ROAD TEST - Fiat Punto 1.4 Multiair Easy
Fiat reckons that its 2012 Punto “arouses strong emotions.” I must admit that its 'baby Maserati' predecessor did move my emoto-metre a bit when it was first launched back in 2006, but I can't say the same of this one.
Perhaps predecessor is not the right word here as the 2012 model is really just a facelifted version of the Grande Punto - which means its basic shell and most of its styling elements are now six years old. At a push it looks a bit classier and there are some cool new colours to choose from, but I wouldn't say it exudes too much in the way of visual drama.
It must also be said that this is more than just a superficial upgrade. Two of the four models in the range have received some cutting-edge engine technology in the form of Fiat's MultiAir system that we first saw in the Alfa Romeo Mito.
This gizmo uses an electro-hydraulic actuation and control system that enables very precise control of how much air is pulled into the combustion chamber, allowing the engine to perform well at all engine speeds and save a bit of fuel in the process.
In the Punto you can have a naturally aspirated version of this engine, as per the car on test here, or a 99kW turbo. Without the blower, the engine puts out 77kW at 6500rpm and 130Nm from 4000rpm. That's very good for a naturally aspirated 1400, but not quite enough for a pleasant long-distance road trip.
I took the Punto down-country for a weekend and it felt particularly sluggish up hills (even the ones that were not so steep) and I really needed to stir the gearbox. Fiat claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 5.7 litres per 100km, but on this trip, at normal highway speeds, it tended to hover around the mid-sixes.
The idle-stop system should ensure better-than-expected consumption in town though.
The suspension provided a very comfy ride but the little Fiat did feel a little skittish when pushed through some tight corners with a few bumpy bits.
Fitting with its more mature disposition, the Punto's interior is big by segment standards, particularly when it comes to rear legroom and the boot is a decent size.
Also decent is the amount of standard kit, including a six-speaker CD MP3 audio system linked to steering wheel controls, trip computer, height- and reach-adjustable steering, remote central locking, height-adjustable driver's seat and 'Denim Extra' cloth upholstery with an electro-welded patterned colour insert - various combinations available.
On the outside, it's kitted with 15-inch alloy wheels and full colour coding.
The facelifted Punto has also received a brand new dashboard, which now looks like it belongs to the modern age - it's a huge improvement over that of the Grand Punto.
This little Fiat is feeling rather dated now and the Korean rivals are still asking it too many questions on pricing and within its jam-packed segment it doesn't really stand out in any particular way.
That said, it is cheaper than most of its Japanese and European rivals and comes with a five-year/150 000km warranty.
If you're looking for something that's a little different from the mainstream and appreciate a well-equipped interior and good ride quality then this could be a very appealing little car.
Fiat Punto 1.4 Multiair Easy (77kW) - R169 900
Chevrolet Sonic 1.4 LS (74kW) - R159 900
Citroën C3 VTi Attraction+ (70kW) - R188 400
Ford Fiesta 1.4 5dr Trend (70kW) - R180 940
Honda Jazz 1.3 Comfort (73kW) - R179 900
Hyundai i20 1.4 GL (74kW) - R159 900
Kia Rio 1.4 5dr (79kW) - R157 995
Mazda2 1.3 Dynamic (62kW) - R186 950
Opel Corsa 1.4 Essentia (74kW) - R170 600
Renault Clio 1.6 Yahoo (83kW) - R159 900
Toyota Yaris 1.3 XS 5dr (73kW) - R183 000
VW Polo 1.4 Comfortline (63kW) - R176 900