Road test: Fiat Punto makes a comeback with value standard
GOING mainstream is bringing Italian style within reach of the average Australian.
Fiat continues its aggressive assault on the market, reintroducing the Punto hatch from $16,000 drive-away. That's more than four grand cheaper than when we last saw it in showrooms back in 2010.
Not much has changed since the Punto quietly disappeared, apart from a new nose and other minor styling updates which were seen in Europe last year, but the greatest transformation has come courtesy of distribution.
Fiat Chrysler Group took over the reins last year and a trio of brands are reaping the rewards. Jeep, Alfa Romeo and Fiat are undergoing resurgence in popularity.
Leading the charge for Fiat is its smallest player - the 500, a modern reincarnation of the bambino. FCG underestimated the demand for the pint-sizer which was recently released starting from $14,000 drive-away and the waiting list is between eight and 10 weeks.
Can the Punto follow suit? We took it for a quick spin this week to find out.
For a car in this segment, the Punto is surprisingly spacious.
Four adults would find the little Fiat a reasonably comfortable chariot courtesy of solid head, leg and knee room front and back.
There are three trim levels, starting with Pop, mid-spec Easy and the range-topping Lounge.
Across the range there are a lot of plastics through the centre console, dash and doors, although the Easy and Lounge get some shiny inserts and extra splashes of excitement in the centre stack.
In the entry-level Pop it's fairly pedestrian, and there isn't too much style heat emanating from the "Spicy Grey" fabric seats.
The driver has telescopic steering wheel adjustment, along with height modification of the seat, while the pews feel supportive enough to keep your rear end happy, even on longer drives.
On the road
Only one engine is available, a 1.4-litre petrol partnered to a five-speed manual or a five-speed robotised semi-automatic.
This is an engine which loves to rev. If you're too kind on the accelerator the little Punto can feel lacklustre, yet wind it up and it will answer your call on every occasion.
The automatic is an interesting beast during initial introductions. Finding the right gear is quirky compared to a conventional self-shifter, and you shunt the lever forward and back between drive, neutral and reverse.
Shifts between first and second are interesting, as it surges to about 3500rpm, backs off for a couple of seconds, and then takes off again. Swapping cogs between second and third can feel similar, but things soon iron out once at speed.
Driving smoothly takes some practice and we had better success when taking full control manually.
Its metropolitan intentions are
highlighted by the effortless steering feel, made even easier when you hit the city button on the dash. That lightens the load on the wheel to make mince meat of tight car parks.
What do you get?
For sixteen grand drive-away, the kit includes air-con, six airbags, Blue&Me system with Bluetooth audio streaming and phone connectivity, trip computer and a CD stereo - for alloys you pay an extra $500.
The Easy gains 15-inch alloys, premium dash, an extra airbag, leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter, rear parking sensors, centre armrest, electric rear windows, USB/AUX connection for the stereo and dark finish on the headlamps.
The Lounge has dual zone air con, body kit, leather seats which have power lumbar support, 16-inch alloys, rain sensing wipers, chrome exterior mirror covers and exhaust tip as well as a spoiler.
A dual pane sunroof on the Easy and Lounge are $1500, while Tom Tom navigation is available across the range which juts from the dash and is $595.
Unlike its cutesy 500 stablemate, the Punto is geared for ease of use. You can fit four adults within its confines, three across the back seat would take some deep breaths.
There are two front cup holders, and while they can accommodate water bottles they do get in the way of the manual when shifting. Unfortunately there is no spot in the doors to handle the larger bottles.
For those carting kids, there are three seat anchorage points that are easy to access, while the rear seats have a 60-40 fold. The boot is also deep and able to handle a weekly shop.
Fuel consumption is less than six litres for every 100km, and there is even an eco:Drive functionality which you can download data from the car via a USB stick and then analyse driving habits for improved efficiency.
More utilitarian than the 500, the Punto doesn't stick out from the crowd, although interesting touches like the rear light configuration and distinctive grille are decisive features.
The Lounge is the pageant winner, courtesy of its body kit.
Those who really want something individualised have a host of customisation options. Among the accessories list are various alloy wheel configurations, and a wide range of decals like racing stripes or Italian flag inspired lines.
For those who want bling there are chrome finishes for everything from mirror covers to the front grille and door handles. Even the key has a range of different designs.
What matters most
The good stuff: Sharp pricing, quiet road manners, cool accessory options.
What we'd like to see: Conventional automatic or CVT for smoother shifts, more internal pizzazz like the 500, extra storage spots.
Warranty and servicing: Three year/150,000km warranty. Maintenance is annually, oil and filters at every 15,000km or 12 months, servicing every two years or 30,000km.
Model: Fiat Punto.
Details: Five-door small front-wheel drive hatchback.
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 57kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 115Nm @ 3250rpm.
Transmissions: Five-speed manual or Dualogic automatic.
Consumption: 5.7 litres/100km (combined average, manual); 5.4L/100km (auto).
CO2: 132g/km (manual); 124g/km (auto).
Bottom line: Pop (m) $16,000 drive-away; Pop (a) $17,500 drive-away; Easy (a) $19,300; Lounge (a) $21,800.