Has The Chris Bangle-Designed Fiat Coupé Finally Come Of Age?
Photography by Nat Twiss
Have you heard of the Fiat Coupé? I’ll admit, before my father bought one when I was a kid, I hadn’t, but when he brought it home I instantly fell in love with it. The sounds of the turbo, the decadent interior, and oh boy, the looks.
Admittedly, I’m biased, but it’s a car that still turns heads to this very day.
Fiat made a mighty entrance with this car in 1993, more than a decade after the last thing remotely sporty had came out of the doors at Turin. And this thing was definitely sporty—with the inline-5 cylinder, 20V Turbo model, you were looking at 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, and a limited top speed of 155 miles per hour. This car was knocking at the door of the Germans, and nipping the heels of the men in red at Maranello, and doing it for a surprisingly low price, and with considerable style.
The less powerful 16V model had an engine that came almost straight from the Lancia Delta, but the turbocharged I5 model was the one to have, assisted by a viscodrive limited-slip differential. And it’s needed, because the torque steer on this thing can border on being comical at times. The even better spec to have was the Limited Edition model, which came with some slightly larger brakes, courtesy of Brembo, and some visual flourishes. It wasn’t really all the different, but Michael Schumacher owned and drove one, and that was an incredibly cool thing to be able to tell people in ’90s and ’00s.
But all of this is ignoring its looks.
Chris Bangle, responsible for some of the more ‘controversial’ BMW designs of the 2000s, penned the futuristic, angular exterior, and Pininfarina did its lush leather interior. This was a result of an internal competition between Fiat’s Centro Stile design division, and Pininfarina, and actually marked the first occasion in years that the in-house team at Fiat had won the design battle. The exterior looked ahead of its time when it went into production, and avoided looking dated when it left production, too. Bangle has noted in interviews that the groundbreaking designs of Gandini at Bertoni was a key inspiration, and it definitely shows in the sharp lines.
It’s not necessarily to the taste of everyone, and I’ve flipped and flopped on exactly how much I like it, but I can certainly respect how cohesive it is. Accountants and focus groups were clearly kept a long way away from the studio, and that is a supremely admirable trait of the car. It’s unapologetically itself.
So, how is it to actually drive? It’s not necessarily as sporty as its appearance might suggest, feeling more like a grand tourer than anything else. Taking it over the tight and twisty mountain passes of the Lake District was responsible for plenty of flinching and carefully making sure that the low profile tyres were keeping on the black stuff. Taking it on the larger, more sweeping main roads is where the Coupé really came alive, with a surprisingly decent ride, and opportunities to really let the turbo give you a swift kick up the backside.
You can pick up a decent example of the 20V Turbo model for four figures in Europe these days, and reliability isn’t as big of an issue as you might expect on a car of this type, so what are you waiting for? Who doesn’t want the performance of a modern day hot hatch, but with supercar-lite looks?