Car news

02 June 2017

Fiat reveals the Argo

Fiat unveils full details of the Argo. Here's our take on what this means for Fiat, Jeep and FCA

Sriram Narayanan
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It’s that time of the month where the Marutis, Hyundais and Heros will be thumping their sale-figures-swollen chest. In the meanwhile, a miniscule minority has been quietly following Fiat’s much-teased Argo. Well, Fiat Brazil is out with official figures for the all-new Punto-replacement. There’s a 1-litre, 3-cylinder and a 1.3-litre 4-cylinder petrol both that Fiat calls Firefly engines. The smaller engine makes 77bhp and 107Nm, and the bigger one makes 109bhp and some 140Nm of torque. The flagship powerplant for the Argo in Brazil will be a 1.8-litre, capitalisation-challenged EtorQ Evo petrol that makes 139bhp and 190Nm. While the other two are surely turbo-charged, we are not sure of the EtorQ’s manner of motivation. It’s been a while since a regular hatch packed in so many cubes, you see. But our money goes to turbocharging. What we do know is that the EtorQ can run on petrol and ethanol – a popular fuel in Brazil.

There are two surprises with the Argo’s transmission. One, there’s a five-speed and not a six-speed manual. Two, if you are the type of driver who has an aversion to the clutch pedal, you have two transmissions to choose from – a six-speed automatic and a five-speed automated manual (AMT).

Now that Fiat have revealed proper, non-teaser images of the Argo, we have to say that the hatch does look different from the VWs and the Hyundais. But is it as original as the Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Grande Punto? We will wait till seeing the car in the metal, but from pictures? Er, no.

About seeing the Argo in the metal. You could always go to Brazil or wait, perhaps, till Auto Expo 2018, where Fiat might just show the car. But does that mean the Argo will make it to India? Well, Fiat is one the few manufacturers not to have pulled out of the Expo. At least, not yet. And they’d have to show something that’s not the decade-old Linea or Punto or the extremely niche 500. The Argo might be a good thing to put on display.

But will it really make it to India? Right now seems to be a bad time to ask this question at Fiat-Chrysler India. You see, as you are reading this, FCA is already rolling out the Jeep Compass from its Ranjangaon plant. The Compass is not an available-on-request import, but a serious, all-guns-blazing attempt at conquering the Indian compact SUV terrain. It will be fully manufactured in India with nation-wide dealership, sales and service support. If you work at FCA, we reckon a project of such a massive scale is going to take up a lot of your time, sleep and mind space. Not the time to flirt about with a completely different product from a completely different brand targeted at a completely different audience.

So, no. The Argo will not make it to India very soon. Built on what Fiat calls the Small Wide platform – whoever comes up with these names – the Argo will form the base for a sedan (Linea replacement) and some hatches-on-stilts (Avventura-replacment) vehicles, too. While we will reserve our judgement whether the Argo looks better than the Punto on the outside, we can tell you for sure that the interiors are a massive step-up from the Punto.

There’s the Ferrari-abandoned, Mercedes-adopted three centre AC-vents design, a decent in-car interface screen and nicely designed hooded instrument binnacles with a stylish multi-information display in between. Will Fiat cut costs and get some other cabin to India? They have in the past, and they better not now. If the Argo does make it to India, it’s slightly a year or more away. So contemplating about engine variants or price brackets will remain just that. Contemplation.

But does India need the Argo to come in? If Fiat had stuck to the original Linea and Punto, then the Argo need not have. Surprised? Let me explain. Fiat was never and will never be a sales-chart buster like the Hyundai or Maruti. Yet, they filled a small niche among people who loved driving, loved steering feel, loved ride, loved handling. So much so, that this small niche would be willing to forgive the other quirks of the cars. But over years, Fiat – in trying to keep themselves busy because of the lack of all new products  – have fettled about with the cars’ suspension, raised ground clearance, altered steering feel. Which means the latest Puntos and Lineas aren’t as impeccable to drive as the older ones.

Combine that with the squiggly gearbox, ancient interiors, lack of practical stowage space and the iffy after-sales support, there’s no one strong point to recommend a Fiat. And the only way to rectify this is to introduce a solid, all-new product. And introduce it now. Can FCA afford to leave the decade-old Punto and Linea in charge of Fiat, while they focus on Jeep? We all know what the answer to that is. Of course, you are welcome to state the obvious in the comments section.

Tags: fiat, punto, fca, fiat chrysler, fca group, argo

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