2013 FIAT PUNTO REVIEW
What’s hot: Sharp driveaway pricing for the Pop; involving handling
What’s not: Unconventional ‘auto’; ageing mechanicals
X-Factor: There is something special about driving an Italian car; the Punto puts the ‘p’ back into personality.
Vehicle style: Light five-door hatch
Price: $16,000 (driveaway) Pop manual; $21,800 (plus on-roads) Lounge auto
Engine/trans: 1.4 litre petrol/five-speed manual and five-speed ‘Dualogic’ auto
Fuel consumption (listed): 5.7 l/100km (manual); 5.4 l/100km (auto)
Fuel consumption (tested): 5.7 l/100km (manual); 6.3 l/100km (auto)
So maybe the market is ready for another Fiat.
For sure, the re-launched Punto won’t do the brand any harm. At $16,000 driveaway for four doors, style with a bit of passion, and the crisp handling that sits deep within the DNA of all Italian cars, it will make more of a mark this time round.
We spent half a day at the wheel of the entry Pop and up-specced Lounge at the Melbourne launch.
There’s not much room in there for a new player. Especially for one, despite a refresh last year, that is soldiering on with a platform and a drivetrain that is now five years old.
But don’t dismiss the Punto; it’s better than you’ll expect.
It doesn’t in fact feel like a light car, neither in the quality of the accommodation, its space, nor in the settled way it drives.
Given half a chance, you’d have to think it will steal buyers from the larger ‘small car’ segment. The challenge for Fiat will be to get them into showrooms and sit them at the wheel.
With less than half-of-one-percent of the Australian market, that won’t be easy.
The entry-level Pop is no poverty pack. The cabin plastics, black and charcoal in the main, are a bit raw looking but there’s a feel of ‘substance’ to them.
Some in this segment feel light to the point of flimsy; that’s not the solid little Fiat.
All up, the Punto Pop’s interior is neat and functional and appears well put-together, if not the last word in style.
The fabric seats are a tad shapeless, especially for rear seat passengers, but are supportive enough.
The neat red stitching accents gives them a smart sporty look and the driver’s seat is height adjustable. The manual gearshift and clutch feel too is just right.
Also good is the direct, connected feel through the sporty height and reach-adjustable steeringwheel. It’s small and snug (but not as small as the Peugeot 208’s go-kart wheel) and there’s an indent for each thumb at the ‘ten-to-two’ position.
Other features, in a well-featured entry level car – the Pop is just $16k driveaway remember – include trip computer, air-con, remote central locking and power front windows.
The audio system is a six-speaker radio/ CD/MP3 player with steering wheel controls, and comes standard with Fiat’s Blue&Me Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone connectivity.
Add to that a standard start/stop system, daytime running lamps, 60/40 split fold rear seat electric power steering and a full suite of safety features including ABS anti-lock braking, traction and stability control and six airbags – driver, front passenger, front seat side and side-curtain airbags.
We haven’t yet seen the mid-spec ‘Easy’, but spent some time in the up-specced Lounge with Dualogic auto.
The Lounge comes with a much smarter dash and interior presentation than in the Pop; the dash design is quite different and is appealing and sporty.
It also gets leather seats and trims, piano-black surfaces and real-metal garnishes (at least I think so).
Add in climate control air-con, electric driver’s seat, electrochromatic rear view mirror, ambient dashboard and front door lighting, darkened privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers, bodykit, fog lights, aluminium exterior mirror caps and 16-inch alloy wheels.
You can also option a dual-pane sunroof ($1500), heated front seats ($500) and TomTom sat-nav ($595).
For the smart interior, the bigger 16-inch alloys and long feature list, the Lounge has some obvious appeal to these eyes.
ON THE ROAD
It’s an Italian car, so feeling sporty at the wheel is a given... right? Well yes, but no.
While the handling of both Pop and Lounge we sampled is crisp and quite a lot of fun, all Punto models have the same 1.4 litre eight-valve petrol engine under the bonnet.
It’s no bolter. And while both manual and auto feel brisk enough around town – they’re geared to get quickly away from the lights – once up to speed there’s not much else sitting there under the toe.
The 1.4 produces a modest 57 kW at 6000rpm, and 115Nm of torque at 3250rpm. So you’ve got to be giving it a fair old stamp if looking to overtake or to jump quickly into a hole in the traffic.
That said, it’s sitting in a segment where most competitors feel the same. You’ll be slipping in behind the wheel of the Mazda2, Fiesta, Rio or Swift if looking for more willing urge.
The five-speed manual is fun. It has a typical (for Fiat) slightly rubbery feel, but the throw is about right and you can snick it neatly back and forward through the gate.
The five-speed Dualogic robotised semi-automatic transmission we sampled in the Lounge is a different kettle of fish.(You can specify one in the Pop; add $1500 to that driveaway price).
It’s a bit weird. You’d master it in a day, but not without a bit of head-scratching.
It should be simple, and it looks it – push forward for neutral, pull back for reverse, push left for manual control – but it caught us out a few times .
It comes with a gear-shift indicator on the dash that suggests the optimum gear for best fuel consumption. But it has another trick up its sleeve.
Through Fiat’s Blue&Me, it also incorporates an eco:Drive system that enables you to download your driving information onto a USB stick.
Then, through your home computer, you can access Fiat’s eco:Drive website which will analyse your driving habits, give you a score out of 100, then give tips on how to improve it. (Yep, I can see us all falling over ourselves to give that a whirl.)
Gimmicky stuff aside, both Lounge and Pop handle exactly as you’d expect them to. Italian roads can be pretty ratty; both these cars handle broken bitumen better than most in this segment.
There is a nice elastic feel to the suspension, good compliance for a comfortable ride, and free of that hard, irritating jitteriness of some European suspensions.
The electric steering is well-weighted for tight streets, but perhaps a little over-assisted in the initial first few degrees of turn – it sometimes feels a bit too eager to tuck in.
The start/stop system works ok; it’s a bit lumpy when kicking back into life though.
For our drives, pushing things along a bit, we returned 5.7 l/100km in the manual, and 6.3 l/100km in the auto. That’s pretty good for a tight new engine.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
So that’s the ‘new-again’ Punto. It's more ‘city car’ or second car than tourer, but is surprisingly compliant on road. For such a nicely balanced little chassis though, it’s a pity we don’t get a more potent donk, or even a diesel, added to the model mix.
We like its pert lines, inside and out it still looks good.
All up, there is a bit of flair about the Punto. It’s got a sporty feel, is one of the better equipped of its near competitors and is solid and well-built.
Sure, if it’s a hot hatch you’re after, that’s not the Punto. But, Pop or Lounge, it adds a bit of personality to your buying choices.
PRICING (excludes on-roads except where noted)
- Punto Pop - 1.4 petrol 5spd manual - $16,000 (drive-away)
- Punto Pop - 1.4 petrol 5spd auto - $16,500 (drive-away)
- Punto Easy - 1.4 petrol 5spd auto - $19,300
- Punto Lounge - 1.4 petrol 5spd auto - $21,800