Fiat Linea The new C-segment sedan benchmark


Johannesburg International Motor Show 2008

Let’s be honest, three-box sedan spin-offs of popular C-segment hatches never quite seem to cut the mustard. Notchbacks, as they’re sometimes referred to, tend to be middle-of-the-road, dour and diluted interpretations of their hatchback siblings.

Fiat Linea 2008

The all-new Fiat Linea, however, is the exception to the rule. Architecturally it is a three-box C-segment saloon – spatially, however, it would put many a D-segment prestige sedan to shame. It shares stylistic elements with Fiat’s ‘glam’ hatches, the Grande Punto and the Bravo, but unlike many of its aesthetically-challenged competitors with their tacked-on rear ends, the Linea’s a true trendsetter.

Fiat Linea 2008 Car Shows

This is a bespoke, typically ‘Italian’ four-door sedan and the best news is that it’s coming to South Africa. Expected to make its market debut around the second half of 2009, the local Linea line-up is still to be finalised. (Pricing will be competitive.) Please note that engine choices, in particular, are likely to differ from what is presented in this preview kit as Fiat Group Automobiles SpA will shortly be adding some exiting new powerplants to the range.

Fiat Linea 2008 Interior

Here are a few fast facts concerning the Fiat Linea:

  • It was designed by the Fiat Style Centre, and its exterior styling is elegant, dynamic and sinfully suave. The aim was to achieve uncluttered, smooth lines which confirm the new Fiat family feeling (from the Grande Punto to the new Bravo), while offering a new take on Italianate stylistic elements in the saloon segment. Generously proportioned, it shoots to the top of its class: it is 4.56 metres long, 1.73 metres wide, 1.5 metres tall and has a wheelbase of 2.6 metres.
  • The same attention went into the styling of the interior, where the harmonious lines combine with the excellent values of roominess as well as an ideal driving position (accommodating drivers from 1.50 to about 2 metres tall). Even if the driver himself is tall, there is still room for an equally tall passenger to sit comfortably behind him. And this does not detract from the luggage capacity which is 500 litres in the normal configuration (one of the most capacious in its category). And if the space is still not sufficient, the rear seat will fold down to create an enormous loading area measuring 1175 litres up to the ceiling.
  • At its Turkish launch, customers had a choice between a petrol engine (1.4 8v, 57 kW) and a turbodiesel (1.3 Multijet 16v, 66 kW with a variable geometry turbo), both mated to five-speed manual transmissions – with a third powerplant waiting in the wings. When fitted with the petrol engine, the Fiat Linea has a top speed of 165 km/h, and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 14.6 seconds. Consumption is among the best in this class: 8.2 l/100 km in the urban cycle, 5.1 l/100 km out of town and 6.3 l/100 km in the combined cycle. The 1.3 16v Multijet engine, the smallest and most advanced second generation direct injection Common rail diesel unit, delivers torque of 200 Nm at 1750 rpm. But that’s not all. With the 66 kW on tap, this version of the Linea guarantees excellent performance: it has a top speed of 170 km/h and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 13.8 seconds. Fuel consumption is also among the best for this segment: 6.5 l/100 km in the urban cycle, 4.0 l/100 km out of town and 4.9 l/100 km in the combined cycle. The 90 kW 1.4 16v Turbo from the new T-Jet family was recently added to the overseas Linea line-up. This powerplant is very elastic, requiring fewer gear changes, for an enjoyable, relaxed driving style, but it will respond assertively if the driver puts his foot down. This is one effect of the low inertia of the turboblower, which makes it possible to obtain top performance by acting on the accelerator, and there are none of the annoying delays typical of this type of engine. The result is outstanding sportiness combined with fuel economy.
  • Internationally, three specifications (Active, Dynamic and Emotion) and 11 body colours are available. The range also proposes equipment worthy of a higher segment, such as certain sophisticated climate and infotainment devices that improve the comfort and quality of the time spent on board: from automatic climate control, the Blue&Me® system with USB port, a radio with CD-player (including MP3 files) and Cruise Control, down to rain, dusk and parking sensors. In other words, there are endless possible combinations, all offering excellent value for money and the best price-content ratio.
  • The Fiat Linea is equipped with a reliable suspension layout which guarantees very easy, precise steering, excellent roadholding and the best possible comfort for passengers: an independent MacPherson system at the front, and semi-independent wheels connected by a torsion axle at the rear.
  • It goes without saying that like its 5-star-EuroNCAP-rated siblings (500, Grande Punto and Bravo) the Linea is similarly a very safe car. Rather than the individual devices, it is the combination of the many solutions adopted that make it one of the safest cars in its segment. The new model is very well equipped where passive safety is concerned, a fact borne out by the presence of 6 airbags (Multistage at the front, curtain-bags and sidebags) which are standard depending on the version and the market. What’s more, it also adopts a number of innovative technical elements that ensure the driver always has total control of the car (active safety). These include latest generation ABS, complete with EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) and, optionally, the sophisticated ESP (Electronic Stability Program).These briefly are the winning features of the Fiat Linea which aims to play a leading role in this category, where all the world’s major carmakers compete. Segment C accounts for 20% of the Western European car market, in other words the core of the market, with about 3,000,000 registrations per year.

Fiat Linea Interior Car Show

The share in other non-European countries is equally significant. In Turkey, for example, the C-segment represents 52% of the whole market, and saloons account for 75% of this, with 170,000 registrations per year (approximately 50% of these are premium cars, and the sales mix is 50% petrol and 50% diesel models). In Brazil, the market absorbed close to a total of 2 million cars in 2007, and is expected to reach 2,250,000 units by 2013 (because the Brazilian market is structured differently, the Fiat Linea is in category D, and its goal is to achieve a 13% share of the segment). A special version will be marketed in Brazil, powered by the new 1.9 Flexfuel engine (running on gasohol, which already contains about 22% ethanol, and pure bio-ethanol).

In South Africa the importance of the C-segment can likewise not be underestimated. In 2007 it accounted for 23.7% of the passenger car market. Despite a slight drop-off in 2008 – with some buyers migrating to segment B – it still remains the second most important segment, accounting for 21.1% of all passenger car sales. The forthcoming launch of the new Fiat Linea is, therefore, well timed. According to Ryan Curling, Fiat’s Brand Manager, “We’re confident that Linea will provide a stylish alternative to those who want the best of both worlds – a car that verges on D-segment territory in terms of size and spec, yet comes competitively priced.”