Auto ExpressIssue 429
"Looks to drive for"
Eddie Irvine's opinions


Sexy styling and spine-tingling performance make the Barchetta a roadster to rave over

    The moment I clapped eyes on the Barchetta, I loved its styling. I defy anyone to say this car doesn't look the business. The metallic midnight blue is superbly sexy and looks amazing combined with the car's squat and purposeful stance. It's got the aura of a real classic about it, with its long bonnet and stubby rear end. You can only get these in left-hand drive but if that puts you off buying one, it shouldn't.
You'll get used to it, and you would be missing out on a fantastic car. I think that one of the reasons I like this Fiat so much is the driving position. It reminds me of my classic Ferrari 288GTO, because you sit really low down, with the top of the door and dash nice and high around you making you feel part of the car.

    The interior is tastefully done with a lot of bare metal to give that classic sports car feel. My only gripe is the way the instruments are laid out; the rev counter is easily the most prominent, right in front of you, which is fine—but I'd regularly be nicked for speeding, because it's too easy to forget how fast you are travelling!
The moment I heard the growl of the 1.8 litre, twin-cam engine I thought it would be a bit of a goer. I wasn't disappointed—it's a jewel. It accelerates well enough to get you out of trouble if you need to pull a quick overtaking move, but it's not too large to upset the balance of the chassis.

    And of all of the cars in this test, the Barchetta is the best balanced. It's helped by well-weighted steering allied to front wheel drive, so you can enjoy the handling in total safety (unless you're a complete maniac).

    Go into a corner hard and the front goes away from you, lift off and the tail comes out nicely. Then when you put the power on, it all comes back into line. There's too much understeer for my tastes, but that doesn't detract from a car that really is 100 percent fun.
The gearchange is second to none with a fast action, and with such a willing engine the Barchetta is an ideal companion for a country road on a hot summer's day. It's got a handy-sized boot, too, with plenty of room for two people's luggage.

    Minor irritations include the door handles, which look gorgeous, but are fiddly and would be awkward to use when you other hand is carrying shopping.
And the hood is a little awkward to operate, although I suppose that's the price you pay for having it disappear into the bodywork. There's no naff tonneau to bother about here.

    Everything has its price, and the £15,078 you'll pay to get this little beauty on the road is not that much for a hell of a lot of car.

Overall verdict all five cars

    Obviously it's very difficult to pick a winner out of five cars which are totally different. I think the Cinquecento Sporting has to go in last place, not because it is the smallest of the lot but because of those interior door handles which for me ruined all of the other nice styling bits and bobs.

    I think I'll put the Fiat Coupé Turbo next because although it's an awesome car, I think most motorists will get more out of something with a little less poke. But that doesn't make it a bad car—I have to admit I've got a soft spot for this machine and that incredible engine. It was difficult to pick second place because the two Alfas were such strong competitors. But in the end because of its beautiful balance, the GTV got it.

    So, third spot goes to the Alfa 145 Cloverleaf. It's a very versatile car with a great engine, great looks and a fantastic feel when you're behind the wheel.

    The GTV is a lovely car. It's got it all: the looks, the style, the driving appeal and the right sound—the last one an essential component of any sporty car.

    And that means the winner's laurels go to the Fiat Barchetta. It's one of the best all-round cars I think I've ever driven. Not only does it look fantastic but it drives beautifully and has one of the best driving positions around, which leaves and indelible impression on you.

See what I mean about first impressions counting?