Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Fiat’s supermini designed to deliver best performance

ITALIAN cars have the looks but do they have the longevity? This perennial question is always asked of a nation

ITALIAN cars have the looks but do they have the longevity? This perennial question is always asked of a nation that loves its cars as much as its pasta.

In the world of modern car production, everyone from the Koreans to the Czechs has learned the sometimes painful lesson that poorly built cars will just not hack it any longer.

Scepticism among critics was once rife that certain makes of car were not up to standard and the culprits knew who they were.

The attitude that you could foist sub-standard cars on to a gullible public has changed considerably in the past two decades. The need to step up to the mark on build values became acute when car makers that once did not pose a threat to a largely European and American stronghold of car manufacture, now have become serious competitors.

So, every time I drive an Italian-made car I am conscious of the fact that certain models have not over the years always enjoyed a good press.

Fiat is the giant of Italian car production and has seen success in recent years by giving the public what it wants to buy in the form of reinventing an old favourite the 500 for an entirely new generation.

Indeed, on a recent test drive, I found the 500 an excellent new car fit for 21st century driving.

This kind of lateral thinking among car makers is not exclusive to Fiat. Others have cashed in on retro and nostalgic trips down memory lane and successfully reintroduced models to an enthusiastic public.

The Fiat Punto has a history it has made its own having come on the scene in the early Nineties. My impression with the 2013 Punto is that Fiat designers and technicians have worked very hard to make this car a competitor in today’s fierce and unforgiving supermini segment. For a car with an on-the-road price of £15,200, Fiat has really packed it with the kind of standard equipment that tells us the Italian car maker is getting truly serious about sales.

Even if you add on another £715 for optional equipment such as special paint (Exotica Red no one pulls off a red-paint job quite so well as the Italians), 17in, smoke-finished 12-spoke Sportline alloy wheels, chromed door mirror covers and a £50 TomTom satnav, this Punto is excellent value for money.

Things I liked about it: the Skydome electric sunroof and the snug interior with comfortable seats and of course, those good Italian looks. In this the so-called Lounge model, Fiat says here “elegance and sportiness” meet with a “soft-touch finish of the embossed dashboard, and the refined black Castiglio fabric seats”.

There is automatic dual-zone climate control and all this adds up to an interior that makes both driver and front-seat passenger feel relaxed on longer journeys. We took the car on one of those “awkward” trips restricted to A-roads without access to any real stretch of motorway and the Punto acquitted itself well at both comfort and performance levels. Eventually I did drive it on the motorway where I was able to stretch its legs with some ease.

The 1,368cc petrol engine was responsive: the test model, a Fiat Punto 1.4 MultiAir Turbo returned 50.4 mpg on the combined run with CO2 emissions of 129g/km (38.7mpg on the urban cycle).

All the engines in the new range are says Fiat “designed to deliver the best in performance and efficiency with low emissions and running costs”. So Fiat offers MultiAir petrol engines, MultiJet diesels and the award-winning TwinAir, a green, two-cylinder petrol engine.

Fiat shows that with the Punto it is stepping up to the mark on production and technology in an increasingly hostile and constantly changing car market.

Model tested: 1.4 MultiAir Turbo 135hp Lounge

Punto is available in either three or five-door versions

New range of exterior colours

New alloy wheel designs

New Punto competes in the supermini segment that accounts for approximately a quarter of all new cars sold

Since launch in 1993 the Punto has sold more than 8.5 million units throughout Europe

Five trim levels: Pop, Easy, Lounge and new GBT and TwinAir

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