Fiat Bravo 1.4 T-Jet 120 Active Sport review
by David Finlay (11 June 2008)
Fiat launched the current Bravo with every intention of making it available with three versions of the same 1.4-litre petrol engine. There would be a standard 90bhp unit, a mildly turbocharged one with 120bhp and a more heavily modified - and also turbocharged - example producing a maximum of 150bhp. When the Bravo went on sale in the UK, though, only the first and third of these were available. The 120bhp Bravo 1.4 T-Jet was delayed slightly, but it arrived in October 2007 to complete the T-Jet set.
The point about these engines is that they give differing amounts of performance, as suggested by their power outputs, but have more or less the same combined fuel economy and CO2 emissions according to the official EU test, since that test requires virtually no input from the turbo. In effect, during the test process all three T-Jets behave in almost exactly the same way, which is good news in terms of CO2-based taxation even though it might not reflect an individual car's economy in the real world.
More about all that, if you wish, in our feature, The Rise Of The Small Engine. For now the more important thing is how the T-Jet 120 works in the Bravo, and from a driver's point of view I must say it works very well. 120bhp turns out to be a very pleasing output in this case - the car never feels sluggish, but there is also no suggestion that the chassis is being asked to do anything that it would find unduly strenuous. The willingness to pull from low engine speeds is also impressive.
A further aspect which isn't really important (though I liked it a lot, which is why I'm mentioning it) is the sound. The decibel-damping effect of a turbocharger tends to make cars fitted with them sound rather dull, but with the T-Jet 120 Fiat has managed to retain a lovely, and characteristically Italian, high-pitched gurgle as you head towards the revlimiter on full throttle; not the kind of thing buyers of this car are likely to bother with, I suppose, but good fun all the same.
Anyway. The point I was making earlier about fuel economy is demonstrated very well in the official figures for Bravos fitted with these engines. The T-Jet 120 clocks up 42.2mpg combined, along with 158g/km of CO2, which is exactly the same as the non-turbo T-Jet 90. Even the T-Jet 150 kicks around in the same ball park with 39.8mpg and 167g/km.
Now, if you start using the performance of these cars, the officially small gaps between them will expand abruptly. If you drive them all flat-out, a T-Jet 150 will use a very great deal more petrol than a T-Jet 90, and the T-Jet will do something in between. The point to note here is that you get taxed on the official CO2 rating, not on the amount of CO2 you actually make the car emit. Therefore the T-Jet 120 costs as much in VED as the T-Jet 90 does, and will continue to do so after the VED system changes in April 2009.
However, if you compare the Bravo with the opposition you'll find that quite a number of non-turbo 1.6- and even 1.8-litre cars in the same class run it pretty close in the fuel economy and CO2 stakes. Against other cars of roughly the same size and power output, it's undoubtedly true that the T-Jet 120 has a healthy combination of performance, economy and taxability, but the margins are very small, and are unlikely to mean a saving of more than £25 a year in VED.
It's intriguing, though undoubtedly coincidental, that the Bravo's closest rival here is the Volkswagen Golf TSI, another turbocharged 1.4-litre car, which does slightly better on all counts, though again there's not much in it. The main reason for buying one over the other is most likely to be whether you prefer Volkswagens to Fiats or vice versa.
The same brand preference will also be the deciding factor when comparing the Bravo with other C-segment rivals. Nothing unusual there, of course, but the point is that although the turbocharged T-Jet is an effective engine, for the reasons already mentioned, it doesn't make the Bravo stand out from the crowd to any great extent.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the T-Jet 120 comes from within the Bravo range itself. The 120bhp version of Fiat's excellent new 1.6-litre turbo diesel gives the Bravo about the same performance and about 37% better fuel economy on the combined cycle, so unless the price gap between petrol and diesel extends much further than it already has you'll still end up paying less to run the thing.
Fiat describes the T-Jet as "the petrol engine's revenge" on the developments in diesel technology over the past few years, but if I wanted a Bravo for myself I suspect I'd still end up choosing a diesel for practical purposes, even though I did enjoy my time with this one.