2013 Fiat Punto: First Impressions
The Fiat Punto is back! ItalianCar was invited to the launch, or should we say re-launch, of the refreshed Fiat Punto in Brisbane this week and we came away very impressed.
We were let loose in a variety of Puntos representing a taster of the different trim levels and options available. We sampled manual cars and a couple equipped with Fiat’s 5 speed Dualogic auto transmission.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the road test and our impressions of the new Fiat, here are some of the details and specifications. Fiat Chrysler Group have decided to stick with the five door body style, probably feeling that the three door version, that is available in Europe, moves it too close to Fiat 500 territory. We do get options when it comes to trim levels here though. Three levels are available starting with the Pop then the Easy and finally the range-topping Lounge.
The body style is the classic two box hatch shape, but with a very raked windscreen angle giving the little car a sporty character. This is enhanced by the sleek headlamps that cut into the front guards and the race inspired black honeycomb grilles above and below the body coloured bumper bar. At the rear the most noticeable design features are the rear light clusters that feature twin floating elements set against a gloss black panel.
Perhaps the most eye catching of all the Punto’s facts and figures is the drive away price of entry level Pop. A mere $16,000 gets you in a sporty little Italian hatch – a figure that is sure to catch the attention of buyers in this category as well as that of the competition.
For that low price you get a surprisingly high level of specification. The Pop interior fitout includes a youthful denim style fabric on the seats that looks good and will probably be hard wearing. There is a decent six-speaker audio system with steering wheel controls and Bluetooth. Air conditioning and electric front windows complete the picture inside the car.
In terms of safety the Punto Pop comes with six airbags which include side curtains, Fiat’s Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) electronic stability system, ABS and EBD. Another nice safety feature which was once the preserve of stately Volvos is daytime running lights.
There is a decent amount of tech packed into the small Punto too. We particularly liked the Dualdrive electric power steering that allows you a choice between two settings depending on driving conditions. In City mode the steering was literally fingertip light and made parking a breeze. Fiat’s Start&Stop system is also included with the Pop package, it works well killing the engine when you’re stopped at traffic lights and instantly starting it again when you ready to move off. In the manual, a touch of the clutch is all that’s required to tell the system that its time to wake up the motor and get moving.
The mechanical specification includes a peppy 57kw 1.4 litre engine which has eight valves and runs on 91 octane fuel. The manual gearbox has five speeds as does the Dualogic box. The suspension comes courtesy of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam out back.
Want more? Easy does it
Moving up market to the mid-range Easy model you’ll get a specification upgrade in a number of areas. The most noticeable difference, at least when you’re sitting behind the wheel, is the different dash design. Fiat call this the Premium Dash Design and it really is a step up in terms of appearance and materials used. We liked the diamond mesh pattern and the soft touch surfaces which give the car a high end feel.
Outwardly the Easy model distingushes itslef from it’s lowly sibling by sporting 15 inch alloy wheels ( the Pop has steelies with plastic trims of the same diameter).
Other key features of the Easy include the addition of a driver’s knee air bag (bring the total of airbags up to and impressive seven), cruise control and electric windows all around.
Top of the range: welcome to the Lounge
When we reach the top of the line Lounge model the spec list grows longer with the addition of 16 inch alloys – these come in a very retro two tone style called Sportline – and aluminium exterior mirror caps. Inside there are leather seats with electric lumbar control and ambient lighting helps to create an upmarket feel.
Options, options, options
On top of all this comes Fiats long list of customisation options. These include different alloy wheel designs – our pick being the aforementioned Sportline – in 17 or 16 inch diameter, chrome front grilles, multi-coloured and multi-patterned external mirror caps and a plethora of decal kits which comprise go-faster stripes and chequered flags.
On the road
So what is the Punto like to drive? First of all there’s the size; while it is much bigger than its sibling the 500 the Punto is still very much a small car in the light car category and we were impressed by the packaging. There is plenty of room inside for four adults and certainly enough for a family of 5 providing the kids haven’t reached the bean-pole teenage years. We were also impressed by the overall quality of the fit and finish. The Punto looks well screwed together and built from quality materials.
On the road the 1.4 litre engine is a willing performer but does need to be kept on the boil in order to make the most of its performance. Lazy use of the manual transmission can result in the car struggling to pick up revs and get back on song. The Dualogic automatic is perhaps the better of the two transmission options allowing the best of both worlds with a completely hands-off automatic change or a manual sequential style of clutchless changing. Down changes with the Dualogic switched to manual mode resulted in a very Italian sounding blip of engine revs. We did notice an initially disconcerting pause between first and second gears with the Dualogic gearbox, the change up takes a while but you do get used to it.
The steering and handling are sharp and confidence inspiring although we don’t recommend using the City steering option for anything other than parking – it results in the steering being so light that there is almost no feel at all.
We found the comfort levels to be high for a car in this class, in fact it felt a class above some its competitors. We like the feel of the surfaces and the upholstery – even the denim-style fabric in the Pop looked and felt good.
So, overall, we were impressed by this little Italian newcomer. The Punto is no rocket ship but it’s an ideal city car and, while not imbued with masses of Italian flair it does offer a certain amount of European chic in a sometimes soulless end of the market. We look forward to a longer drive to get better acquainted.