New Brazilian-built Strada boasts a 1.4-litre engine and a host of refinements

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The Fiat Strada is a familiar sight on South African roads and for good reason. A unique blend of style, practicality and affordability has ensured that it has been able to carve a very successful niche for itself in the light commercial vehicle market.

And, the Strada success story is set to continue with the introduction of the all-new Strada Working 1.4 (to be followed shortly by the Strada Life 1.4). These two new models together with the extended cab Strada X-Space Adventure 1.4 comprise the revitalised, three-model range which is now fully imported from Brazil. In addition to sharing the same 60 kW 1.4-litre 8-valve Multi Point Injection powerplant, all three models benefit from a host of aesthetic refinements.

At a glance then, the changes to the Model Year 2009 Fiat Strada range are:

  • Two new model variants which replace the previously designated EL and ELX models – the ‘entry-level’ Working and the ‘up-specced’ Life (specific details for this model to follow when it is launched). X-Space Adventure remains as extended cab version.
  • A new 60 kW 1.4-litre 8-valve MPI engine – now standard across the range – replaces the smaller capacity 1.2-litre engine as well as the 1.6-litre powerplant
  • New interior trim
  • New Fiat badging
  • New wheel caps (Working only – the Life and X-Space Adventure are equipped with alloy wheels)
  • A new instrument cluster

Of course it’s worth remembering what the Strada’s core strengths still are:

  • A maximum load capacity of 715 kg for the standard cab versions (700 kg for the X-Space Adventure) i.e. you get a three-quarter tonner for the price of a half tonner.
  • The only under one-ton bakkie range to feature an extended cab ‘X-Space’ variant. This not only makes the cabin airier, but most importantly adds valuable extra space of more than 30 centimetres or 300 litres behind the seats – very useful for storing small luggage items or clothes without occupying the passenger seat. In fact, the space is equivalent in size to that of a small car’s boot.There’s an added security benefit too: items that would normally have to be stored in the rear box can now be safely locked away indoors. What’s even more remarkable is the fact that all this extra space has not intruded too much into the rear load box, which shrinks from 1685m to 1303mm in length. The width is unaffected at 1350mm (1090mm between wheelarches). The payload for the X-Space is rated at 700kg as opposed to 715kg for the standard version.
  • 20 000 km service intervals.
  • A tough load box liner which extends over the tail gate for all variants. Sturdy hooks are positioned around the edges of the box and on the floor where they won’t get in the way of loading and unloading. These can be used to fasten objects securely. Access to the load compartment is made easier by the low box ground clearance and a tailgate that opens to 90 degrees. The tailgate is coated with a non-slip surface and can support a weight of up to 300 kg.
  • Location of the full-size spare wheel behind the passenger seat for safety and convenience (standard cab versions only).
  • Key-operated central locking and power steering across the range.
  • A specially designed, omega-shaped rear axle – the central part is raised which enables the vehicle to negotiate rugged terrain (and avoid ‘middelmannetjie’ scrapes) with ease.
  • One of the most affordable new-generation pick-up ranges in South Africa.

Oscar Rivoli, Managing Director of Fiat Group Automobiles, says: “Detail changes, most notably the adoption of the more powerful 1.4-litre engine across the range, as well as the shift to Brazilian production in the state-of-the-art Betim plant which is renowned for its quality, will ensure that the Strada remains highly competitive in the smaller pick-up arena.”

New look Strada

Still one of the best-looking pick-ups on the market thanks to its sweeping headlights, aggressive bumper treatment and rugged wheelarch reinforcements, the Strada range is given a style boost with the integration of all new badging featuring Fiat’s new corporate identity.

Move indoors and you’ll be struck by the new weave cloth trim (differs for Working and Adventure models) – visually more appealing, it’s also more durable. The other obvious change is the all-new instrument nacelle featuring re-designed dials including a rev counter and, for the first time, incorporating an electronic odometer. More subtle differences include the new ergonomically designed gear knob and handbrake lever.

And, while the entry-level model may be designated Working, there’s nothing utilitarian about its comfort features. Power steering, central locking (key-operated), a Fiat Code immobiliser, tinted windows, third stop light, door pockets and a cigarette lighter / 12V power point are all part of the standard equipment package.

The soon-to-be-launched Life will certainly live up to its name adding a few more convenience and luxury touches – the exact spec list will be communicated once the vehicle is in showrooms.

Befitting its flagship status, the X-Space Adventure gets the works including alloy wheels, colour-coded exterior trim, front and rear fog lamps, sliding rear window (with protective bars), roof rack, air conditioning, stereo system, silver dashboard accents, height-adjustable seatbelts, glovebox light, digital clock, electric windows and a driver’s airbag.

1.4-litre power across the board

Of course the big news is that all Stradas now feature the 1.4-litre 8v MPI powerplant as standard. This 1368cc mill churns out a respectable 60kW at 5500rpm and 120Nm of torque at 2250rpm.

One of the important characteristics of this engine is the very linear torque curve. It is particularly ‘flat’ (useable) between 2500 and 4250 rpm and, incidentally, the engine also delivers more than 90% of maximum torque at just over 2000rpm. This means faster reactions and extra reserves when tackling gradients and other situations requiring extra power.

All Stradas come standard with a five-speed manual box. Gear selection and shifting take place via a dual-cable system. This design helps to eliminate vibrations transmitted from the engine to the passenger compartment making the drive more car-like. A ‘syringe’ control prevents involuntary engagement of reverse.

Ride and handling

The Strada grips the road well and is easy to drive. It owes much of its performance to its suspension geometry. The suspension is designed to withstand heavy loads while simultaneously keeping occupants comfortable even over difficult roads.

The independent front suspension is MacPherson type with lower wishbones in forged steel and an anti-roll bar. This geometry is shared by Strada models and facilitates traction, particularly over slippery road surfaces. Although suited to wide tyres, it nevertheless ensures a sufficiently tight turning circle.

The rear suspension is a live axle type with single parabolic leaf springs. This layout effectively damps road surface vibrations and also ensures maximum driving stability even when the load is not evenly distributed.

The rear axle profile is omega-shaped, i.e. the central part is raised to prevent the vehicle coming into contact with the ground even over rough terrain i.e. ‘middelmannetjies’.

The front brakes are of the ventilated disc type with a diameter of 257 mm. The diameter of the rear drum brakes is 228 mm and the brakes are fitted with load proportioning valves sensitive to weight changes. The self-centering shoes feature automatic play take-up.

Safety

For a pick-up like the Fiat Strada, safety means reinforcements beneath the floorpan and between the cabin pillars, a feature that strengthens the body and increases torsional rigidity. This configuration also enables the Strada to carry heavy loads with ease while maintaining vehicle strength.

Although as strong as a commercial vehicle, the pick-up offers car-standard protection for its occupants. The body crumples gradually in an accident situation to safeguard the passengers.

The doors are also fitted with side impact bars and the vehicle comes fitted as standard with an energy absorbing steering wheel (EAS), anti-submarining seats, fire prevention system (FPS) (locks the fuel pump and prevents fuel escaping) and a Fiat CODE immobiliser system.

These are supplemented by less evident but equally important devices such as shielding for vulnerable leads, heat shields on the exhaust piping, fire-resistant materials and a collapsible bonnet with safety hinges.

Service and Warranty

Enhancing the ownership prospect, the Fiat Strada has 20 000 km service intervals and enjoys full after-sales support in South Africa thanks to a comprehensive parts inventory and the back-up of trained technicians at Fiat dealerships countrywide.

Fiat Group Automobiles South Africa offers Fiat owners a 24-month Manufacturer Warranty, unlimited mileage and an additional 12-month Dealer Extended Warranty or up to 100 000km in total, three years on paintwork and five years on rust anti-perforation.

The new models are covered by the AA Fleetcare roadside assistance for 12 months. The service is active 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is available by calling the dedicated toll-free number 0800 223 727.

Recommended Retail Prices (incl. VAT)

  • Fiat Strada Working 1.4  – R105 500
  • Fiat Strada Life 1.4  – R129 500*
  • Fiat Strada X-Space Adventure 1.4 – R164 500

*Full details to follow