Fiat Punto Evo-lves
Fiat has powered up its Punto with new engines and a new look, says ANDY RUSSELL.Fiat's forte is small cars - but then it has had a lot of experience.
Fiat has powered up its Punto with new engines and a new look, says ANDY RUSSELL.
Fiat's forte is small cars - but then it has had a lot of experience.
The Italian car-maker has launched a strong stream of innovative small cars over the decades.
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The 127, regarded as the first 'supermini', the Uno and original Punto were voted European Car of the Year in 1972, 1984 and 1995 respectively and became best-sellers - while Grande Punto continued the success story and is still Europe's fifth best-selling car.
Now Fiat has built on this success with the new Punto Evo - an evolution of the species.
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You could easily mistake it for a Grande Punto - no bad thing as the Grande Punto is still a neat supermini - but then that's what it evolved from.
It's more than just a mid-life makeover. It's been given more dynamic body styling and moves upmarket with an upgraded interior, but what you can't see is a stronger structure that makes it safer and better to drive. But the highlight is a new highly-efficient and environmentally-friendly engine line-up.
As well as launching second-generation MultiJet 75 and 95bhp 1.3-litre turbo diesels, Punto Evo sees the debut of new MultiAir 1.4-litre turbo petrol models with variable valve opening to alter air intake across the rev range and optimise combustion.
The engine uses only the fuel it needs, cutting consumption and CO2 emissions by an average 10pc, reducing toxic emissions during warm-up by about a half while boosting power by 10pc and torque by 15pc.
The 105bhp version goes in the bulk of models, but there's also a peppier 135bhp unit - which has just won best new engine in the Engine of the Year awards - in the three-door Sporting model.
You'd expect a supermini with a 105bhp turbocharged petrol engine to be a bit of a flier, but there's little sign of urgency unless you wind it up.
It picks up cleanly and smoothly from low revs but the problem is full torque doesn't arrive until 4,000rpm and maximum power is at a heady 6,500rpm, whereas the more powerful version's torque peaks at just 1,750rpm with full power at 5,000rpm.
Work it with the six-speed manual gearbox to keep the revs up and it unleashes its potential, feeling crisp and lively and thriving on revs.
It's testimony to this engine's refinement that it never feels strained or thrashy and you are rewarded with a pleasantly raspy exhaust note.
Even driving quite hard I averaged 43mpg and suspect a lighter foot would have paid dividends.
All engines have Fiat's Start&Stop system to cut the engine, restarting it when you press the clutch pedal, so you're not wasting fuel in stationary traffic and causing unnecessary exhaust pollution.
Two chassis set-ups are offered - standard for Active, Dynamic and Eleganza and a sports one for GP and Sporting models.
I drove a Dynamic model, which should prove a big-seller, and even the standard set-up is on the firm side.
The ride is compliant and settled, although there is some tyre noise on poor surfaces, and the Punto Evo feels well planted with a flat stance through corners and decent feedback from the power steering which has Fiat's traditional lightweight City mode for parking.
There's a good balance between ride and roadholding, but it's not such an accomplished all-rounder as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo.
What owners will love is the new, upgraded interior with softer curves replacing hard angles and making it more attractive. I liked the way the dimple-effect soft-touch blue panel on the top of my test car's fascia flowed around the central air vents complete with an integrated socket to plug the optional Blue&Me TomTom system, which not only provides satellite-navigation but also doubles up as an eco-driving display.
Piano black trim panels around for the central vents and audio system look classy.
Controls are well placed and easy to use, the recessed dials look good and there's a new level of quality to the interior.
A height-adjustable driver's seat and up-down, in-out steering wheel adjustment means you can find a comfortable set-up.
This is a supermini that can comfortably carry four large adults with decent legroom in the back and plenty of headroom.
The deep 275-litre boot compares well with rival mainstream superminis but the downside is that it has a high sill at the back.
Rear seat backs split 60/40 on all but the entry Active model and, once the cushions have been flipped upright, fold flat but it leaves a slight step up from the boot floor.
Dynamic, one up from entry-level, will be a popular choice coming as standard with seven airbags including one for the driver's knees, anti-lock brakes, air-conditioning, electric front windows and electrically-adjustable heated door mirrors, remote central deadlocking, radio/CD with MP3 and steering wheel-mounted controls and Blue&Me mobile phone link.
Punto Evo takes Fiat's small-car expertise to new levels and the smart new look both inside and out gives this popular supermini fresh appeal.
FIAT PUNTO EVO 1.4 16V 105 MULTIAIR DYNAMIC
Engine: 1,368cc 105bhp four-cylinder turbo petrol with Start&Stop
Performance: 0-62mph, 10.8 seconds; top speed 115mph
MPG: Urban 37.7; extra urban 60.1; combined 49.6
Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 15pc
Insurance group: 13 (out of 50)
Warranty: Three years/60,000 miles
Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,065mm; width (excluding door mirrors) 1,687mm; height 1,490mm