Non-Linea thinking

Vikram Chaudhary Posted online: Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 0000 hrs
In automotive circles, the 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel engine made by Fiat is informally known as the national engine of India. This fabulous motor powers the Swift siblings, Ritz, SX4 and Ertiga (Maruti); Sail siblings, Beat, Enjoy (Chevrolet); Indica Vista, Indigo Manza (Tata); Rio (Premier); and, of course, the Grande Punto and the Linea (Fiat). So why is this the case that a Fiat engine in a Fiat car fails to sell as well as a Fiat engine in, say, a Maruti or a Tata vehicle? Understandably, then, it’s not only the engine that makes a car desirable, it’s also the things that surround the engine. Although the Linea is one of the most beautiful cars to be powered by the MultiJet, its sales have remained low. Fiat has now launched the 2014 edition of the sedan, which gets a thorough facelift and a major interior update. We figure out how good Fiat’s latest effort to push the sales of the Linea is; remember, the Linea faces competition from the Honda City, Hyundai Verna and Skoda Rapid—cars that are no pushovers.

Exterior

Not as flashy as the Verna, not as timeless as the Rapid, and not as futuristic as the City, yet the design of the Linea stands out—it is clean, curvy and the facelift does a great job of giving the Linea a more premium look. There is a lot of chrome trim all around and the two-slat front grille looks striking. At the back, the number plate is now on the boot lid. The front and rear bumpers look fresh, as do the new alloy wheels. The car doesn’t look vastly different from the sides though—the only change being ORVMs that have side-indicators on them.

Interior

Open and shut the doors of the Linea and you will find that it is built like a tank. The ‘thud’ sound the doors produce are a testimony to its exceptional build quality. The Linea was and remains a solid European car. Step inside and you will see that Fiat has completely reworked the cabin. The colour scheme—black and beige—is a treat for the eyes. The in-cabin lighting is a warm orange glow and the new dials look smart. The digital trip computer provides a lot of information, including trip readings, distance-to-empty figure, average speed, average fuel-consumption and real-time fuel-efficiency.

There is ample space all around, though some tall people sitting at the rear may find their head scraping the roof lining. The kit is exhaustive and and top-end variant (Emotion) gets reverse parking sensor, dual airbags, Bluetooth, cruise control, auto headlamps and rain-sensing wipers (standard on all variants) and collapsible rear curtain. Some things missing are rear-parking camera and electric-operated ORVMs. The boot space is a huge 500 litres.

Drive

Powering it are the 114 PS, 1.4-litre T-Jet turbo petrol, and the 93 PS, 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel engines (the MultiJet produces 209Nm of torque). We extensively drove the diesel-powered Linea and found that though the engine is smooth, it remains sluggish until about 2,000 rpm. For example, at engine speeds under 2,000 rpm, if you are climbing uphill and four people are sitting in the car, more often than not you have to downshift to maintain a decent speed. But as soon as the engine reaches 2,000 rpm, the turbocharger kicks in and it effortlessly moves the car ahead. Although the NVH levels in the cabin are low, the diesel motor gets noisy at higher.

The Linea drives well over potholed roads and its handling is praiseworthy. Fiat has increased the car’s ground clearance to 190 mm and this means it doesn’t scrape even the tallest speed-breakers our roads unfortunately have. It remains fun to drive around the corners and wide tyres (205/55R16) ensure plenty of grip. The diesel is frugal—the company-claimed fuel-efficiency figure is 20.4 kmpl. The petrol returns 15.7 kmpl.

Verdict

When it was launched in 2009, the Linea got some rave reviews. Why it didn’t sell in large numbers can be attributed to the fact that its service, managed by Tata, was relatively poor. Fiat has now gone independent and is setting up its own dealership and after-sales service network. And that, in a way, makes the company cars more desirable. The new Linea may sell more units than the old Linea, but will it lead its segment? Unlikely. One of the reasons is that the diesel engine, although a gem, is decidedly underpowered as compared to the competition, and it is the diesel that is the current favourite in its segment—it is high time the Linea gets the 1.6-litre diesel motor. Moreover, the 1.3-litre MultiJet is better suited for lighter cars such as the Swift siblings, not the Linea, not in today’s times when the competition gets maximum power figures of 128 PS (Verna).