You are known. And somehow not. We’re not talking about our own neighbors, but about cars that have remained so inconspicuous that only die-hard fans still know them today. Such models do not necessarily have to have been flops during their lifetime.
But they ran under the average car buyer’s radar. From now on, we want to start at irregular intervals under the title “Do you still know him?” bring many a vintage and youngtimer out of the fog of oblivion.
Fancy an automotive fun fact? There was a car with eleven years between the first and second generation. And yet both came from the pen of the same designer, namely Giorgio Giugiaro. Allow: the Fiat Croma.
For most fans of the brand there is only one Fiat Croma, the first of course. The 1985 model. The last Fiat flagship that many considered – and bought – in place of a German car, and not just for obvious price reasons. The basic model of the Croma in Germany initially cost only 21,360 DM, the popular Croma ie Kat was quoted at 28,490 euros. Local brands were easily several thousand more expensive.
First and foremost, the Croma is loved for its design, which is neither emotional, nor classy, nor “exotic” like that of its contemporaries Alfa Romeo 164, Lancia Thema and Saab 9000. These three cars are not mentioned accidentally, as the four Models are the result of a joint project, the result of which was the so-called Tipo 4 platform. This means that the doors of Fiat, Lancia and Saab fit together. Alfa Romeo, then still independent, only used the chassis and the technology.
The high reputation that the Croma enjoys is due in small part to the car that preceded it in Fiat’s price lists: the Argenta. A model that was unlucky, to say the least, in terms of sales, and that was also extremely old from a technical, technological and stylistic point of view. In a direct comparison, the Croma seemed like a quantum leap.
The strength of the Croma? Undoubtedly its spaciousness and load capacity, underlined by a large tailgate. Here are some figures: It is 4.50 meters long, 1.76 meters wide and 1.43 meters high and has a wheelbase of 2.66 meters.
The bodywork, designed by the Fiat Style Center in collaboration with Giugiaro, has two and a half volumes (today you would Fastback nennen), while the engine is installed transversely and the drive is at the front.
While today high-tech is displayed in the form of touchscreens and digital instruments scattered everywhere, 30 years (and more) ago it was lights of all shapes and colors that determined the level of apparent modernity.
In this respect, the Croma is a real eye-catcher: among the elements of the dashboard, which is imposing in itself, the control unit on the left, the extensive row of lights in the instrumentation and in the middle the secondary buttons stand out.
In addition, galvanized sheet metal was used, which is why the Croma rots much less than the Argenta. However, the plastics inside were not exactly of high quality and the workmanship was also rather mediocre.
There’s a flat floor in the back, allowing five people to travel better than in many modern cars. However, it should be added that the safety standards in force today place far more constraints on designers.
The equipment of the Croma was not bad for the mid-1980s, it was probably also a reaction to the success of the lavishly furnished Japanese. Standard equipment included front electric windows, central locking, halogen headlights, heated rear window, front headrests, front seat belts and a height-adjustable steering wheel; only in the case of the diesels (for obvious reasons of engine weight) there was initially also power steering.
Optional equipment included ABS, a split rear seat, a sunroof, a rear-view mirror on the right-hand side and – only on the top models – air conditioning, leather seats, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors and a self-levelling suspension.
The range of engines included six units, four petrol and two diesel. The most interesting of the six models is the 2.0 CHT (90 hp and 169 Nm of torque, for a top speed of 180 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 11.8 seconds), since it is equipped with the Yamaha CHT (Controlled High Turbolence) system: This was one of the very first production variable geometry intake systems, offering better fuel economy in city driving and smoother running at low revs.
In terms of diesel engines, an engine was presented in June 1988 that would go down in history: the 1,929 cc four-cylinder engine of the Croma TD id, the first mass-produced diesel direct injection engine.
Without a prechamber and with direct diesel injection into the cylinders, it consumes 20 percent less than a comparable engine with indirect injection; the glow plugs only work at temperatures below minus 15 degrees Celsius.
However, one problem remained unsolved at the premiere of the diesel direct injection engine: the loud combustion noise of the engine – especially at low engine speeds. A disadvantage that, together with the more stringent emission standards, quickly revealed the limits of the new diesel engine. In addition, Fiat scored an own goal by only offering the Croma TD id in Italy. So Audi was later able to take credit for their TDI.
Initially entrusted to Magneti Marelli for the Croma TD id project, using Altecna’s own technical staff in Bari, in 1990 the research group was transferred from Bari to the Fiat Research Center in Orbassano.
After various detailed improvements, the Croma received a major facelift for the first time in February 1991. Externally, the front end in particular has been revised, which is based on newer models such as the Tempra and Tipo, while the interior features a redesigned dashboard. The engines have also been optimized, all slightly more powerful and efficient.
The Croma gained notoriety when, in May 1992, the anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone was killed in a bomb attack in a vehicle of this type.
In 1993 there was another small facelift. Now the Croma V6 was optionally powered by a 2.5-liter Alfa Romeo engine, which was available with an optional 4-speed automatic gearbox: it produced 159 hp, reached 215 km/h and accelerated in 8.3 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h. In addition, there was finally a driver’s airbag.
It’s 1995: Lancia replaces the Thema with the Kappa, Alfa Romeo prepares to replace the 164 (delayed until 1998, when the 166 appears). And fiat? Croma production ended here at the end of 1996 to avoid cannibalization within the group. Over 450,000 copies were made in eleven years.
In 2005, the Croma would make its comeback with a completely different formula – part station wagon, part MPV. The second generation shared the platform with the no less strange Opel Signum and the Saab 9-3.