Though apparently a newcomer to Australia, the Fiat Punto was sold here between 2006 and 2010. It was expensive and not many changed hands before it was quietly slipped off the market downunder. Now the Punto is back with a bang.
That’s because Fiat Australia is now controlled by the Italian factory, not a private importer. The new chiefs of the company, headed up by the dynamically determined Veronica Johns, are determined to make Fiat a full house player, not a fringe player.
Not surpassingly the first move by the new Fiat Australia was to dramatically reduce prices. The Punto list begins at just $16,000 driveaway for the Pop five-speed manual. That’s a drop of around $10,000 from the 2006 model.
Fiat has something for everyone in the styling stakes these days. Unlike the oh-so-cute Fiat 500 and the ultra-chic Fiat Panda the Punto is relatively conservative in its shape. That’s a deliberate spread of styles by the designers, and those looking for the driving flair of an Italian machine, but who aren’t into automotive high fashion are already taking Punto seriously.
While the overall shape may be on the subtle side, Fiat dealers carry an extensive range of customisation gear so your Punto can take its own direction in the styling stakes. Some of our favourite dress-up items are Italian national-colours decals on the B-pillars and checkered-flag covers for the door mirrors. How about Fiat embossed covers for the tyre valve caps? True!
Despite its low price the entry level Fiat Punto Pop comes with plenty of standard equipment; denim inserts in the seats, a six-speaker radio/CD/MP3 audio system with steering wheel controls, and the Fiat/Microsoft Blue&Me with Bluetooth and voice activation to minimise driver inattention.
Fiat Punto Easy has 15-inch alloy wheels, more stylish dashboard, leather wrapped steering wheel and gear lever, a front seat armrest, and rear parking sensors. The topline Fiat Punto Lounge that we tested comes with 16-inch alloys, sports seats in the front, a soft-touch finish to the dash, climate control air conditioning, ambient lighting and automatic wipers.
ENGINE / TRANSMISSIONS
The engine in the Punto is the basic version of Fiat’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder unit. It has a power output of just 57 kW. Peak torque is 115 Nm at 3250 revs. Gearbox choices are a conventional six-speed manual and the same gearbox in Dualogic format – that is without a clutch pedal as the manual gearbox changes itself.
Passive safety is by way of seven airbags on all models with the exception of the Pop, which misses out on a driver’s knee bag. Major active safety items are ESC and ABS.
Handling, ah handling, the Italians do it brilliantly! This may be a conservative looking small car, but it can be hunted along with a great deal of verve on your favourite driving road. It’s light and nimble, the steering can be done on the throttle when you’re really driving, and the feedback through the wheel and the seat of your pants is excellent.
As a bonus, the Fiat Punto probably attracts less attention from the police than its look-at-me brothers, the 500 and Panda. And comfort is surprisingly good when you take into account the sporting nature of the suspension, but it can be taken by surprise over big bumps and hollows.
The 57 kilowatt Fiat engine’s no fireball and you have to work at the gearbox to keep things happening. The Dualogic automated manual in our test Punto Lounge generally changed down promptly to get extra engine power. It has manual overrides should you decide to make your own decisions. As usual with this type of gearbox the changes in the lower gears tend to be jerky.
We sampled the full-manual Punto during the press function to launch the vehicle a few months back and can report the change action of the manual gearbox is very good; all the more so when you remember it’s a front-drive car. Indeed, it can be fun for those who love their doing their own gear shifting.
Driven sensibly the Punto will use around six to seven litres per hundred kilometres on country roads. This will increase to nine to eleven litres if you’re doing heavy-duty commuting. There’s no rise in fuel consumption or emissions when you opt for the automatic - which is a real bonus of having a self-shifting manual rather than a conventional auto.
All the excitement of an Italian car that can be yours on the road for just $16,000. We must admit the styling, while neat enough, doesn’t do a lot for us, but it’s likely to remain timeless. Though, perhaps not quite as timeless as its little brother Fiat 500 'Cinquecento' - which is heading gleefully towards its 60th birthday.
The complete Fiat Punto range is:
Pop 1.4-litre petrol: $16,000 (manual), $17,500 (automatic)
Easy 1.4-litre petrol: $19,300 (automatic)
Lounge 1.4-litre petrol: $21,800 (automatic)
Price: from $11,790
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder, 50kW/90Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto, FWD
Thirst: 4.7L/100 km
Price: from $12,990
Engine: 1.2-litre three-cylinder, 57kW/100Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual or CVT auto, FWD
Thirst: 4.9L/100 km
Price: from $14,000
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder, 51kW/102Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual or auto, FWD