Panache, flair replaced by functionality

I MUST admit I was really looking forward to the launch of the Fiat Linea in Durban last week. The pre-launch pictures I sourced promised so much ... a family-sized sedan with a dash of flair only the Italians can master.

I MUST admit I was really looking forward to the launch of the Fiat Linea in Durban last week. The pre-launch pictures I sourced promised so much ... a family-sized sedan with a dash of flair only the Italians can master.

Only problem is, my first impression on seeing the Linea up close was one of disappointment.

Where was the Italian flair for design? The willingness to deviate from the mainstream? "Perhaps in the Indian assembly plant where it is put together," I heard myself muttering. Maybe I'm being a bit unfair here because the Linea does have a lot of pluses considering its R175000 price tag.

Compare it with its rivals in this price range and it will probably win hands down when it comes to extras ... climate control, rear sun blinds, leather steering wheel and gear knob, electric mirrors, power steering, electric windows front and back, remote central locking, stereo system with CD and MP3 player are all included.

A look at its safety features is also impressive - ABS, duel front air bags, immobiliser, seat belt reminder.

But, as we all know, it's often that first impression that forms an opinion and I can't shrug off the feeling that the designers have replaced flair with functionality and panache with practicality.

The 1,4-litre 16V engine pushes out 66kW, which proved adequate for the drive we undertook down to the South Coast. Remember, though, that up at the Reef the power will drop.

Travelling at the national speed limit the Linea felt safe and secure with no vibration through the steering wheel at all, which was comforting.

The air-conditioning worked a treat on a particularly sticky morning and the overall handling was good.

Maybe it takes a little getting used to but the brakes on our launch car felt slightly spongy. That is something we will look at when we have one for a road test at a later date.

Coming in seven colours (six of those in metallic at an extra cost of R1500) should keep most customers happy and with the interior you can either have cloth or leather (an extra R9000).

The interior space in the Linea is more than ample and the back seats fold down flat for extra boot room. The instrument panels have everything where you expect them to be.

For the time being only one version of the Linea will be available locally, which is a bit of a pity.

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