The Fiat Linea has been in the Indian market for about five years, but the buying public ever really warmed up to the car. As a market, we have appreciated its styling, its long equipment list and of course, its lovely ride and handling balance. But, in a segment that’s flooded with brands such as Honda and Hyundai, Skoda and Volkswagen - brands that clearly command a higher recall value than Fiat - the Linea has always struggled.
Now though, with Fiat’s recent focus on brand building, and its decision of going solo on the distribution front, it has given the brand recall bit a shot in the arm. But, Fiat isn’t stopping there; it plans to introduce new models and updates for its entire existing range. The latter begins with the new Linea diesel we have driven.
It’s not an all-new car but a nip and tuck job to make the Linea more appealing to the passionate car buyer. It gets a new grille and a new bumper at the front and a new set of alloy wheels for buyers to tell it apart from the car it replaces. The new two-slat chrome grille gels well with the overall look of the Linea and it harks back to some of the older Fiat saloons of the 1950’s. The aptly placed chrome accents, like the one that surround the fog lamp bezel, add to the visual appeal of the Linea.
What stands out the most though, is the curvaceous chrome piece that runs from end to end, accentuating the secondary grille and the lower half of the front bumper in general. The large dual parabola headlamps have been kept true to the original while adding slightly better quality reflectors that do make a difference while driving at night.
There are minor changes to the rear end, too. A large chrome trim piece adorns the rear bumper and another one embossed with the ‘LINEA’ logo festoons the bootlid. The faux diffuser though does not gel with the rest of the car and makes the rear end look much taller than it really is.
The biggest and most significant changes on the new Linea though are on the inside. The new interior is a Neil Armstrong sized step over in terms of design and overall finish levels. The old driver-centric cabin has now been replaced by a conventional symmetric design comprising of two rather curvaceous bulges as part of the dashboard. The first bulge houses the instrument binnacle comprising of a reworked set of speedometer and tachometer dials along with the trip computer LCD screen. The second bulge in the centre of the dash houses the AC vents and a little cubbyhole.
The interior quality is something we need to harp on again with the touch and feel of everything oozing a sense of class. The centre console for example is finished in piano black with the infotainment system nestled nicely in the centre. The controls for the climate control, too, feel premium and are easy to use. Come nightfall, the insides are still draped with Fiat’s signature orange lighting. The new 2014 Fiat Linea though gets a backlit accent piece on the passenger side dashboard, which seems to be Fiat’s take on mood lighting.
The Linea doesn’t disappoint in terms of the number of gadgets it offers to the driver either. There are nice touches such as automatic headlights, wipers and the newly added cruise control that make a stronger case in favour of the new Linea. It still falls short on some crucial features, nonetheless. There’s no electric fold for the rear view mirrors and no rear parking camera. All that the Linea gets as a parking aid are sensors, which cars two segments lower sport as well.
The new Linea diesel doesn’t scores well on ergonomics either. It has nice-looking seats finished in perforated and classic leather, but the seating comfort is nowhere as good as the competition. It’s also not easy to find a good driving position on the Linea due to the minimal adjustment options on the steering wheel. Add to it the odd floor pedal placement and it makes the Fiat cumbersome to drive on occasions.
Coming to how the Linea drives. The new 2014 Fiat Linea diesel shares its mechanicals with the outgoing model. This means, the new car has the same 1.3-litre Multijet engine that powers the rest of the Fiat diesel range. The 1.3-litre diesel makes 90PS of peak power and 209Nm of peak torque. In 2008, this was enough power to please most, but in today’s day and age where the Honda City pushes out 100PS and the Hyundai Verna a staggering 128PS of power, the Linea feels underpowered in comparison.
Although the lack of power isn’t really apparent while driving around the city, up a hilly road, it becomes frustratingly obvious. The shift quality of the gearbox isn’t the best in the business either, and along with a clutch that needs better feel and progression, the Linea doesn’t score highly in the drivetrain department.
The saving grace for the Linea comes in the form of its sheer dynamic prowess. The steering for instance is the most feel-some in its class. It is heavier to use than the competition being hydraulic and all, but it’s a steering one enjoys especially on the highway and at higher speeds. It also makes the Linea diesel an involving car to drive around a twisty section.
To add, it has one of the finest chassis and suspension setup in its class of cars. Even raising the ground clearance to 190mm hasn’t upset the Linea’s balance. The Fiat Linea feels precise and well-balanced around corners, the grip levels are high, and it feels the surest of the lot at the limit. Its braking impresses as well. But the commendable bit about the new Linea’s dynamic behaviour is that even though it handles so well, the ride quality remains pliant. It doesn’t feel busy over broken roads, there’s no real wallowing to worry about (even with load) over undulating surfaces, and there’s hardly any noise or vibration that seeps into the cabin. It feels like a solid, European car.
Rounding it off then, Fiat has done a good job of breathing new life into the 2014 Fiat Linea. The interior is a real step up from the old car, both, in terms of layout and quality feel. It had and has strong mechanicals giving it class leading ride and handling. It has good equipment, and the boot at 500 litres is practical and usable. As is clear, there are a number of reasons to buy the new Fiat Linea. But, given the limited service reach of Fiat currently, and the relatively poor resale Fiat cars come burdened with, the new Linea has to be an emotional purchase than an outright practical one. The new Fiat Linea will be launched in the first week of March and should be priced between Rs 7.5-9.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai).
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