Fiat Toro became a symbol of what cars have been in Brazil

Challenging people’s concepts even after four years in the market is only one of the best-seller pickup’s talents

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Cars have always been much more than means of transportation. They’re produced by very different companies, they’re sold to very different customers, they come in very different forms, and their price and use make their ownership rather complex. Sadly, only some of them are advertised acknowledging all that — and, among those, only a handful are not high-luxury or sporty models.

Much of that can be referred to as cultural values, which gives them a strong regional character. This is exactly one of the reasons why automakers refrain from relying on them to sell the cars: they could easily end up restricting the model’s sales potential to one region. Nevertheless, some companies decide to ignore that and go the other way: Fiat has become an example of the latter thanks to the Toro pick-up.

What do you know about the Toro?

The Fiat brand has always focused on compact cars, so it’s understandable that it doesn’t do well selling bigger and fancier ones. That has never been a problem in Europe or North America because its parent company uses other brands to cover those market segments. In Latin America, however, Fiat had been the only one to prosper for a long time. As a result, it had to at least try to cover those other bases.

After frustrating itself with Tipo/Tempra, Brava/Marea, Stilo and Linea, one can see the Toro as the result of Fiat being fed up with the traditional concept of midsize cars. Those hatchbacks, sedans and station wagons were replaced by a pick-up truck which borrows Jeep’s latest compact platform and is just small enough as to be cheaper, more practical and sportier than competitors like Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux.

What exactly has made it so successful?

First of all, its very concept was tailored to seduce the pick-up buyers who consider the other models excessive. Besides, it has attractive looks (though controversial), nice powertrain options, and a reasonable balance between equipment and price, especially considering Fiat is not a high-profile brand. However, the fact that we’re talking about the Brazilian Fiat means things would definitely not stop there.

As my other article says, this specific branch of this specific maker has done a particularly good job at understanding what Brazilians want when it comes to automobiles and at effectively providing it as much as possible. The Toro was already born a true Brazilian car but, over the few years it’s been around, Fiat managed to find several ways to make it even more regionally attractive. The Ultra version is just the latest one.

Which are all these ways?

  1. Toro’s dimensions and price place it halfway between the aforementioned pick-ups and midsize sedans such as Chevrolet Cruze and Toyota Corolla. Both market segments are highly desirable in the Brazilian market.
  2. You can ask it with a diesel engine, which has been coveted there because of a decades-old government restriction. Since it’s a four-cylinder 2.0-liter, you can have an interesting balance between performance and fuel cost.
  3. While the model offers modern items such as infotainment central with a large screen, nine-speed automatic gearbox and electronic assistances, it doesn’t apply any technologies which would make its price skyrocket.
  4. The long list of trim levels cater to buyers from the purely work-oriented to the wealthy farmers. Since it also has some urban-focused versions, it can attract people from both the segments mentioned in the first point.
  5. What you’re going to read on the next paragraph.

The Ultra version

That’s a brand new variation which comes with a rigid bed cover designed for permanent use. Because of that, it features aerodynamic lines which may not be the most attractive, but look as integrated to the rest of the vehicle as they possibly could. And there’s a host of minor accessories focused on completing the visual differentiation, such as darkened trim, restricted color options and an exclusive badge for the version.

Fiat will sell the Toro Ultra as a second upscale trim level. The Ranch remains the indicated option for those who enjoy a more rugged appearance, whereas the new one will act as a fashionable, city-focused counterpart. While it does have potential to do well in the market for its explicit attributes, anyone who knows even a little about the Brazilian car market will easily remember the transformed cars of the 1980s.

Transformed cars? WTF?

Yeah, that’s quite an odd part of that market’s history… The dictatorship that haunted Brazil back then had the crazy idea of forbidding imports in order to boost the local industry’s development. It was crazy because, since customers couldn’t buy from anyone else, companies simply no longer needed to improve their products. And even if they did, the economy was in such a recession that people wouldn’t be able to buy them.

Brazilians resorted to modifying the available cars by themselves in a variety of complexities, designs, prices and, sadly, quality standards. A common type of those concoctions was to make the rugged and uncomfortable pick-ups of the time more suitable to urban use. You could find many design projects for front fascia and cabin, but all of them were paired to a rigid bed cover not too different from the Toro Ultra’s.

Did Fiat do that on purpose?

Nah, of course not. Those transformations are only appreciated in nowadays and, precisely, for being a thing of the past. They were a cheery consequence of one of the grimmest periods of Brazilian history and, when we talk about industrial standards, many of them were a source of embarrassment. As a result, it’s highly unlikely that any automaker would ever want to associate itself to any part of all that.

The thing is, car fans are making this association by themselves and, in that case, it gets a new meaning. The Toro Ultra will always be seen as a high-tech pick-up, fully capable of satisfying modern-day customers, but will also have several strong connections with the past. In times when companies of many sectors are turning to the past to get inspiration more than ever, Fiat is poised to enjoy even more success.

Writer and future engineer striving to work with car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.