Fiat vans are a common sight but it seems like only yesterday that the company re-entered the passenger car market with the launch of the Punto hatch.

Punto has since been joined by the retro look Fiat 500 that we drove recently and now another larger hatch called the Ritmo.

Explore the 2008 Fiat Ritmo Range

We were pleased to find that both cars are finished to a much higher standard than the Punto.

Ritmo also sees the debut of a brand new Fiat logo.

It is larger than Punto and sits on a modified version of the platform that underpinned the earlier Stilo.

It is also slightly longer and wider than its cousin the Alfa 147, but we are told the new 147 (make that 149) will share the same platform.

Ritmo is designed to go head-to-head with the likes of VW's best-selling Golf.

It is offered in two grades with a choice of 1.4-litre petrol or 1.9-litre diesel turbocharged engines.

Our test car was the petrol 1.4-litre Ritmo Sport T-Jet priced from $32,990.

It is a good looking car and the combination of burgundy paint, charcoal alloys and piano black trim inside create a smouldering kind of appeal.

Far from being a bit of a yawn, the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine produces a surprising amount of pep.

It is good for 110kW of power at 5500rpm and up to 230Nm of torque at 3000rpm, if the sport setting is selected.

The trend is towards smaller engines in Europe where the same engine produces anywhere from 52 to 137kW, with a 150kW unit said to be in the pipeline.

The dash from 0-100km/h takes 8.2 seconds and it has a top speed of 208km/h.

Fuel economy for this model is rated at 7.1 litres/100km, but we were typically getting between 8.8 and 9.0.

Once up and running, disengaging the overboost Sport button improves economy.

To get the best results from the car you need to keep the engine on the boil, but with a slick six-speed manual and a nice note from the exhaust that is easily accomplished. In fact, it can be a difficult task getting the car off the line quickly without spinning the front wheels.

Although its fitted with electronic stability control, the system is designed to provide some wheel spin. The sports suspension can be a rough at times, but it pays dividends in the handling department.

Point Ritmo at a corner and it hangs on nicely, with controlled slide at the limit.

Stability control and six airbags are standard and the car has a five-star safety rating.

The Sport model adds a rear spoiler, sideskirts, sports pedals, sports seats with lumbar adjustment of driver's seat, leather sports steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake knobs, sports upholstery, red brake callipers and 17 inch alloys fitted with 225/45 tyres. Climate air and Blue&Me integrated telematics system are also part of the package.

It offers Bluetooth hands-free technology with steering wheel controls, instrument panel with multifunction display, MP3 audio file player from a USB port and SMS text reader.

Rear leg room is adequate and the deep boot could easily accommodate a full-sized spare, but unfortunately a space-saver is provided.