23.03.2005 Fiat suv caught in the cold

Undergoing extreme testing in sub-zero temperatures, Fiat have a range of vehicles circling the ice-tracks at the Arjeplog-based Colmis AB test centre. Established in 1985, Colmis AB have 1,000 hectares of lake at disposal for a variety of ice-tracks prepared according to the requirements of the customer. Typical types of surface preparation include polished ice, packed snow, and planned snow.

A variety of fixed land tracks have also been engineered on site, including a 1.5 km long, ultra wide (50 m) straight strip and three heated hill start runs with gradients of 10, 15 and 20 percent. With 400 hectares of land available, Colmis also offer custom built land tracks. Colmis additionally offer a natural hill, with a gradient of more than 40 degrees. In February of last year, at the peak of the winter testing season, the locals challenged as to whether any car could make it up the hill.

Expert Fiat test driver Max Folegetti took up the challenge two weeks later, claiming that he could tackle the hill with his Fiat Panda 4x4 prototype as an ‘experiment’. With Fiat Auto onlookers, the test driver floored the throttle of the small 1.2 litre petrol engined car. With a simple viscous coupling at the rear, the light weight Panda crawled up the hill like an insect, making the challenge look little more than an everyday run.

Fiat are a regular customer of Colmis, and use the facilities extensively for a wide range of tests on their entire vehicle development fleet, ranging from Fiat Doblo facelift, to the  Maserati GT Spyder. The cold climate allows engineers to test the strength of plastic components, such as bumpers, which can turn brittle under cold weather. Handling can also be fine tuned to a far higher degree of detail, as traction characteristics can be observed at lower speeds on the controlled ice conditions.

Marco Carmagnola is responsible for the team of Fiat SUV test drivers.  Fiat will be making full use of the frozen lake ice-tracks until the end of March. (Arjeplog Times)

Max Folegetti, expert Fiat test driver, effortlessly cruising up the 40 degree gradient at the Colmis AB test facility in his Fiat Panda 4x4 prototype early last year. (Arjeplog Times)

The prototype captured on camera is fitted with a 120bhp 1.9 litre JTD diesel engine, with a 6-speed gearbox and four-wheel-drive. 

Recently, a Fiat SUV has been spotted prowling the streets of Arjeplog, catching the attention of spy photographers lying low behind snow banks. Despite the local dislike for automotive spy photographers, one of the daring breed managed to take several shots of the SUV, including an up-close shot of a technical specification sheet, which was carelessly pasted within clear sight behind the windscreen. Even the chassis number of the prototype was on public display, YY-2014.

Fitted to the heavily disguised black appraisal prototype, is the proven 1.9 litre 8V JTD engine, with 120 bhp. The high torque characteristics of this efficient engine are ideal for the icy conditions of Swedish Lapland. Power is transferred to all four wheels by a six-speed manual gearbox, ensuring both maximal traction as well as acceleration benefits. A 2.0 litre petrol engine, sourced from the Fiat range, is also expected to be available.

The Fiat SUV is a full 15 cm higher than the Alfa Romeo Kamal, placing it slightly above the class average at a height of approximately 177 cm. Observers should also take into account that the prototype is fitted with small steel wheels, fitted with narrow winter tyres. The production car will be available with larger, low-profile tyres, improving the stance.

Responsible for the team of Fiat SUV test drivers is 48-year old Marco Carmagnola, from the small town of Saint Mauro near Turin, who has 26 years of experience as a test driver for Fiat.

Despite the lack of free time during the cold weather testing phase in Arjeplog, Marco enjoys the location, praising the wonderful landscape and friendly people. The team of test drivers will be making full use of the lake ice tracks, which are only available for a short period of time from January until the end of March.

Developed as a joint project together with Suzuki, based on the Suzuki A-Segment Platform, production will begin in the second half of 2005, at the Magyar Suzuki Corporation facility in Esztergom, near Budapest, Hungary. The Fiat and Suzuki variants will have distinctive styling differentiation, and will be sold independently through the Fiat and Suzuki dealership networks. An international premier for the Fiat version has been scheduled for the Frankfurt IAA, in September.

By Paddy Granger


Photos Fiat SUV:  Protocatcher