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Fiat Ritmo 2008 review

The Fiat Ritmo is one of the safest cars in the world with plenty of room for five and instruments well laid out.

But its big brother is making a splash of its own. And a noisy one at that.

The 500 sits at the base of Fiat's attack on Australia as far as size goes, starting with the two-door, 1.2-litre $22,990 Pop model. Bigger, but with a lower starting price, are the 1.4-litre and 1.9-litre Punto 3 and five-door hatch from $19,990. Biggest brother in the Fiat world is the Ritmo five-door hatch, which starts just under $30,000.

Ritmo is called Bravo elsewhere but as Mazda already had the name on its vans, Fiat opted for the Italian word for rhythm. It arrives in Australia in four different models. Two different spec levels can be matched with either a 1.4-litre petrol or 1.9-litre diesel engine. Prices range from $29,990 to $36,490. Buying an Italian car is all about emotion. People get these cars because they want the look, the feel and the style — even if in the past build quality was questionable.

Alfas have suffered in the past from reliability dramas. And the former generation of Fiats didn't gain the catch phrase “Fix It Again Tony” for nothing. Emotion sells, though. Which is as good a reason as any for Fiat to name its base model Ritmo the Emotion. The higher-specced model is the Sport. I tested the diesel Emotion in Sydney and it stirred quite a lot of emotions — and senses.

The first was my hearing. I have driven quite a few small diesels in recent times and this is definitely on the noisier end of the scale. The chatter from the diesel engine is clearly audible in the cabin.

To test it, I turned to one of our long-term fleet cars, a slightly smaller and cheaper non-European (but a diesel competitor nonetheless) currently in our garage: the Hyundai i30.

A simple back-to-back comparison drive revealed the Korean diesel sounds considerably quieter inside.

Then again, you can always pump up the sound system and enjoy a whole lot of other things about the Ritmo.

The car was designed by the same bloke who created some recent Ferraris and it shows. There is a lot of style about the Ritmo. It starts at the front with the small grille, the style of the headlights and the slightly raised bodywork behind them that extends to the windscreen and leaves the bonnet sitting stylishly lower. Very Italian.

Then there's the gradual shaping of the side windows, tracing to a well-rounded rump that gives the car a certain chic feel. It's too big to be cute ... but it does border on sexy. And much more than either the bambino or the Punto models will ever do.

Fiat proudly proclaims that the Ritmo is powered by a jet engine. Well, in name at least, they are correct.

The 1.9-litre Multijet diesel boasts 110kW of power and a considerable 305Nm torque. Acceleration is good, and the 0-100km/h benchmark arrives in a decent nine seconds.

There is plenty of pull, too, in the lower range. Currently only manual gearboxes are available, though you can expect some auto boxed-versions by the end of the year.

However, the lack of an auto is not a hindrance here. The six-speed shifts easily up through the range although there is a noticeable gap between third and second when changing down.

The big value in buying a modern diesel is in fuel savings.

The official claimed fuel use figure is just 5.6 litres per 100km. That meant I didn't trouble the local garage for a refuel in the time I had the car.

And even though diesel prices are running at record highs of around $1.60 a litre, the oilers are still a great buy, particularly if you are not just keen to save money, but also to help the environment, there's a $3000 slug on buying an equivalent diesel to a petrol Ritmo, but you can expect to get that money back reasonably early in the car's life.

Inside the car there is plenty of room for the driver and front-seat passenger. Five-door hatches make better sense than three doors for rear-seat access and there is reasonable leg room in the back.

The design of the car also enables a sizeable boot area. The groceries fit easily as should luggage for two or, indeed, a small family.

Instruments and controls are well laid out and the dash has a tactile finish that gives a more dynamic look to the plastic interior.

Airconditioning and fan controls are easily reached. One unusual control is the ability to change the lightness of the steering. Depressing a button on the dash switches between a normal and a sportier feel but the overall effect when driving seems fairly minimal. One hitch with the layout of the controls is in the seat adjustment. The handle to move the driver's seat forward and back is below the front of the seat. It's too small, and worse, it's not easily found.

Standard features include electric windows and side mirrors, cruise control, power steering, remote central locking, a good sound system, airconditioning and alloy wheels.

For an extra $3000 the Sport model gains a better look, with a rear spoiler and sideskirts plus climate control airconditioning, sports pedals, front sports seats, leather sports steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake knobs and 17-inch sports alloy wheels.

It also gains the Blue&Me integrated telematics system, which is a joint venture with Microsoft.

That covers Bluetooth mobile phone technology with steering wheel controls, an instrument panel with multifunction display and an MP3 player with USB port and SMS text reader. And there's one other key factor that might attract buyers.

While you wallow in the attention of other motorists, relishing the dynamic Italian pizazz and style, there is

also a comforting thought.

The Ritmo is one of the safest cars on our roads today.

With a five-star safety rating for adult-occupant safety, the Ritmo recorded 33 points in EuroNCap testing. It has six airbags, ESP electronic stability program and

a chassis designed to increase passive-safety by minimising the impact of pedestrian accidents.

Verdict

Now you will be able to say: “Floor it again, Tony.”

Pricing Guides

$5,280
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$3,190
Highest Price
$7,370

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Dynamic 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $3,190 – 5,060 2008 Fiat Ritmo 2008 Dynamic Pricing and Specs
Emotion 1.4L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $4,070 – 6,050 2008 Fiat Ritmo 2008 Emotion Pricing and Specs
Sport 1.4L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $4,510 – 6,600 2008 Fiat Ritmo 2008 Sport Pricing and Specs