Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign
, the original Croma was built on the Type Four platform, which was designed in cooperation with Saab
and Alfa Romeo
, it being used for the Saab 9000, Lancia Thema
and Alfa Romeo 164. Although the other models were executive cars, the Croma was marketed in the large family car segment, replacing the Fiat Argenta in the Fiat lineup.
Controlled High Turbulence
The Croma was the first large car produced by Fiat to feature a transverse-mounted engine and front wheel drive. It was available with a variety of petrol and diesel engines, the petrol engines derived from the Fiat DOHC engine family. Base models had the 1585cc, 83 PS (61 kW) and 1995cc, 90 PS (66 kW) "Controlled High Turbulence" powerplants, followed by two fuel injected 2.0 litre units, one with 120 PS (88 kW) and the other a turbocharged and intercooled version giving 153 PS (113 kW).
The 2.5 litre petrol V6 unit was from Alfa Romeo, but as with the 1.6 litre engine, was not available in all markets. The Fiat Croma was the first passenger car in the world to have a direct injection Diesel (Turbo D i.d.) engine in (1986). Diesel engines were the Fiat's 1.9 litre fitted with a turbocharger with direct injection, giving 92 PS (68 kW), and the 2499cc unit supplied by Iveco, with a normally aspirated version giving 75 PS (55 kW) and a turbocharged one with 115 PS (85 kW). This engine replaced the previous 2446cc unit which developed 100 PS (74 kW). Diesel engined variants of this car were not marketed in the UK.
The 1991 Facelift
The Croma received a significant facelift in 1991 with new front design including changes to the lights, bumpers grille and sheet-metal changes to wings and bonnet. Also in 1991 the direct injected diesel engine was equipped with variable geometry turbocharger. The original Fiat Croma was a much loved favourite of the used-car bargain-hunter in Europe, but was strangely berated by everyone else (including Fiat dealers).
The 1991 update did have a lot of improvements over the older model. For starters, the front end was tidied up - not that the looks of the Croma were ever the problem. The engines - one of the older car's strong points - were improved. And the dash was new - although the cabin, cheap-looking but never unsightly, was not the big Fiat's most glaring weakness. The big problem with the old Croma was its flimsiness. The interior trim used to do a little jig, while the bodyshell two-stepped the other way. The accompanying squeaks and rattles - from a car masquerading as a bottom-line BMW 5-series competitor - were more than a little off-putting to people thinking of shelling out big money for an executive car.
Given that flimsiness was such a prominent bugbear with the old Croma, you would have thought that top of the list of improvements for the revised model would have been greater chassis rigidity. High-strength steel in the floorpan, perhaps. Thicker-gauge metal. A few more welds. Or perhaps just a few bits of good ol' floorpan cross-bracing. Wrong. Instead, the Croma update still felt as though it was made from cardboard. There were however some quality improvements: all external bodywork
was galvanised, which meant the car should have held together, even if its second-hand value did not. New wiring layouts were used, to reduce the risk of rubbing and squeaking. And there were some improvements in sound-deadening.
Flexible, In All The Wrong Ways
But, the fact remained that about the only thing more flexible than a Fiat Croma chassis was the deal that a Fiat dealer could probably offer. Twenty percent off was quite normal for retail buyers; 30 percent was common for those few fleet customers tempted. Big new-car discounts, of course, meant big used-car bargains. Which is why those living in Europe could pick up a used Croma for a song. They would de-value by almost half within 18 months. To judge the new model Croma, you needed to push aside all the obvious preconceptions of the old one, and analyse the revised model as a new piece of kit, and it really didn't stack up too badly. The flexibility did manifest itself with rattly trim. Hit a bump and the suspension coped better than the cabin fittings.
But, on the credit side, the car did feel wieldy and sharp, belying its executive car dimensions. The steering felt fluent, and was well weighted, if a touch too low geared. The revamped 2.0-litre petrol engines were better-than-average four-cylinder units. The base 100 bhp CHT model was a little rough when pushed, but no slouch. Move up to the Croma ie, now complete with counter-balanced Thema carry-over four-cylinder motor, and you got more sweetness, more power (119bhp), but still the pleasing top-end gruffness so characteristic of Italian twin-cams. The turbo model (158bhp) also got the counter-rotating balancer shafts, and a water-cooled blower. The five-speed manual gearbox-smooth-shifting, but a little vague - was carried over unchanged. And, as before, the four-speed ZF auto was available only on the mid-range Croma ie.
Visually, the most obvious change was the nose: all the sheet metal forward of the A-pillar was new. The rear end also looked much better. There were some small suspension
changes too, making it a better car than the old model. But, revised or not, the Croma was neither different enough from its predecessor - nor good enough against most rivals -to give it much hope. Production ceased in 1996, and Fiat abandoned the large family car segment. The Bravo/Brava-based Fiat Marea small family car replaced the Croma and Tempra as the largest saloon and estate in Fiat's model range. Nobody seemed to miss the car, except maybe the Irish, where it got the Semperit Irish Car of the Year in 1987