Review and road test of the Fiat Coupe (1995 - 2000)
FIAT'S POCKET ROCKET
BY CLAIRE EVANS
The Fiat Coupe is one of the finest affordable sports coupe you can buy. It may be far removed from other Italian legends like Ferrari and Lamborghini, but it shares their most important ingredient: passion. And just like the greats, the Coupe is a car that's been visualised, designed and created by enthusiasts.
It comes in two guises: the standard 2.0-litre 16v or 20V model and the flagship Turbo 16v or 20v. The two later five-cylinder 20v models are worth the extra money - particularly the 220bhp Turbo variant, which really offers supercar performance on a budget. A real flyer, it will reach 60mph from rest in under seven seconds. When new, this Fiat cost a shade over £20,000, but now the earliest four-cylinder turbo versions can be yours for as little as £4,700, thanks to the unadventurous nature of many British motorists, which has helped prices reduce on the secondhand market.
Models Covered: 1995-2000: First generation Coupe - 1995-1996 2.0 16V, 2.0 16V Turbo Second generation Coupe - 1996 - 2000 2.0 20V, 2.0 20V Turbo
When the Coupe was first unleashed onto Britain's roads in June 1995, it was offered with a choice of two 16-valve powerplants: a normally aspirated 2.0-litre and a Turbo. These were superseded in December 1996, by the livelier 20-valve units.
At the same time the model was given a minor makeover, making it easy for potential buyers to check at a glance which version they're looking at. Post 1996 cars feature Fiat's horizontally slatted corporate front grille and a high level brake light at the rear. Smaller details set them apart on the inside, too. These included a new centre console, uprated stereo and an improved heating and ventilation system.
After this, Fiat sensibly chose not to alter this car's winning formula. It did however, for a short period at the end of 1998, augment the line-up by offering enthusiasts a Limited Edition version fitted with a six-speed gearbox, uprated brakes, leather trim, air conditioning and a push-button starter. The Coupe was finally discontinued in the Summer of 2000.
What You Get
Coupes are lifestyle machines, so they come well equipped enough to ensure that you can impress your neighbours and work colleagues. This means even the cheapest version has driver and passenger airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners, electric front windows and powered mirrors. Also included are front fog lamps, remote control central locking and power steering. However, a sunroof or (until recently) air conditioning was optional, so it's worthwhile hunting down a car with 'air' because it's a desirable feature and helps when the time comes to sell on.
Sit yourself behind the chunky three-spoke wheel and there are designer cues everywhere. First and foremost of course is the body-coloured metal strip that wraps itself around the entire cabin. Then there's the Pininfarina signature on the dashboard and the drilled throttle pedal, all evidence that Fiat and Pininfarina set out to design the car they wanted to design.
Fortunately, the traditional Italianate driving position (aimed at gawky individuals with long arms and short legs) doesn't materialise once behind the wheel. The sports seats, steering wheel and pedals are all well sited and the wheel is both height and reach-adjustable.
Despite those sweeping lines, this is a reasonably practical car - by coupe standards anyway. All right, so there isn't a rear hatch, but you can fit more than a jack and a warning triangle in the boot - though the opening could be wider. And, as long as they're not too tall, you can just about get two adults in the back - though they'll be pretty familiar with each other by the end of the trip.
What to Look For
Fiat has had its act together on build quality for many years now, and the fact that there are no major faults to report on the Coupe highlights this. As with all highly tuned cars we'd strongly recommend steering clear of any vehicle which doesn't have a fully stamped service book, and suggest you back this up with a professional inspection of any potential buys.
(approx based on a P-reg 20-valve version) A new rear exhaust section will set you back about £210, while a replacement headlamp should be around £222. A new clutch is about £152, an alternator should be around £207 and a starter motor is around £99. Front brake pads are around £54, and rear brake pads will be £49.
On the Road
Show the Coupe 20V Turbo a swaying artic to overtake and the power surge almost takes your breath away. Rest to sixty occupies just 6.5 seconds on the way to 155mph, but there's instant acceleration on tap in almost any gear. In comparison, other sports coupes feel limp and lifeless.
Even the unblown 20v entry-level model is pretty rapid, managing 60mph in under nine seconds on the way to 132mph. Drive it after a spell in the Turbo and you'll be unimpressed, though, particularly as the fuel consumption penalty in the faster car is marginal.
Another point in favour of the more expensive model is that it has been given a high-geared steering rack - the same used in the Alfa Romeo GTV and Spider. This enables just 2.2 turns between locks - compared with 2.9 in the entry-level 20v version. The Turbo also has unique front suspension (which successfully improves handling precision and stability) as well as massive aluminium caliper Brembo brakes.
You don't purchase a car like this simply because it goes quickly and handles like a rally car, however. Consciously or unconsciously, you buy it to make a statement - and it's hard to find a car that makes a bolder visual claim than this one, thanks to its Pininfarina penned lines.
Take a seat behind the wheel of a secondhand Coupe and any keen driver is bound to be hooked. Not just by its performance, but also by the fact that it makes such a great secondhand buy.
Fiat Coupe (1995 - 2000) review by CLAIRE EVANS