WITH its Uno range, Fiat was a major player in the entry level market for many years. The introduction of the Palio (now positioned just below the more expensive Punto models in the South African line-up) was a move to provide a model that would carry on the fight for market share once Uno was withdrawn.

Now, five years after the Braziliansourced model went into local production at Nissan SA’s Rosslyn plant, local Palios have been given a makeover introduced on overseas markets some time ago. Like its more expensive stablemates, the Go! derivative, aimed at first time buyers and the young and trendy set, has benefited greatly from the substantial facelift, which gives the little car a bright new front and a perky new rear.

Standard colour coded bumpers looked especially good on the flame red three-door we received for test. Up front, the headlights are larger and more modern in their design, angling downwards at the edges before flowing around the sides of the nose. Where large orange indicators framed the headlights on the old model, these are now neatly integrated behind the single lens. A narrow grille joins the headlights, and displays the circular Fiat badge of old. Two mock air intakes flank the main central intake, breaking up the bottom of the front bumper and adding to the sporty looks.

Moving around the car it is a pity that the colour coding does not extend to the black trimming below the front doors, but new plastic wheel covers do add a touch of class.

Big improvements have been made to the rear of the GO! And, once again, there is an element of sportiness in the way the black strip running along the bottom of the rear bumper is broken into three sections. There are new, bigger and neater tail-light clusters, similar to those on big brother Stilo, and the placement of the number plate on the boot lid itself (it was previously positioned in the rear bumper) helps to give a high and fresh stance.

So, the new Palio GO! scores high on exterior looks – but what about the interior? The last Palio we tested arrived with a not so smart looking blue/grey plastic facia, so we were pleased to see that this has been replaced by a more conventional black moulding. Besides this, the design is as before. Fiat’s bean counters dictate that this is an entry-level car and, as such, there is a black panel in the centre of the facia where you might find a radio in more expensive models. Below this, the large red hazard light button stands out between buttons for the rear demister and the all important rear foglight. There’s no air-conditioner, but the three-speed fan does well to circulate air to driver and front-seat passenger. The ventilation controls, though dated, are simple and easy to use.

Storage bin options are a tad inadequate for a car in this segment. All there is on offer is an indent in the top of the passenger side of the facia, and a fairly deep pigeon hole below this. We’d like to have seen some sort of grippy plastic lining on these storage bins, as the hard plastic does little to stop objects rolling around and even falling out while in transit. As with the previous Palio, there is a deep cubbyhole situated above the passenger footwell, and this features indents for cups in the open lid.

There’s a rev-counter to add to the sporty feel and spirit of “Go!” It provides a visual indication of what the ears may already have sensed… the new Palio has retained its willing 1 242 cm3 engine, which can been heard working overtime as the revs climb towards the 6 500 r/min red line. The ED variant we last tested managed a 0–100 km/h time of just over 14 seconds, and similar figures were returned in new “Go!” trim. The gearshift is slick and easy. Top speed, too, was pretty much the same this time around, averaging out at 164 km/h.

On the road, the Palio Go! soaks up the bumps well, and its fairly high stance provides good ground clearance. Front seats are nicely cushioned and, although they could do with some more lumber support, they contribute to the soft, comfortable feel. In their fore-aft adjustment, the front seats trace a rocking chair-like arc, a system that provides a comfortable seating position for drivers of average height, but the leading edge of the cushion rocks too high when pulled forward for shorter drivers, and too low when pushed back for taller individuals.

Pressing on through bends, the combination of soft ride, high stance and lack of side seating support can leave passengers holding on for dear life. At this end of the market, power steering is a hard to come by option and, like most competitors, the Palio Go! does without. The relatively small tyres (155/80 R13) and lowish weight of the car make for a light and easy steering feel at low speeds, though the trade-off is that the wheel does tend to get heavier through faster bends as the wheels start to try to take the path of least resistance.

Brakes felt good and were easy to modulate during our emergency braking test. Stopping times from 100 km/h were consistent, and there were no signs of fade. But drivers on a budget may be disappointed with fuel consumption levels. The CAR fuel index – our estimate of overall consumption in normal driving – amounted to 9,84 litres/100 km, a tad higher than the average for this class.

Test summary

On exterior looks alone the new car is a winner. But the great exterior package is let down by the dated interior styling and lack of refinement on the road. Add to that the fact that there are cheaper, better-equipped offerings (though not strictly direct rivals for this trendy three-door: the five-doors in the budget hatch comparison elsewhere in this issue are all lowerpriced), and one wonders whether Fiat might end up selling fewer examples than it would like…