Journal: Has The Chris Bangle-Designed Fiat Coupé Finally Come Of Age?

Has The Chris Bangle-Designed Fiat Coupé Finally Come Of Age?

By Nat Twiss
March 28, 2016
34 comments

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?

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Luciano Bagarone
Luciano Bagarone(@luciano-bagarone)
1 year ago

Here she is taking in the late day light in Cambridge so,if you live in this part of the uk and you can can afford her the comfort of a decent garage to sleep in over night then do get in touch with me on coachlucabagarone@gmail.com and we can enjoy a road test together and discuss how you will be looking after her in future.
kind regards
Luciano

Luciano Bagarone
Luciano Bagarone(@luciano-bagarone)
1 year ago

I have owned my 20v vis for three years and hand on heart struggle to think of another car that,can cruise all day at a ton plus on the motorways and then lf required,mix it with the best in the business on the country lanes ( i am presuming you can actually drive ? ) without the use of traction control and the like,s of other contraptions that take away the pleasure of setting a car up for the bends at speed.
I have driven many of the old Porsches and Ferrari at speed as i used to make my living by fixing them for both road and track so,yes i know what quality feels like and more importantly appreciate the thrill of the driving experience !
I am currently trying to find her a new home as i have relocated to my boat on the river but,am struggling to find someone who deserves her ( turned down 2 fools already } make no mistake in that these cars do need looking after but they will reward you with both a great driving experience which,will have you taking the long way home and once there and you shut her down, i bet you can not look back with out smiling xx

make it a hatch
make it a hatch
4 years ago

i hate sedans. make it a two-door hatchback & i’d buy it!

Mike Aldridge
Mike Aldridge(@bikingmike)
5 years ago

I rather like them, although I don’t think black is the best colour for them – it hides too much of the shape and quirky details, and the interior looks fantastic with that splash of exterior colour. The styling is definitely polarising, but that’s a good thing – the only other car that possibly looks like it is the Mitsubishi FTO which doesn’t endear itself nearly as much. Having recently sold my lovely 944, I’m starting to think one of these might be a suitable , albeit cheaper replacement to mess around with and have FUN with – after all, isn’t that what FIATs are all about?

Francisco Yantorno
Francisco Yantorno(@fyantorno)
5 years ago

As a former Fiat Coupè owner myself i have to say that theres a misinformation in the article when talking about the design. Although the interior design it’s a master piece of Pininfarina, the exterior design it not fully responsibility of Chris Bangle. A the moment the head of Fiat’s Design Center was Ermanno ‘Arch’ Cressoni, also responsible for 80’s designs such as the Alfa 75 (or Milano in the Estates) and the Alfa 33 both with the original shaped called “la linea”. Also the 80’s Alfa Giulietta, the Fiat Barchetta, the Alfa 145 and 146, and many other Fiat brands designs.
Ermanno Cressoni as the director of the center at the moment the Coupè was designed, he was responsible for one of the most important design touches in the Fiat Coupè: those side cuts. In fact he mentioned it in some interviews, he was inspired by Argentinean artist: Lucio Fontana.
Lucio Fontana was very famous in the 1960s in Italy, he made cuts or slashes in the canvas. Cressoni was an architect and artist, so he was really influenced by other artists. Those cuts in the Coupè shape work as a kind of tribute to Lucio Fontana.
Cressoni loved to do such things in cars, just like the weird “la linea” you can see in the sides of the Alfa 75 or the first gen. Alfa 33, and also that weird lowness in the Alfa 145 front windows.

Francisco Yantorno
Francisco Yantorno(@fyantorno)
5 years ago

As a former Fiat Coupè owner myself i have to say that theres a misinformation in the article when talking about the design. Although the interior design it’s a master piece of Pininfarina, the exterior design it not fully responsibility of Chris Bangle. A the moment the head of Fiat’s Design Center was Ermanno ‘Arch’ Cressoni, also responsible for 80’s designs such as the Alfa 75 (or Milano in the Estates) and the Alfa 33 both with the original shaped called “la linea”. Also the 80’s Alfa Giulietta, the Fiat Barchetta, the Alfa 145 and 146, and many other Fiat brands designs.
Ermanno Cressoni as the director of the center at the moment the Coupè was designed, he was responsible for one of the most important design touches in the Fiat Coupè: those side cuts. In fact he mentioned it in some interviews, he was inspired by Argentinean artist: Lucio Fontana.
Lucio Fontana was very famous in the 1960s in Italy, he made cuts or slashes in the canvas. Cressoni was an architect and artist, so he was really influenced by other artists. Those cuts in the Coupè shape work as a kind of tribute to Lucio Fontana.
Cressoni loved to do such things in cars, just like the weird “la linea” you can see in the sides of the Alfa 75 or the first gen. Alfa 33, and also that weird lowness in the Alfa 145 front windows.

Derelict
Derelict(@derelict)
5 years ago

Yes. Bangle was bashed when he moved to BMW and became head there. BMW can thank him for pushing their design language forward to where it is now. Completely underrated design head.

Alex
Alex(@alex-s)
5 years ago
Reply to  Derelict

A lot of people forget he moved to BMW in 1992, and before overseeing the cars people love to bash on, he refreshed the current range, acquired DesignworksUSA, a lot of people love the E46 3 seres. He also oversaw the design of the new MINI. He helped transform BMW to overtake Mercedes in sales. Study the design of many cars today and its easy to see that BMW’s design language has had some influence in shaping modern car design.

Ashley Cooper
Ashley Cooper(@awcooper)
5 years ago

As an owner of a 20v model for over 12 years I can understand that it may not be a model for purists. Being based on the Tipo platform did lead to some compromises but the end result shows what a good designer can do with such humble underpinnings.
I love the design externally but pininfarina did a great job on the internal design and dash in particular. The thing I really enjoying is the burble from the 5 cylinder engine which with a good exhaust fitted makes the car sound really cool under load.
Yes it’s not perfect but you get plenty of smiles per gallon.

Aodán Collins
Aodán Collins(@aidantcollins)
5 years ago

Have my ’99 Limited Edition 7 years and it’s my daily driver. Currently at 205,000 miles (328,000 km) it’s a great cruiser. The 5 cyl engine warble is lovely and crazy acceleration in a straight line. The car still gets a lot of attention these days.. It’s can still pull away from the lights and surprise people… including myself. I like the red and black leather interior, very 90s retro. I’m not sure what I could replace it with for the fun factor?..

Andy Efimovich
Andy Efimovich(@fb_747745991)
5 years ago

Car to die for!!!! WHAT a mastrpeice!

David S Dempsey
David S Dempsey(@dsdempsey)
5 years ago

My question is …has he ever driven one and what does he base his opinions on , obviously not first hand experience. The only thing I have never liked about the Coupe was the wheels ..never thought they looked right ., so I chnged them on my second one. The LE in the picture looks great.

Lazar Octavian
Lazar Octavian(@blastam)
5 years ago

Whoa! Didn’t thought I’ll see one of these here. A friend had a non turbo one about 14 years ago. I really liked it’s looks and it turned a lot of heads. I really respect polarising design like this, it takes the kind of balls the industry has long lost since. I have no love for the stock 4 spoke wheels or the 2 tone interior scheme but other than that, I find it great. And they are still very affordable. Also, great shots by Nat, really made the car shine.

On the appreciation side of things, let’s not turn this into a college campus safe space PC BS. While I disagree with guitar slinger’s views, I respect his right to voice them. He hates the car on all levels and that fine, he kept it civil and on topic. Actual freedom of speech FTW: he gets to bash the car, the rest of us get to be right 😛

Robert in LA
Robert in LA(@robert-in-la)
5 years ago
Reply to  Lazar Octavian

These wheels really do seem to fit the car. The base model four and five spoke, not so much.

Per Eldh
Per Eldh(@per)
5 years ago

Mine (1998 20V Turbo) was prob the best car I’ve ever had.
The engine is bombproof, what about 283000km’s with 340hp, from 2liter’s..? Tell me one single VW/BMW/Mercedes engine capable of that.
Also with the right simple mods a great track weapon. The torque steer easily cured by a lower subframe OMP brace,
some neg camber front, bigger rear ARB, Eibach/Bilstein setup – hey presto, Porsche killer!

At the same time, capable of carrying 4 people with luggage at a fuel rate of 9l/100km.. Thanks to good aero (thanx Bangle!) and modern Bosch Motronic management.

I now drive a BMW Z4M Coupe ’06 but it’s not nearly as fast (or fun, or practical) as my old Fiat.

Per Eldh
Per Eldh(@per)
5 years ago
Reply to  Per Eldh
Alexandre Goncalves
Alexandre Goncalves(@cacem)
5 years ago
Reply to  Per Eldh

“283000km’s with 340hp, from 2liter’s..? Tell me one single VW/BMW/Mercedes engine ”

Volvo/Saab

Per Eldh
Per Eldh(@per)
5 years ago
Reply to  Per Eldh

Alexandre: sorry, but no. Trust me I’m swedish! 🙂 And, Volvo engines have nothing to do with Saab enginee.

Jan
Jan(@e-368)
5 years ago
Reply to  Per Eldh

If your Z4M is (too) lame – it must be you.

Per Eldh
Per Eldh(@per)
5 years ago
Reply to  Per Eldh

Jan – a rather lame reply 🙂

Phil Sharples
Phil Sharples(@phil-sharples)
5 years ago

Guitar Slinger – Better known as dummy slinger to his friends 🙂 What an immature and inaccurate guess of an answer. Off you trot back to your Audi.

The Coupe is a wonderful car, take it from someone who has owned many; ignore words of ignorant haters – Got love the haters. Fantastic car that still beats modern day sports tourers with ease. Easily modded and when it is it will beat most all cars on the road. Comfortable, seats four, reliable if looked after and you don’t buy one from someone who bought it to rag it and not in a position to look after it correctly. The coupe has a network of specialist mechanics and a loyal following. People are spending 4 – 6 times the buying price these days to make them like new again. A sure sign of a classic. And, it is a classic already as it never got replaced. Super car and nice article. Cam belts are done without taking the engine out and cost no more that doing a Audi TT or even a Megane. No worries there, just old stories about issues from hearsay and a network of Fiat dealers (back in the day) who had no real idea what to do 🙂

Djordje Sugaris
Djordje Sugaris(@djordje-sugaris)
5 years ago

Its only flaw is the FWD layout, but it is a great little car and quite possibly the only fun 90s-2000s Fiat. Plus, the design is quite awesome, both exterior and interior.

So yes, a future classic indeed, especially considering the fact that a lot of them were molested and heavily modified.

Robert in LA
Robert in LA(@robert-in-la)
5 years ago

To my eye, the chassis for the FA/175 is built rather completely a transverse engine, and that means a compact transaxle, a front sub-frame, and FWD with a the front wheels placed well back. Everything aft of the firewall is pretty light, and the weight bias is forward. Structurally it is a hot-hatch, even if the profile of the cabin and rear deck signal signal something else. And that is part of what I find engaging about the design. This is a car which is mechanically a hot hatch, which is a very light weight and economical way to build a potent and agile car, yet many of the lines of the car emerge from a design vocabulary which we tend to associate with a preceding decade of sporty, Italian, front engine – rear wheel drive coupes.

Marc Faubert
Marc Faubert(@shiraz1965)
5 years ago

I own one the only 20 VT Fiat Coupes in North America. I can tell you, it sure turns heads! I can’t say I agree with Guitar Slinger. Acceleration is awesome and still one of the faster cars out there even after 20 years. Interior was designed and built by Pininfarina right alongside Ferraris of the day. This means quite a few interior parts are interchangeable which makes parts availability a little easier for someone like me on the wrong side of the pond.

It can also be easily and fairly cheaply tuned to much higher performances. 300-350 HP is attainable with just bolt on add-ons. No removal of engine necessary. And to answer the question, no need to remove the engine to replace the cam belt.

All this to say, I’ll be keeping her for still a few years to come….

Alex
Alex(@alex-s)
5 years ago

+1 on that. Knowledge gained i’m sure from ownership and thorough testing of the FIAT coupe’s performance and handling limits. Generic Bangle bashing comments.

Fredrik Assarsson
Fredrik Assarsson(@fassarsson)
5 years ago

A definate future classic. Once you come to terms with the fact that most 90’s/00’s Fiat/Alfa were FWD they’re really joyful cars.
this one does have loads of character inside and out.

Wouldn’t buy it but they do catch my attention.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger(@gtrslngr)
5 years ago

Chris Bangle did draw up some pretty controversial and somewhat horrid designs . This FIAT … has to be one of his worst . Disjunct , out of balance , desperate elements poorly integrated into the overall design , completely lacking any sense of being a FIAT etc etc et al ad nauseam …

…..And … the car itself was an abject pile of fertilizer posing as a … ( cough ) sports .. errr … coupe with all the handling of a pig in a mud bog … the acceleration of a wounded tortoise .. the comfort of a Inquisition torture chamber … lousy ergonomics … poor quality materials and workmanship … with the prerequisite Fix It Again Tony reliability … all for a pretty hefty price at the time compounded by BMW/Mercedes priced parts , maintenance and repair bills

Conclusion ; As scrap to be recycled … yes the very Bangled up FIAT Coupe has come of age . As far as it being a desirable never mind collectable car though ? Just say no ! Its another loser from the fine folks at FIAT SpA now FCA .. ever since the 70’s

Jeeze .. first the Karma less Darmah yesterday … then you make amends with the R5 Turbo this morning … and now you go and completely undo all your penance reminding me of this pile of junk . … sheesh … just can’t leave well enough alone … can you ! 😉

Fredrik Assarsson
Fredrik Assarsson(@fassarsson)
5 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

Where is your mute button?

JAlfa
JAlfa(@daglobalconsultants)
5 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

You’re an idiot… My God

Phil Sharples
Phil Sharples(@phil-sharples)
5 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

Conclusion – never owned one, plenty to say about nothing in particular.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira(@sketchtank)
5 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

Go way troll

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
5 years ago

I did think of buying one new (which also makes me feel old now) and even got as far as talking to a dealer about trading in the 3 Series Coupe I was running at the time.
They still look cool today although I know a lot of people are worried about the cost of the engine out cambelt services which probably keeps prices low in the UK. I’ve heard conflicting reports about whether or not you can do the cambelt service without actually having to take the engine out?

David Dempsey
David Dempsey(@dsdempsey)
5 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Lange

Mine was done in a day and cost £280 plus parts ( 3 belts.. tensioners +water pump) …no engine out