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2006 Fiat Punto

 

I've owned a compact Fiat

My Uno wasn’t especially stylish, but its interior layout and appointments – and more importantly its handling – were impressive for its time. Better still, it did a fine job of being an everyday runabout – a wheelbarrow with the seats folded, a shopping hack, a commuter, and a neighbourhood loan car that was racking up more than 250,000 relatively trouble-free kilometres when a neighbour drove it into a ditch.

So I’m disposed to like small Fiats, but I have to say I’ve never really warmed to the recent crop. The last Punto was certainly far more stylish than my Uno may ever have been. But there was more than a whiff of style over substance about it, the interior too snug for comfort and only the Sporting making a persuasive argument for purchase.

This new version is different, though. The Fiat Grande still has style in spades. But it’s also bigger, far more useful, and it packs a range of mainly diesel engines beneath the bonnet, a fact that will gain approval at the pump.

Of course the first thing you notice is the skin’s good looks, but then there’s the size. This car is 180mm longer than the old Punto and considerably wider, too – hence the Grande addition to the Punto name.

But what’s really significant are the engines, for three are fuelled by diesel. As well as the 1.4-litre petrol there’s a 1.3-litre Multijet diesel, and two 1.9 oil burners in different states of tune.

The 1.4 is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. It delivers 57kW and 115Nm, and a claimed 6.1 litres/100km thirst – I achieved 8.9 litres/100 on a briskly driven, hilly test loop.

It’s a pleasant enough little unit, but try the 1.3 diesel and you’ll forget petrol power. The difference between the two engines in that same five-door body was best illustrated by the ease with which the diesel overtook a 1.4 on a steep uphill. For while the 1.3 is still straining at the leash, the petrol is running out of breath. It’s pleasant enough, smooth and willing, but without the punch a modern diesel can command.

That 1.3 mulit-jet diesel with its variable geometry turbocharger not only offers more power than the 1.4, with 66kW, it also offers considerably more torque. There’s 200Nm of punch on offer, accessed via a six-speed manual gearbox.

This car can be a little hooligan if you want, its light weight and all that torque letting you hurl it through the scenery. Yet it’s just as capable of a quiet life running errands. Driven thus, it offers a claimed 4.6 litres/100 thirst. It only managed 7.2 on our challenging test loop – but that had already dropped to 5.4 after a brief motorway stint.

Next, the 1.9. Variations on this engine appear in the Alfa Romeo 159 sedan and the Alfa 147. In the Punto the motors are detuned – to 88kW and 280Nm, for a claimed 5.6 litres/100 thirst (8.4 on our test loop). Or in funky three-door Sporting form to 96kW and 280Nm, with a 5.6 litres/100 thirst (8.7 on our test loop).

Both are impressive performers, but the $25,990 1.3 would be my pick. There’s more character and punch to the engine than the $22,990 1.4 can muster.

The 1.9 offers more, but do you want to pay four grand for it? You might if you want a three-door Sporting with its funky upholstery, but five-door buyers should flock to the smaller diesel. For that is Fiat’s trump card. Citroen and Peugeot offer a small hatch at a similar price in petrol terms – but there’s no diesel. Toyota’s Yaris and Ford’s Fiesta are worthy enough cars with slightly cheaper starting prices. But there’s no diesel.

Given a diesel uses less fuel per kilometre than a petrol unit, that gives the Punto the edge in a price-conscious segment.

It’s an edge gilded with Italian style and sharpened by the standard features list,
which includes ABS brakes, cruise control, four airbags, air conditioning, a CD player
with steering wheel controls and follow-me-home headlights.

The diesels add ASR to limit wheelspin (all that torque), MSR to control brake torque when changing down and, in the 1.9s, ESP to keep the car on line if you overcook
that bend.

What else? Well, the interior’s pleasantly designed, ergonomics are good, and I like the choice of interior colours – particularly the denim blue option. After all, why should a car this stylish stick to universal grey?

This Punto deserves to do well – especially in diesel form.

It seems well built; it’s pleasantly designed, surprisingly spacious, well-specced and well priced. And it’s still got the style – this time combined with real substance. 


Auto Trader New Zealand