Fiat Croma

What does the name Croma mean to you? For many, it will conjure up images of an ageing, unreliable and largely unloved family Fiat. So what are we to make of the all-new Croma, which we drove for the first time this week?

With Fiat pitching the Croma as a 'comfort wagon', we might not be the only ones who can't work out what it's trying to be. The roomy five-door is comfortable and handles well, yet rivals feel better built and look more distinctive. A strong range of diesels will help, but the Croma is unlikely to have buyers rushing to Fiat dealers.

What does the name Croma mean to you? For many, it will conjure up images of an ageing, unreliable and largely unloved family Fiat. So what are we to make of the all-new Croma, which we drove for the first time this week?

Fiat is a company known for producing affordable small cars, but the largest model in its line-up breaks new ground. The Croma is an MPV-shaped estate that shares its platform with Vauxhall's Signum, and is intended to appeal to family car buyers after style and luxury.

The trouble is, we think the designers have played it too safe with the looks. At the front the Fiat is rather bland, while the Alfa Romeo-style rear lights and bulging wheelarches seem out of place. High-spec models with large alloys and chrome trim look better, and there are some attractive details to catch the eye, but the shape is largely forgettable.

Inside, Croma buyers get one of the most practical five-seat cabins on the market. The MPV styling means there are class-leading levels of space for all, plus plenty of room for luggage, too, with the addition of a neat stowage bin below the boot floor. The controls are also ergonomically sound, with a Ford Focus C-MAX-style gearlever a short reach from the steering wheel. Our biggest complaint is with the quality of the switchgear, though. The plastics used simply aren't up to the standards set by many class competitors.

Out on the road, it is clear the engineers have worked hard on the Croma's handling. Although the high centre of gravity is noticeable, the Fiat is well balanced in corners, while the steering offers decent feedback. Unfortunately, the Croma's ride and refinement are not quite as impressive. Failing to meet the standards set by the Signum, the Italian model transmits far too much vibration into the cabin.

Buyers will have five engine options when Fiat's flagship goes on sale in the UK in August. The Croma will be available with 140bhp 1.8 and 147bhp 2.2-litre petrol units, as well as a choice of 120bhp or 150bhp versions of the 1.9-litre Multijet diesel, alongside a 200bhp 2.4-litre oil-burner.

Our test car came with the high-power 1.9-litre diesel, which delivered strong performance. While brisk acceleration is limited to a narrow rev range, the 0-62mph sprint time of 9.6 seconds and economy of 46.3mpg make this the pick of the line-up. With the range likely to start at around £16,000 for the entry-level model, the estate is priced competitively to take on rivals such as the Peugeot 407 SW.

Standard kit is expected to be generous, but the Croma's success depends on whether buyers understand its appeal. Unfortunately, those looking specifically for an MPV or estate are likely to see few reasons to choose the Fiat.

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