TwinAir gives Fiat Punto new kick

Fiat's updated Punto has been given new heart with TwinAir turbo petrol power, says By Matt Kimberley, PA motoring writer.

IT SEEMS like only yesterday that the Punto was replaced with the Punto Evo, which raised the bar for quality and driveability. Now the Evo has been dropped and we're back to just Punto, but again it's higher quality.

The important news that comes with the latest updates is that the TwinAir two-cylinder turbo has made it into the Punto for the first time, adding to the range a petrol model emitting only 98g/km of CO2. It's aimed at young urban and suburbanites who don't do that many miles per year but still want something funky.

To that effect the TwinAir is its own standalone trim level, with its own combination of equipment and an affordable price tag. There's even a fantastic metallic green available for the moment only on the TwinAir.

It's not as luxurious as the Lounge trim option, but that's not what the TwinAir is about. This is a car more focused on driving character and low emissions, so in and around the TwinAir's familiar curves you'll find 15in alloy wheels (with five optional upgrade styles and sizes), privacy glass on the rear doors and back screen, a few subtle exterior styling tweaks and useful comfort features like air-conditioning, front electric windows, Fiat's Dualdrive power steering for ultra-lightweight steering in car parks, and remote central locking.

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It looks every bit the part thanks to front fog lights, darkened headlight clusters and gloss black door pillars. With a cheeky upgrade to bigger and wider 17in wheels it's one of the best-looking hatchbacks on the market, and the larger alloys don't affect the ride comfort too much.

All in all it carries a balanced collection of gear, but not so much as to make the Punto architecture overly heavy. The engine weighs very little, and it's here that you'll find the chief genius of the TwinAir lump in this car.

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With the featherweight twin-cylinder engine thrumming away under the bonnet and those wider tyres biting at the road, the Punto turns into corners with a verve and tenacity that can take you by surprise. Its eagerness is matched by grip, too. If the weather is good, the traffic light and the mood strikes, there's really no need to slow down too much for average roundabouts. It becomes like a puppy that's found a loose roll of loo paper.

The engine is the same 84bhp unit that has already seen service in the 500 and new Panda, but the five-door Punto is about half an average person heavier than the Panda and feels just a bit tardier. It quickly reaches the limits of its ability on open roads. Around town it's much more enjoyable though – the stop-start system doing its job and the engine bursting back to life each time with a charming little cough.

Its engine note is lower than that of a typical four-cylinder supermini, so you need to stay conscious of how many revs you're using. It's easy to top 4,000rpm without thinking twice, when the on-board computer recommends shifting at just over 2,000rpm for the best fuel efficiency.

But the turbocharged torque and lovable buzzing soundtrack make the TwinAir the best petrol Punto for low-speed work – unless the Lounge trim's extra luxury equipment is more your thing.

Interior modifications have been kept minimal at first glance, but there has been a fairly unilateral boost to both style and quality. The topmost sections of plastic on the dashboard and doors are still not quite up to scratch but the cabin is one of the most stylish and welcoming you'll find for the price. It's young-feeling and unpretentious, which makes it very easy to relax in and enjoy.

There are dozens of styling options available so buyers can make their Punto unique. Even the key fob can be given all kinds of stylised covers.

The updates the Punto has been given with the loss of the 'Evo' don't go so far as to resize or reshape the boot or rear passenger area. Space isn't bad and the boot is deep, so it's good news for confident stackers, but squeezing three passengers into the back for more than a few miles at a time might be a bridge too far.

While the Punto TwinAir has its limits and won't cover long distances as well as its 1.3-litre diesel sibling, it's priced very well and has much more character than many of its rivals.

It's a genuinely interesting choice in a market sector crowded with relatively dull or expensive options, and that makes it very likeable.

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