The Fiat Barchetta (pronounced “bar-KET-tuh”) is a roadster produced by the Italian manufacturer Fiat from 1995 to 2005 (though production was paused between May 2002 and 2004).
The Barchetta was developed between 1990 and 1994 under the project name Tipo B Spider 176. It was designed by Andreas Zapatinas, Peter Barrett Davis and other car designers at the Fiat Centro Stile, and prototyping was carried out by Stola.Production began in February 1995. The Barchetta was based on the chassis of the Mark 1 Fiat Punto. Its 131 PS / 96 kW engine is the 1.8 L petrol engine, with twin-cam and variable camshaft timing, which is notorious for its diesel-like clattering noise when failing. The Barchetta weighs 1060 kg (2337 lb) without air conditioning and can accelerate to 100 km/h in 8.9 seconds.
The Barchetta was revised in 2003 for its relaunch the following year, with a myriad of small alterations inside and out. Production of the car finally stopped in June 2005. Car bodies were welded at ILCAS in Sparone Canavese, and final assembly was done in Chivasso by the coachbuilder Maggiora. After Maggiora’s bankruptcy in 2002, Fiat relocated production of the Barchetta to its Mirafiori plant and resumed production two years later. Production of the Barchetta was limited to left hand drive cars only, even though the car was marketed and sold in two right hand drive markets, the United Kingdom and Japan.
It must be one of the shortest stays ever in new car showrooms. Italian giant Fiat has axed its Croma range from UK dealer forecourts because of “disappointing sales”.The compact MPV with estate car styling was launched in autumn 2005. But the manufacturer sold only 440 examples to the end of that year, while 2006 saw 827 find homes. It’s disappointing, but the figures speak for themselves,” said a company spokesman. “Fiat hasn’t stopped Croma production in Italy, and it continues to be made in right-hand drive. We’ve got a few in stock, but we won’t import the car in volume.”
Fiat will, however, still sell the cars to customers directly if they would specifically like to buy a Croma: “We can supply people who want one, although it will be done centrally, rather than via the dealer network,” said the spokesman. The decision is down to Fiat’s need to prioritise the model lines it wants to promote. The company would rather put a big effort behind vehicles such as the Panda and Sedici, plus the forthcoming 500 city car.
Fiat has reviewed the reasons for the Croma’s poor UK performance, but won’t reveal them publicly. The 10-strong range included three trims and a choice of four engines. Then Auto Express contacted one dealer posing as a potential customer, the salesman told us: “Fiat is not recognised for selling large cars in Britain, and it’s difficult to get people to think about the company if that’s what they’re looking for.”
It is available in both 3- and 5-door hatchback versions, as well as a station wagon called “Stilo MultiWagon”. The Stilo has a 4* Euro NCAP safety rating. Originally, its petrol engines were the 1242 cc DOHC 16 valve engine also powering the Punto and Lancia Ypsilon with an output of 80 bhp (60 kW) combined with a 6 speed manual gearbox, a 102 bhp (76 kW), 1.6 L with a 5 speed manual gearbox, a 131 bhp (97 kW), 1.8 L, again with a 5 speed manual gearbox and a 168 bhp (125kW), 5 cylinder, 2.4 L engine combined with Fiat’s Selespeed 5 speed semi-automatic gearbox, also used on the Alfa Romeo 147. The 2.4 L engine was reserved for the hatchback versions. An 8 valve, 1.9 JTD unit with 115, 120, 130 or 16 valve 150 bhp diesel unit were/are also available.
The Stilo’s styling received mixed reviews, with many journalists and enthusiasts criticising it as being too bland and too German-looking. Critics also attacked the car’s excessive weight and its semi-rigid rear axle, which was seen as a step backwards from the acclaimed set-up used in the Bravo/Brava and which resulted in handling many found uninspired and uninvolving. The engine range, particularly the 1.2 litre petrol, was also criticised for being underpowered. The car’s fuel economy was also seen as poor for its class, a result of the car’s heavy weight and the transmission, which used very long gear ratios. Another point of criticism was the Selespeed gearbox, which was seen as too slow in its reactions and particularly inappropriate for the high-powered Abarth version. Nevertheless, the car won praise for its high levels of grip (aided by the unusually wide tires) and its brakes.
In the UK, different trim levels available are/were: Active, Active Aircon, Blue, Dynamic, Sporting, Abarth, GT, Prestigio, XBOX limited edition, Michael Schumacher and the Schumacher GP, with general modifications by British car specialists, Prodrive.
The Stilo was the first car worldwide to use the TRW Column-Drive Electric Power-Assisted Steering (EPS) technology later introduced on the 2003 Nissan Micra & Renault Megane.
As the Stilo model range has aged, the amount of equipment from the options list has now been lessened. The Stilo was originally offered in some markets with a radar guided cruise control option; it included sensors in the front bumper and rear of the car to adjust the speed of the car according to other vehicles’ speed. This was soon dropped as it became apparent that other interferences were creating undesired results for the driver. A keyless entry, named ‘Easy Go’, push button start, similar in function to Renault’s, Mercedes’ and BMW Mini’s systems, was also an available option.
For MY2006 the Stilo was updated with a new front grille, different seat fabric, a relocation of the electric mirror controls from the window control console to just behind the gear stick, removal of the centre arm-rest (which when in the downward position prevented comforable use of the handbrake as in the Audi A3) and the deletion of the rear air vent.
The Stilo was ultimately a sales disappointment. An extensive advertising campaign using Formula 1 stars Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello did little to aid the car’s sales. In 2004, the 1242 cc engine was dropped in favour of the Punto’s 1.4 L unit, increasing the car’s power to 95 bhp (71 kW), again combined with the 6 speed gearbox. Also, the taillights were altered and the Abarth version gained a manual gearbox instead of the Selespeed.