Captain Misery's Miserable Mishaps

It's all a load of bollocks, quite frankly

Fiat Bravo

The current Fiat Bravo is a vastly underrated car and has sold about three since it was launched back in 2007. It replaced the Stilo, which itself replaced the outgoing Mk1 Bravo. Confused? You should be, as the current Bravo is basically a reskinned Stilo.

Fiat wanted to distance themselves from any association from the Stilo as essentially the car was a failure. It fell criminally short of any of its sales targets, the five door looked like the inbred sister of the family and had the alleged driving dynamics of a pissed newt. The proper performance version arrived three years too late and by the end of its life, the model range was a mess. So on the success of the Panda and Grande Punto, Fiat brought us a new car, reverting back to the Bravo name and  styled in the same vein as Grande Punto but with overtones of the old Bravo. And I think Fiat have been pretty successful. The rear end is probably the best view, that being the most obvious link to the old Bravo.

Engines wise, originally a choice of normally aspirated and turbo charged petrol engines were available and a brace of diesels. The diesels are pretty decent machines – currently available are a 1.6 and 2.0 turbo diesels but as I’ve no real interest in diesels I’ll ignore they exist altogether and concentrate on the petrol variants instead.

The normally aspirated petrol lump develops 95bhp and is similar to that fitted in the old Stilo. It’s underpowered in a car of this size, but is still a gem of an engine. It’s free revving and makes you feel you are going quicker than you really are.  You need to stir the gears quite a bit with the lack of grunt but thankfully the six speed manual box has a sweet, slick operation. The other petrol units included the T-Jet engines in 120bhp and 150bhp tune and to be honest the gain of the 120 over the normally aspirated unit wasn’t worth the extra outlay. The 150 lump, however, similar to that used in the Abarth 500 and Alfa Mito is a fantastic engine that pulls well, revs cleanly and sounds good. It’s good for o-60 in around 8 seconds and a top speed of 135mph. It’s not a hot hatch, but it’s a good attempt at a warm hatch with relatively good fuel economy.

Now, being a Stilo owner and knowing the driving dynamics of the car, I was keen to see what the Bravo would be like considering it essentially uses a lot of the same oily bits. The first thing that is noticeable is what and improvement the electric power steering is. There is still an air of vagueness about it, like on most electric units, but the turn-in is sharper and generally feels beefed up. Cornering is much tauter and the car feels much stiffer and much more firm, though on the flip side of that the ride remains very pliant on all but the most potholed of surfaces, even with the low profile alloy wheels fitted.

The original Bravo from the nineties suffered from a few reliability glitches if the car wasn’t maintained well but the main achilies heel was the quality of the interior. Or lack of it. I’ve seen tracing paper with more resilience to falling to bits than the interior of old Bravos from personal experience, and this is one area the Stilo improved on. However, whereas the interior of the Stilo is nice, to be honest it is pretty dull. The interior of the new Bravo seems to be screwed together well and it looks fantastic, especially in Sport trim as featured in this test car with its part cloth part alcantara seats and red stitching.

If I have any gripes with the car is, like the Stilo a lack of a foot rest for your clutch foot. Whilst I’m nitpicking, the speedo can be obscured by the steering wheel at certain angles, the under-leg support on the front seats could be better and room in the back is compromised. It seems a shame that after the packaging miracles of 1980s Fiats such as the Uno and Tipo where there were so much room for the size of car that Fiat can’t seem to follow the trend with their latest mid-size offerings. Some families do need to carry more that just amoebas in the back.

Equipment levels are generous with even the most basic of models getting electric windows, remote central locking, six airbags, electric heated mirrors, CD player and air conditioning as standard. Move up the range a little and the model driven here gets cruise control, leather steering wheel and gearknob, sports seats, spoiler, side skirts, low profile alloy wheels and MP3. Move on up further and you can specify Bluetooth connectivity, tinted windows and much more besides.

The car I have been driving around in and the one photographed here is a 1.4 normally aspirated Active Sport. So, engine wise, pretty much the same as my 1.4 Active Stilo. And all I can tell you is that is so much better than the Stilo in the way it looks, feels and drives. I like this car. I like it a lot. And to be honest, I’d rather save myself a few quid and have one of these instead of the new Alfa Giulietta.

So to tot up the totals then

Styling: 18/20
Performance: 14/20
Handling: 13/20
Ride: 15/20
Comfort: 12/20

So out of a possible hundred it scores 72. The Stilo itself is not as bad a car as the general motoring press would have you believe – I know, I’ve had one for close to six years and I love it. However, the Bravo takes what the Stilo has and makes a pretty good job of it. True, it has shortcomings – it could have more room in the back, the footwells are cramped and some of the instruments can be a bit hard to read. But it’s possible to overlook these in the fact that it’s a fine looking car, an entertaining drive and easy to live with.



February 15, 2011 Posted by | Motoring | Leave a comment

>Fleetwood Mac – Gypsy

>And so it is back to me waffling on about my favourite tunes, once again. This time I’m looking at a song from the lighter end of my record collection. It is a pop song, and this particular song is as good as a pop song gets. No ifs, no buts. It has all the right ingredients.

It’s called Gypsy. It’s by Fleetwood Mac. I’ve always had a soft spot for Fleetwood Mac, regardless of the lineup, though it has to be said the band in my eyes was at its best when it had Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks at the forefront of the group. Peter Green’s lineup is blues orientated and there is so much good stuff there. But for me it’s the aforementioned “Rumours” line up that is my Fleetwood Mac of choice, and certainly the most commercially successful.

The song I’ve chosen here is an overlooked single (it reached no. 46 in the UK charts) taken from the 1982 album Mirage. Mirage, which is probably their weakest effort, came after the more experimental album Tusk, which alas didn’t sell in the same quantities as Rumours so was instantly branded a flop (I’d love a flop that sold in excess of five million copies, thankyou very much). So Mirage saw the band revert back to a more rock / pop sound.

Gypsy was written by Stevie Nicks back in 1979 during the height of her fame and was initially going to be included on her debut solo album Bella Donna. However, it was held back for Fleetwood Mac. To understand the song itself, if you are so inclined, we need to understand the inspiration behind it. Put simply, it took Stevie back to a time before the height of success and fame. In fact, back to a time when Stevie and Lindsey Buckingham were still a couple with no money, just an apartment with a king size mattress on the floor. According to Stevie in an interview in 2009:

“To this day, when I’m feeling cluttered, I will take my mattress off of my beautiful bed, wherever that may be, and put it outside my bedroom, with a table and a little lamp”.
Add to this the name of the shop where she bought her clothes (as did Janis Joplin, incidentally) and you have the opening lyrics of the song –
“So I’m back, to the velvet underground
Back to the floor, that I love
To a room with some lace and paper flowers
Back to the gypsy that I was
To the gypsy… that I was”.
The lyrics were pretty much complete back in 1979. However a small section of lyric including the line at the end “I still see your bright eyes” was added on as a dedication to Stevie’s best friend Robin who died of leukaemia.
If, however, you really aren’t that bothered by the lyrical content of this song (and if not, why not?) then all you have to do is focus on the musical part of the song. It has a melody you’ll be whsitling or singing to yourself for weeks. The wonderful lead vocals by Stevie are helped by some excellent harmonies from Christine (McVie) and Lindsey. Mick Fleetwood plays a steady but rock solid drum beat throughout and John McVie plays a reliable bass line that bounces along and compliments Mick’s drumming. But the real icing on the cake for me is Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar work. Understated throughout the song, there is nothing that isn’t needed. The last part of the song features a melodic guitar break that finishes the song perfectly to the fade-out. Lindsey must be one of the most overlooked guitarists in the business. He knows what to play, when to play it.
You can find Gypsy on Mirage or any of the hits compilations. Which versions are my favourites? The original and also the live performance from 1997 DVD “The Dance”. If you can find a copy of this concert, get it. In the mean time, watch the promo video for Gypsy:

February 9, 2011 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment


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