Fiat Punto Pop Manual First Drive
Fiat is pitching the three-year-old Punto – which has just arrived in Australia at a keen $16,000 driveaway – against the likes of Toyota’s Yaris and the Mazda2 in what promises to be a tough battle, says Tony Bosworth.
It’s a while since we’ve seen the Fiat Punto Down Under, and while this one isn’t a new car, it’s essentially the car that’s been driving around Turin, Paris, London and Munich for the last three years, the look, pricing and equipment levels are keener than ever before. We spent just under two hours driving (at the launch) the five-speed manual on a mix of winding, climbing roads, smooth parkland tarmac and some stop-start city stretches.
The Punto arrives here in three trim levels – Pop, Easy, and Lounge but each uses the same 1.4-litre petrol engine with a rather traditional – some would say old – eight-valve configuration, equipped with Fiat’s excellent Stop&Start system and a choice of either five-speed manual or five-speed Dualogic robotized semi-automatic transmission – a clutchless automatic, to you and me. The engine produces a pretty lowly 57kW of power at 6000rpm which is delivered to the front wheels and a slightly more respectable 115Nm of torque at 3250rpm.
The Punto is only available in Australia in five-door hatchback form, which makes sense because getting five doors for $16,000 looks like a pretty good deal.
The Punto doesn’t have any of the sleek style of its Alfa Romeo Mito cousin but it’s a pretty good-looking car just the same. To me it looks much better, for example, than the VW up! which is another comparably priced rival. Still, while I doubt anyone will swoon over the Punto’s body curves, Fiat Australia are offering a host of trim additions which means you can customize the look with decals, exterior mirror stickers, and even fancy, shiny Fiat emblazoned wheel nuts and double-chrome exhaust ends.
Inside there’s good fit and finish – well, at least on the test car – and though there are plenty of hard plastics it doesn’t come off looking cheap. Indeed, the overall feel is one of quality and solidity, a feeling underlined by the nice design of the clear instruments, and switchgear that works well and is easy enough to understand. You get electric windows, good air conditioning and remote central locking across the range, with options even extending to heated seats.
The Fiat Punto features a rake and tilt adjustable steering wheel so it’s easy enough to find a good driving position, no matter your height. Headroom and legroom is good for both driver and all passengers and the boot is a decent size too. All round visibility is good.
With the rear seats in place you get 275 litres of bootspace which means nothing much to me, to be honest. The point is, it’s a good-sized boot and with the seats folded flat you can up that by two thirds, so it’s no slouch in the load-lugging department. The front seats are a tad small with not enough under leg support so bigger drivers and front seat passengers in particular may find it a touch uncomfortable on a long run, though we’ll reserve final judgement on that until we get some decent time behind the wheel.
Sadly, the engine is not the best of the modern crop of 1.4-litres. It makes a lot of noise when you plant your right foot but that’s not reciprocated with a lot of performance. The Punto doesn’t have the urge that you’ll find in either a Mazda2 or a Yaris. On the plus side, the manual gearbox is smooth and slick and thankfully lacks the old Fiat rubbery offering that always had you guessing which gear it was really in.
But the Punto’s steering is not as precise as I’d like and cornering at any decent speed throws in a fair amount of body roll which has you hauling the steering back hard. That’s strange because with French levels of body roll – yes, French – you might reasonably expect French levels of bump-soaking ride, but no, the Fiat has a joggly ride and it can be noisy too over poor road surfaces. It doesn’t crash over bumps but it’s always fussy.
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS
At $16,000 driveway for the base model, the Fiat Punto is well worth a look on price and equipment alone, though because the two top range models don’t have a standard driveaway price, they suffer additional dealer and statutory charges. It’s a decent-looking car, the Punto, and the fit and finish is impressive, as are the standard five doors, nice manual gearbox and roomy, airy interior.