The Journey Begins…
Before I even left for the trip, I managed to get lost for over an hour and receive a parking ticket. These were signs of the times to come.
Recently, I took a condensed road-trip through the mountain coast-line of Brazil in a Fiat Palio Fire Economy hatchback. At $11,000, this was a far cry from the supercars I recently covered. But over the course of a three-part series, I’m going to explain why this Fiat was one of the best cars I have ever driven.
Over 400 miles in less than 46 hours, that was our goal. Traversing everything from dirt-paths to beautiful highways, our Fiat was going to see it all.
When the car rental place pulled the car around the corner, I knew this was going to be an adventure. The Fiat was riding on tires sized for a Power Wheels car and had the ground clearance of a toothpick. My inspection revealed a working radio, no AC and an on/off switch. Despite the shortcomings, I signed the waiver and pulled it out of the garage.
Instantly, I was greeted with a complete lack of power anything, including steering. Fortunately the car was small so turning still felt relatively normal. Other quirks started showing themselves though. The pedals were so far to the right they were easier for a passenger to reach. The non-adjustable steering wheel angled upwards toward my chin and an annoying eco-meter gauge kept flopping up and down as I drove.
To make matters more intense, Brazilian drivers are the most aggressive drivers I have ever seen. This is odd because as a group of people they are very relaxed and easy going. Something happens when they get behind the wheel though. There was a constant barrage of cars pulling around me in made-up lanes and motorcycles weaving between traffic. It was a shock trying to understand the baffling driving norms.
After picking up my three comrades and piling everyone’s bags into the back, the car was stuffed. For added comfort, both of my knees sat firmly against the bottom of the dash. Before I even left for the trip, I managed to get lost for over an hour and receive a parking ticket. These were signs of the times to come.
To avoid traffic, our group set out at two in the morning (UTC). The first four hours of the drive were pretty straightforward with lighting and mild traffic. The only annoyances were a series of randomly priced tolls throughout the drive. These left us scrambling for coins.
Pretty soon though, I found myself driving up. Then I started to find myself really driving up. First, I dropped into fourth gear…then third…then second. The mountain seemed to get steeper and steeper. Driving through the dead of night with no light on the road, I started to question my choice of route. The 1.0 liter 4-cylinder engine could have used a little power here. There was even a point when I had to drop the car into first gear just to keep the dang thing moving forward. The eco-meter didn’t seem too happy with my driving at this point either.
After some robust shifting and nervous cliff-side driving, I found the top of the mountain. But lo-and-behold, I was greeted by an intense sheet of fog that was almost as thick as smoke. I could only see 50 feet in front of the Fiat’s nose, and that’s being generous. Fortunately this only lasted for about thirty minutes.
Soon, light began to shine in the sky. Day-break was only a short-time away. The group woke up and I pulled over at a gorgeous waterfall to take in the sun-rise. The little Fiat had already tackled some intense driving and needed a break.
Already having driven for about four or five hours straight through the morning, I was feeling pretty weary. The car’s eagerness propelled me forward though. The next sign read, “40km (25miles) to Paraty”. We’re almost there, I thought. Oh, how wrong I was..