Our ever-demanding market has forced carmakers to pack every segment to the hilt. Earlier, there would be a hatchback, followed by a premium hatchback, and then, a sedan. Not anymore. Now, there's a super-compact hatch, then a compact hatch, tailed by a mid-size hatchback and then, a premium hatchback. It's the same with the sedans and SUVs of today. Our demands continue to grow, as do our choices.Volkswagen, in an attempt to create something new, brought the Cross Polo - a Polo with plastic cladding and roof rails that aimed to make it look a little more rugged. Toyota too jumped onto the bandwagon with the Etios Cross. But both these cars felt like half-hearted efforts at turning a city hatchback into a small crossover. The ground clearance was exactly the same as that on their hatchback counterparts, and the only difference between the regular hatches and these jacked-up examples was a big hunk of plastic. Now though, there's a third entrant - the Fiat Avventura.As you may have guessed by now, it means 'adventure' in Italian, and it isn't just a slap-on-plastics-and-call-it-a-tiny-SUV job. The Avventura has been doing test runs on Indian roads for a while now, and that means the engineers at the Fiat facility have been spending some time retuning a few things.Those things include the suspension setup and the engine. Along with that, they've also added a few off-road-oriented gimmicks like the inclinometer - an instrument that shows you the angle of the incline/decline that the car is on at any given moment. Though the meter installed in the Avventura isn't very accurate, it does add some novelty to the package.The best part about all that suspension retuning is that the Avventura is friendlier on bad roads now. Not that the ground clearance was ever an issue with the Punto Evo, but more is always better when it comes to that, especially in India. It has been increased to 205mm, 10mm up on the Punto. And that's as good as a lot of full-fledged SUVs in the market.To keep the body roll and pitch in check with the added clearance, the engineers have tightened the suspension a bit. But unfortunately, there's still a fair bit of roll even with the suspension tweaks in place. The Punto Evo runs on chunky high-profile rubber, but this one gets slightly lower-profile tyres. The ride, just like the Punto's, remains sublime. It swallows potholes with utter ease, without making any disconcerting noises while going over battered surfaces.On the looks front, the biggest highlight of the Avventura is the tailgate-mounted spare wheel. Fiat thinks it makes it look more like a SUV. We're not entirely sure if it does, but it certainly gives it an unmistakable look.
See more pictures of the Avventura hereThe front bumper gets a complete makeover, and now sports a brushed aluminium finish, and a few more touches to add to the rugged look. At the sides, things are largely untouched, barring the plastic cladding (a must for every little crossover) and a huge 'Avventura' badge on the front doors. At the back, the spare wheel is mounted on a hinge, and swings out horizontally, while the hatch opens vertically, much like a regular hatch. This makes accessing the boot an unnecessarily time-consuming affair.Inside, the dashboard too has been revised - there's a dual-tone finish on the dash, and the centre console houses the inclinometer that we told you about earlier. The seats are a mix of faux leather and fabric. They look neat, and they're quite comfortable, too. The Avventura will be available with both petrol and diesel engine options. The petrol is the 1.4-litre unit, and the one we drove was the 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel block. There's no 74bhp option, as this motor, in the Avventura, comes only with a variable geometry turbocharger that helps it churn out 89bhp.Despite the tweaks, there's still plenty of turbo lag at the bottom end of the rev range, and the turbo kicks in only after the needle passes the 2,000rpm mark. Fiat makes this engine, and lends it to several other manufacturers in the country. But surprisingly, some other manufacturers like Maruti have been able to tune this engine better than Fiat in terms of power delivery.The engine is mated to a regular five-speed manual gearbox. It's nice to use with short throws, but the shift quality isn't the best in its class. That said, the massive turbo lag forces you to keep changing ratios often to stay in the powerband, and the short throws make life a bit easy there.With the engineers investing time and effort to make it more suited to soft-roading, we see this segment evolving. Compared to the kind of offerings we've seen so far in this segment, the Avventura doesn't feel like another makeshift job. The added ground clearance, boot-mounted spare wheel and the inclinometer give it an edge over its hatch-turned-SUV contemporaries.The Avventura range starts at Rs 6.14 lakh for the base petrol variant, and goes up to Rs 8.41 lakh for the top-end diesel (ex-showroom, Mumbai), which is about Rs 50,000 more than the Punto Evo. If you're looking for a car that's great in city traffic and can handle a bit of soft-roading, the Avventura makes for a much better buy than the Cross Polo and the Etios Cross. But that brings us on to a question - at that price, why not go in for a Ford EcoSport instead? The numbers4cyl, 1368cc (Petrol)/1248cc (Diesel), 92bhp/89bhp, 115Nm/200Nm, 5M, FWD, fuel tank\: 45 litres, Rs 6.14 lakh - 8.41 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai)The verdictFits the bill if you want a compact car that can handle your weekend getaways, too.