The new DS3, customise every feature to suit your style
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to what has to be one of the best-kept secrets in our price guide.
It’s called the Fiat Punto 1.4 Turbo MultiAir Lounge, which I grant you is a bit of a mouthful, but represents some very decent value for money in just about every area.
The Punto, as you may or may not know, recently matured into its sixth-generation guise, with a four-model range scoring three greener engines never before seen under a Punto bonnet. Chassis and suspension components remained unchanged from its predecessor, but (entry-level model aside) the Punto got a relatively decent sprucing-up inside.
Sure, things like the steering wheel and centre console didn’t change much, but the redesigned dashboard from Centro Stile, Fiat’s design centre, is certainly worth a mention.
Radical was clearly not the brief in terms of sheet-metal mods.
The Punto gets no more than a new front bumper with deeper air dam and different headlights. At the back there’s also a new bumper - but the revised tail lights, which are vertical and sit quite high up next to the tailgate, are the most striking and obvious change.
So let’s just say that, although billed by the Italians as a new-generation model, it’s really more of a facelift in terms of aesthetics.
The 1.4 Turbo MultiAir Lounge on test here is the king-dingaling in the range. It’s also the only force-fed model in the line up, and happens to be the only one to get the spaghetti and meatballs Lounge trim level.
That engine is an absolute pearler.
I’m not just saying that because it won the Best New Engine of 2010 at the International Engine of the Year Awards. I’m saying that because it’s virtually free of any turbo lag, is responsive irrespective of what the rev needle is telling you, and it shunts the Punto along like an Abarth in training. The 99kW/206Nm output numbers may not sound like much on paper, but they get translated to tar (even in oxygen-deficient Gauteng) in a rather spritely and energetic way.
Our tested sprint times weren’t over the top.
The test Punto took 8.6 seconds to get from standstill to 100km/h, but I put this down to one major factor - the gearbox. Ratios are quite short, meaning three gears are called on to get to 100 - with that third gearchange costing a good few tenths.
More strange though is the Italians throwing in a five-speed manual ‘box in the Turbo when other models in the range get a six-cogger - which contributed to the not-so-green 9.2 litres per 100km consumption figure versus the mid-five claim from the Fiat Auto.
The other side of the equation, the suspension, is rather nicely matched to the grunt, offering sharp-enough feedback and enjoyable corner-hugging tendencies. There’s adequate point-and-squirt ability on offer here, and I’m happy to use words like dynamic and agile to describe this Punto’s road manners.
Driving the Fiat daily was a comfortable exercise.
I kept asking myself if I had missed the memo in terms of Fiat’s improvement in interior standards. Besides all the climate controls and electric windows, what stuck out the most were the piano finishes on the centre console and just how well everything worked ergonomically.
The new dash is top shelf stuff, and even the seats had a leather/fabric finish that was sporty and classy at the same time. The car also felt well built. No wind noise. No rattles.
Minor issues I picked up included the steep footrest angle which wasn’t very comfortable to use, the cubby hole was tiny (to the extent that the service book couldn’t fit in it), and rear legroom seemed lacking. On the quirky side the speedometer was marked from 10km/h - instead of from the usual 20 - meaning key speeds such as 60km/h and 100km/h weren’t highlighted.
Which I guess could come in handy when explaining yourself in front of a judge.
To get that fuel consumption level lowered you’d have to listen to the shift-point indicator which tells you when to change gears. But like in other cars with this tech it’s mostly unreasonable with its requests.
The Punto also had Start/Stop functionality but more often than not - even after a long highway drive - I got an “unavailable” warning in the instrument cluster.
I’m not a big fan of that fish face, but that aside there’s really a lot of value here. At R215 150 the price is good - in terms of bang for buck there’s really nothing that competes with it.
The Suzuki Swift Sport launched in SA recently is a rival and a good example. The Suzuki costs nearly as much as this Punto (R213 900), has a bigger 1.6-litre yet makes less torque (100kW/160Nm), and suffers at altitude being naturally aspirated.
In this price range and size I reckon this Fiat is as perky as it gets. Throw in the handling, finishes and impressive five-year or 150 000km warranty and it becomes a hard package to beat. - Star Motoring
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