A panel made up of automotive journalists from all around Europe elected the Fiat Uno Car of the Year in 1983. In the documents given to the press, Fiat announced that it was about to launch two additional Uno models to create a more complete lineup. One was supposed to be an automatic version, and the other a performance-oriented version.
It turned out that Fiat was not quite as ready as it claimed, and the performance version didn’t make its debut until 1985. The 24 month delay was noted by just about every media outlet in Europe at the time, but the wait was well worth it.
The Uno Turbo i.e. was one of the best and most underrated hot hatches of the era. Its main selling point was found under the hood: it was powered by a 1,301cc four-cylinder engine also found in the Ritmo (among others), but it had been thoroughly gone over and very few parts were interchangeable between the two.
For starters, the cylinders were spread out further apart to allow coolant to circulate between them. It also featured sodium-filled exhaust valves, an oil radiator, an air-to-air intercooler, and a reinforced headgasket, just to name a few of the modifications. The changes partly justified the delay in launching the car and showed Fiat’s commitment to making sure that nothing under the hood was left to chance.
The four-cylinder came equipped with a turbocharger built by Japan’s Ishikawajma Harima Industries, giving it a power output of 105 horsepower at 5,750 rpms, and 108 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpms. It sprinted from zero to 62 miles per hour in 8.3 seconds and went on to a top speed of over 120 miles per hour in fifth gear.
Fuel was delivered to the combustion chambers by a Bosch LE Jetronic electronic ignition system, which explained the i.e. in the car’s name: inizione elettronica is electonic injection in Italian. This was a novel concept at a time when a good portion of its competitors were still relying on carburetors. Fiat also fitted the Turbo i.e. with a Marelli-Microplex electronic ignition system that utilized a microprocessor.
The list of standard features included disc brakes all around, and model-specific 13″ rims mounted on Pirelli P6 tires. These were widely judged as not grippy enough and surprised many unexpecting drivers.
Fiat stiffened the suspension and lowered it by about half an inch, giving the car a sportier ride and a sportier stance. The look was complimented by a full body kit that included front and rear spoilers, large wheel arches, and fog lights. The rear spoiler was integrated in a Turbo-specific hatchback made of resin to help keep the weight down. The Uno Turbo tipped the scales at 1,862 pounds, an increase of about 150 pounds compared to a more mundane Uno 55.
The performance atmosphere continued on the inside. The Uno Turbo i.e. had a very complete instrumentation, specific seats and a specific four-spoke steering wheel with “Turbo i.e.” written on the hub. However, the hard plastics used throughout the car gave away the its econobox origins, an impression that became all the more evident when things started to rattle due to a hit-or-miss build quality.
In spite of its setbacks, the Uno Turbo i.e. was a particularly appealing car because it offered a state-of-the-art engine in a very affordable package. In its first year of production, the Uno Turbo i.e. retailed for about 70,000 francs in France. That same year a Renault 5 GT Turbo cost 72,000 francs and a 205 GTI sold for 74,000. The Golf GTI had them all beat at 77,000 francs for a two-door version.
Fiat added ABS-like “Antiskid” brakes to the Turbo’s option list in 1988. A year later, the entire Uno lineup was given a mid-life redesign. The Turbo i.e. got the rest of the lineup’s new grille, new lights all around, as well as a new hatch made of sheet metal instead of resin. The refreshed cars also came standard with a roll bar, an improvement that the press and enthusiasts had both clamored for since the mid-1980s.
The redesign also brought about a new 1,372cc four-cylinder with a Garrett T2 turbocharger bolted to it, and a more modern Bosch injection system. It was rated at 118 horsepower and 121 lb-ft of torque, while its top speed was increased to approximately 127 miles per hour.
The Turbo i.e. served as the Uno’s range-topping model until the entire lineup was phased out in Europe in 1993. By that time the hot hatch market in Europe had begun its free fall, but Fiat shoehorned the 1,372cc eight-valve into the GT version of the new Punto, where it developed 136 horsepower.