Fiat Punto: Stage set for Punto season

Fiat Punto.
Fiat Punto.
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ASK people what they know about how a Fiat Punto drives and most will either give you a blank look or pass reference to the “City” button that makes the steering feel as if it’s become disconnected when you press it.

The more well-informed will talk about the clever two-cylinder TwinAir or 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol units that have added a bit of hi-tech to the range. Maybe the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel will also get a mention. Here, though, we’re focusing on a much more affordable variant, the 69bhp 1.2-litre, eight-valve petrol model.

This powerplant is one of Fiat’s older ones, but it’s still a willing, if rather noisy, unit, making 60 from rest in 14.4 seconds on the way to 97mph flat out. It offers reasonable in-town flexibility, which means you won’t have to row the thing along with the gearlever. And urban driving’s also where you’ll appreciate the light steering, with that clever City set-up. You activate that by pressing a dashboard button that instantly lightens the steering for tight parking manoeuvres.

That’s great, but when you’re out on the open road with the City option deactivated, it would be nice if the extra steering response also gave you more of a connected take on the road. As things are, it can be difficult to place this car as accurately as you might like through the bends. The ride’s not bad though, unless you make the mistake of going for a variant fitted with rather over-stiff sports suspension. Ultimately, after all, this is never going to be any kind of hot hatch. Just a very credible, very efficient and in many ways rather endearing modern supermini.

The third-generation Punto, branded the Grande Punto by Fiat, boasted mini-Maserati looks. And it’s these that have supplied the inspiration for the car we have here. Redesigned body-coloured bumpers front and rear reprise the clean, effective styling that made the Grande model great and helped buyers to overlook its aging engines and plasticky cabin. There wasn’t too much wrong with the original design that a better choice of colour, trim and materials wouldn’t have put right, so that’s exactly what’s been tweaked.

It’s a spacious cabin too, courtesy of one of the longest wheelbases in its class. That makes a genuine difference to rear seat accommodation with this Punto offering good legroom, if not quite enough space to comfortably seat three adults. What’s perhaps a little more surprising given the sleek teardrop shape, is just how much headroom there is in the back as well.

If there’s a problem, it’s that the extra wheelbase has favoured people rather than packages, so the 275-litre boot capacity is slightly less than is boasted by some rivals. It’s worth pointing out though, that if you flatten the rear bench, the resulting 1,030-litre load area is one of the biggest in the class.

Of course, no one is going to buy this 1.2 8v Punto if they can stretch to one of the hi-tech TwinAir or MultiAir variants. But you’ll need a budget of at least £12,500 for one of those – and probably much more. This entry-level Punto in contrast, requires only £10,000 from you, with a £500 premium if you want to go from three to five doors.

Vital Stats

Fiat Punto 1.2 8V

Price: £9,900

Performance: Max speed 97mph; 0-62mph 14.4secs

MPG combined: 52.3-54.3

CO2 EMISSIONS: 123-126 g/km