The Fiat Linea, post-makeover, has what it takes to make its way back up the mid-size saloon charts, writes Kartikeya Singhee

The facelifted version of the Fiat Linea was seen as early as May 2012, but the wraps officially came off at the Auto Expo 2014 last month. With the refreshed styling, the manufacturer has definitely struck a chord and we also got behind the wheel to figure whether those are the only updates to reckon.

The Linea has always been one of the nicest-looking mid-size saloons around, although trudging along without changes for five years had worn down its appeal a bit. The recent changes to the styling trade in the classy simplicity of the old car for a more premium look. The top-of-the-line Emotion variants we drove had a smattering of chrome all around. At the front, a prominent two-bar grille and a much larger air dam are slathered in chrome. Around the back, there’s more chrome – a thick strip adorns the bumper, and the number plate is now on the boot lid, beneath another chunk of chrome with ‘Linea’ embossed on it. The rear bumper also gets a black faux diffuser section, there are good-looking new alloy wheels, and indicators now feature in the wing mirrors. While Fiat has managed to pull off this makeover without any major changes to the sheet metal, it has increased the Linea’s overall length by 36mm. Even so, the final result is strikingly different and shouldn’t inflate the price tag much.

However, the updates to the interior clearly required a lot more effort. The dashboard is all-new, oozes with Italian flair and even boasts quality materials and workmanship. The cream-coloured section on the dash is finished in premium feeling soft-touch plastic, and warm orange ambient lighting comes out through the dash — a really plush touch. The central air vents and integrated audio system are finished in glossy black plastic and fit flush into the dash. There’s a small cubbyhole at the top and the buttons have been made a lot smaller and neater, so there’s less clutter. The outer AC vents are now round, feel premium and add a little bit more character.

The instrument cluster gets a big trip computer screen that can read out real-time fuel consumption, among other things, although while the chrome-ringed dials are smart, they’re not easy to read on the move.

While the overall fit and finish of the cabin is a step up from the older car, there’s room for yet more improvement, such as the few hard-edged plastics that continue to mar this otherwise good-looking cabin. Still, the buttons and knobs work with a nice damped action and do feel hard-wearing. The seats are beautifully contoured and use perforated leather too, and even the roof lining feels premium. The rear seats offer great support, but in terms of head- and-legroom, the competition now fares better. Cruise control has been added to the already healthy equipment list, which includes rain-sensing wipers, auto on-off headlamps and a collapsible rear curtain.

The mechanicals remain unchanged, so it’s no surprise that the driving experience is unchanged too. Some will bemoan the absence of the punchier 1.6 Multijet diesel in the line-up as the Linea continues with the 1.3-litre VGT Multijet diesel, but power and torque are bumped up slightly to 92bhp and 21.3kgm. This diesel is sluggish until 2,000rpm, after which the punch really comes in strong. It gets quite noisy after 3,500rpm, all the way up to its 5,200rpm redline. We also drove the top-of-the-line 112bhp 1.4 T-Jet petrol (the naturally aspirated 1.4 comes only with the Linea Classic now), and it’s just as we remember. This smooth motor’s punchy mid-range is both useful and exciting, although the little lag until 1,500rpm is still present. The five-speed gearbox feels nice and mechanical to use, and the clutch is light, which should be helpful in traffic. This is also still a great chassis, and despite the taller ride height compared to the original car, it still works admirably through corners. Fiat has stuck with hydraulic steering on the facelift, and it offers decent feedback and accuracy. The grip from the four 205/55 R16 Goodyear tyres is great too, although the spare on our test cars was a 195/60 R15 space-saver unit with an 80kph restriction.

All in all, Fiat’s attempt to infuse the feel-good factor with this facelift has worked rather well. The ambience in the cabin is refreshingly different with all-round improvement in design, materials and features. The backseat is incredibly supportive, although the competition offers more knee- and headroom. Also, changes to the exterior design cast the Linea in a new tempting light. Under the skin, there are no changes, but we can hardly blame Fiat — its combination of ride and handling remains unbeatable, while the engines can hold their own even today. Now that Fiat is quickly establishing its own dealership network, the facelifted Linea at the right price will have what it takes to claw its way back up the mid-size saloon charts, real quick.

Technical data

Price Rs 7.8-9.7 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)*

L/W/H4596/1730/1487,

1494mm

Wheelbase 2603mm

Engine 4-cyls,1368cc, turbo-petrol / 4-cyls,1248cc, turbo-diesel

Layout Front, transverse

Power112bhp at 5000rpm/ 92bhp at 4000rpm

Torque 21.1kgm at2200rpm/ 21.31kgm at 2000rpm

Gearbox 5-speed, manual

Kerb weight1258/1268kg

Fuel tank 45 litres