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Hidden Heroes: Fiat Bravo HGT

Published 10 May 2019

It’s funny how time skews your perceptions. Back when it first appeared in 1997, the Fiat Bravo HGT was very much an also-ran in hot hatch terms. It was a curious and intriguing car, with bags of character, but it was outgunned by more sophisticated rivals, such as Honda’s VTEC-engined Civic VTi and the six-speed Peugeot 306 GTi-6.

Indeed, in a contemporary Performance Car road test, it was even beaten by the Ford Escort GTi, though that’s one we find particularly hard to understand. 

Yet today, the Bravo HGT is a car whose classic credentials are right up there. Not only does it look like no other hatchback of its era, but it’s mechanically interesting, too. Neither of which statements apply to the Escort GTi…

Autowp .ru _fiat _bravo _uk -spec _19 (1)

We’ll start with the styling. At launch, the three-door Bravo and five-door Brava were marketed as Fiat’s visions of the future. Unlike rival manufacturers (other than Fiat’s sister brand, Alfa Romeo), Fiat’s three- and five-door models were fundamentally different. Built on identical platforms and sharing the same powertrains, the two cars were nevertheless completely different. The Bravo was overtly sporty, the Brava less so, but arguably even more futuristic thanks to its oddball rear lights. It’s as if Fiat’s designers had been freed from their set squares, which had dictated the style of every hatchback Fiat of the Eighties, and let loose with the Plasticine to create ever more curvaceous shapes. 

Plus, as Fiat was keen to point out in the original press materials, it cost no more to engineer three- and five-door bodyshells that looked completely different as it did to create two separate bodyshells that had almost the same profile. The need to develop, machine and crash test the individual components was no different, so why not try something unusual?

Fiat _bravo _1997_images _1_b

The flagship of the range, for the Bravo at least, was the 2.0-litre HGT. A 147bhp unit that was slightly down on power compared to many of its hot hatch rivals, but was ultimately far more interesting thanks to its five-cylinder configuration. At launch, many journalists criticised the HGT for its intrusive cabin noise, but we think this is something that Fiat did on purpose. A five-pot engine has a multi-layered soundtrack quite unlike anything else, and as the car’s USP, it made sense to amplify it. 

Then there was the power delivery - smooth, tractable and free-revving, it felt more powerful than it was. That was further addressed in 2000 with the run-out model, the HGT 155, which had 154bhp (or 155PS, from which it gained its name). The extra 10 horses, along with some Abarth body styling features, made it even more interesting to drive. 

Autowp .ru _fiat _bravo _uk -spec _18

It handled tidily, too. It wasn’t as grippy as the 306 GTi, nor as pin-sharp as the Civic VTi, but it felt assured and rewarding when barrelling down a twisty road, with only a typically Fiat notchy gear change letting it down. It was a minor detail for a car that otherwise had quite a lot going for it.

But today, the Bravo HGT is a very rare car indeed. At the end of last year, there were just 21 examples taxed and registered on the UK’s roads. From over 2,000 sold in Britain, that’s an astonishing, and quite tragic, attrition rate. You can still get a good one for two grand, if you can find one. We recommend that if you fancy one, now’s the time to start looking or you won’t get another chance… 


Robin Capper    on 8 June 2019

I have a HGT 155 in New Zealand. There were never many, maybe 30, and according to some recent research (by a fellow Fiat enthusiast) probably only 3 on the road. It's in pretty good shape in spite of being my daily drive and clocking up 255,000km. Has been retired to project car status and will get the respray (mainly to address a minor carpark door ding and stone chips) it deserves.

Still a good car to drive, but feels very GT compared to the Abarth Esseesse which took over daily duties!

Edited by Robin Capper on 08/06/2019 at 08:32

   on 30 January 2021

I had one brand new back then - It was a fun car and looked great but handled awfully - good times though. Only 7 left taxed and registered on UK roads now.

   on 22 December 2021

I have a red 1997 Fiat Bravo 1.4L 12V SX, here in the UK. (one of only 4 licenced vehicles in this spec. and model year left.)
I've had this lovely vehicle for just over 22 years now and has covered around 34,700 miles since new.
In all that time it has been very reliable and the cost of maintenance has only been for service items only. (this will further expand as the vehicle gets even older - obviously)
Every electrical item on this vehicle continues to work without any problems and fires up every time without fail.
The styling of this vehicle still wows me to this day and I love taking this vehicle for a good old roar around the twisty country lanes, with good handling / steering characteristics being in evidence.
To this day, the car is rust free (galvanised body panels) and the original paint work is still in good condition (this is due to yearly applications of wax oil and timely care / maintenance)
My other cars in the past (VWs and SEATS) have fallen by the wayside (got rid of them due to corrosion, reliability issues / parts prices etc, but I think this little FIAT will just keep on chugging along well into the future.
This FIAT maybe be worth less, or be underrated, overlooked and undervalued, but this car is worth its weight in gold, in that it so enjoyable to drive and own.

Salvatore franco    on 26 January 2024

I have a 1997 2.0 hgt I'd say not many of these around with the black heated leather seats I will not sell to anybody. The car has benefited from a coupe 2.0 non turbo engine with roughly 60k miles with all the works done to it new Cambelt pulleys and all the rebuild done by a friend of mine, the car needs a spray job and it will be as mint as can get, I look forward to showing up to a italian car festival in the future with this old school ride, it's also got the benefit of a sport cat exhaust which sounds amazing if your driving behind it or if your init cruising just the tone puts a smile on my face alone!
Thanks for reading. :D

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