in Brazil, also known as stability and traction control. The other ones are the Ford Ka and Fiesta. At a cost: the safety items are options for the Tech package in the cheapest Uno now available, the Attractive. It costs R$ 41,840 without them, or € 11,562. In Europe, the Fiat Panda costs € 11,300 and presents ESC as standard. So the Uno is not cheap. And it is not spacious.

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And things get a little worse when you consider the role of each car in their respective markets. The Panda is a “urbanino”, a small city car easy to park in all Italian streets. The Uno is supposed to be the first new car of an entire family in Brazil. And this family needs space. A 1.80 m tall driver (or taller) will take away all available leg room in the back seats. If this person takes a hike in the back seat, there will be no head room. The leg room will be limited even if the other driver is 1.50 m tall. The trunk holds 280 l of luggage, or less than enough for a family vacation trip.

Fiat would better built a Sandero to call its own. And it apparently is doing so, with the new X6H project, recently spotted by the Brazilian website Autos Segredos in its definite body. We just hope it is affordable enough for families. Daniel Messeder, from Carplace, says the car will replace both the Punto, all at once, and the Palio little by little. The Uno and the Mobi will still be produced. So there is a risk that the Uno will still have a focus on being the entry-level family car. Until the market gives up on it as such, a predictable movement that has already killed the Chevrolet Celta and taken the VW Gol and Fox out of the game among the best-selling vehicles in Brazil. Making it more sophisticated will probably not help it sell more. Not even with the good 1.0 GSE unit under the hood.

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We have driven the Uno 1.0 for around 30 km. When you turn the car on, there is no noticeable shake from the 3-cylinder. It seems very well-balanced and, most of all, quiet. You will only hear the nice roar of these engines north of 4,000 rpm. Especially in hill climbs, when you will need to downshift. Although it is one of the 1-liter engines with more torque available, the 1.0 GSE is still just a 1-liter mill. Even for a car that is as light as the Uno (1,010 kg).

Another aspect of starting the car is getting the electric steering wheel assistance automatically in City mode. It is the lightest mode available and it makes it 50% easier to steer. We are not sure if it deactivates automatically as well because we have turned it off immediately after starting to drive.

Press the gas pedal and the engine revolutions will build up easily, as you would expect from a typical Italian engine. The Uno drives in a very confident way, even with a small wheelbase. We have not forced it in high-speed curves, but it felt very well-planted in high speeds. And this is something noteworthy when you think its suspension filters the bad Brazilian tarmac in a comfortable way. Few cars manage to reach a good equilibrium in both situations.

 

Uno 1.3

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Here things get way more interesting. The Uno can come with a 1.3 GSE engine in Sporting and Way trims. We have driven both, one with the 5-speed manual transmission and the Dualogic automated gearbox.

The Uno now comes with Hill Holder. That prevents the car from moving back in climbs, what makes the Dualogic behavior much more similar to that of an automatic. The 1.3 engine also comes with Start Stop, saving up to 20% more fuel than it would manage to get without it.

Since 4-pots are much more balanced, the smooth behavior is not a surprise. And the 1.3 GSE also shows its Italian high-revving soul. The dual exhaust pipe in the Sporting trim is real and functional, something even luxury models nowadays fail to offer.

We have high expectations for the new GSE family. For the Uno, with its heavy price tag, not so much. It is a correct and more modern small car that commits the same sin of the Mobi: caring too much for things that do not count that much for price-sensitive buyers.

 

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.