The third generation Punto came out in 2005 and has been renamed and facelifted twice since – It was the Grande Punto, then the Punto Evo, then in 2012 it became the Punto again. So this car is not a new design, but it is cheap, currently starting at $13,995 for the Pop model. That’s very cheap for a brand-new car! How does it compare to the newer sub $20k cars we’ve been testing?
Our test car, as you can see from the photos, is actually Wellington dealer Gazley’s loan car, and came in Easy spec, the middle of the three trim levels. At $15,995 it’s still comfortably within the price range of our $20k challenge. All three trim levels have the same 1.4 litre four cylinder petrol engine producing 57kW. Our car came with FIAT’s Dualogic robotised manual gearbox, but a traditional manual is also available. Spec levels are pretty good. The cheaper Pop spec has electric front windows, manual air conditioning, remote locking, stop/start system, six speaker stereo with CD and bluetooth, phone integration and all of the usual safety features such as ABS, stability control and lots of airbags.
The Easy spec adds 15” alloys instead of steelies, a leather steering wheel and shifter, rear electric windows, arm and foot rests, a cigarette lighter (!), driver’s knee airbag, anti whiplash headrests, parking sensors, USB and aux stereo inputs and a removable TomTom satnav unit. Quite a lot more for the price difference.
There’s a big jump to the Lounge spec at $22,990 but you do get leather seats, climate and some external cosmetics like side skirts and spoilers.
When I picked up the Punto I was asked if I had ever driven a car with the Selespeed transmission before. “How hard can it be?” I thought, but they came over and gave me a quick tutorial. I’m glad they did! The Dualogic robotised manual transmission is a bit of a quirky beast! The car won’t start unless you have your foot on the brake. Forget and the car beeps loudly and the large digital display reads “Depress brake”. The gear lever looks like a traditional manual lever but it works differently. Basically it’s a clutchless manual, though it can operate as an automatic. Start the car, pull the lever from neutral at the top right to center then push left to engage auto mode, or down and right for reverse. Push left again to engage manual mode so you can shift gears using the lever.
I left the car in auto and pulled out onto the road. As I was accelerating, the car shifted to second gear. This seemed to happen in a very slow and ponderous way and take a long time as the car lifted the throttle, shifted gear then engaged the throttle again. Second to third seemed quicker but still felt jerky to me. The more I drove the less I liked the gear shifts.
Otherwise, the Punto was really good. Quiet when cruising with very little engine noise. Good suspension with enough feel to know what’s going on, but soft enough to smooth out the bumps.
The dash is deep, so much so that there are extra little triangular windows between the A pillars and the doors, making the driving position feel far back compared to other cars. It’s not a problem and visibility is great but it feels a little unusual at first.
What’s it like to live with?
The first time I drove the Punto I arrived home thinking it was a decent car but they had ruined it with that gearbox. But the next day I tried driving in manual shifting mode and started to understand what FIAT were thinking. I think because of the way the shifts work, they feel longer when you don’t know the car is about to shift gears, but if you shift manually it feels more natural, like shifting a true manual. Driving the car in manual mode makes it actually feel like a manual car – you get the responsiveness of a manual – but the convenience of an automatic. The Punto avoids that slushbox feeling.
Once I was used to the gears, I started to enjoy the Punto. The handling is really good, balanced, with minimal understeer. The steering is light, but if you like to have it so light you can barely feel it, press the City Mode button and your wish will be fulfilled!
The first time I cranked up the stereo I was surprised that I could feel the bass through the seat! Much better sound than I expected and better than other cars we’ve tested in this class.
The instruments are simple – a large but fairly low-resolution central digital display with small petrol and temperature gauges above and a large dial at each side for speedo and rev counter. The larger dials are each in a smaller surround which looks cool but makes them a bit harder to read in certain light. The rev counter is clear but the speedo can be hard to read. For some reason the speedo has a maximum of 230kph, even though the car’s top speed is 165kph. This means a third of the speedo dial is wasted, making the numbers a bit too close together. 100kph is less than halfway around. Add this to the fact that 100kph isn’t marked and it can be tricky to make sure you’re following the correct motorway speed.
The boot is a decent size and has ties for child seats. The rear seat splits 60/40 but don’t lay flat when folded, so getting bigger items in might be more tricky. Rear legroom is pretty good, but it’s not as good as other small cars we’ve tested.
There are a few cup holders around, and bottle holders in the doors – these hold a Coke bottle but a Pump won’t fit. The glovebox is tiny and doesn’t fit the car’s instruction book inside, so you have to keep that in the door pocket. A small thing but this would irritate me.
As I mentioned above, our test car was Gazley’s courtesy car, so it has probably taken a bit of abuse in its 8000km, but it had a few things which weren’t wearing brilliantly. A piece of loose plastic trim by the driver’s footwell, steamed up rear lights and some rusty bolts. Saying that, it looked good generally, there were no rattles or squeaks, and mechanically it felt solid. And of it comes with a three year warranty.
Now that I had done a bit more driving in the little FIAT I was starting to like it more and more. I took it for a cruise up the highway then decided to have a blast up Paekakariki Hill Road. With the gearbox in manual, the Punto is nice and responsive. With 57Kw it’s no sports car, but it moves pretty well and takes the corners with enthusiasm. It feels a lot more perky than other small cars with similar power figures. I got more and more confident on the corners, even getting a little tyre squeal on some corners. I found myself reaching the top of the hill with a grin on my face. Not what I expected when I first drove this car!
Looks are always subjective of course but I like the Punto. From some angles it looks a bit curvy and blob-like but I like its smiley bug-eyed face!
What it’s up against
The good and the bad.
What do we think?
The Punto is a great little car, and despite being based on an older design it compares well to its newer contemporaries. It’s excellent value, it handles well, and feels nippy. Don’t let that transmission put you off!
Rating – Chevron rating 4 out of 5
Autoclique would like to thank Gazley in Wellington for supplying us with the review car.
We would not have been able to complete the $20K Challenge without Gazley’s kind assistance.
|Vehicle Type||Small City Car|
|Starting Price||$13,990 NZD|
|Tested Price||$15,990 NZD|
|Engine||1.4 litre 4 cylinder|
|Transmission||Dualogic robotised manual 5 speed|
|0 – 100 kph||13.2 seconds|
|Kerb Weight||1024 kg|
|Length x Width x Height||4065 x 1687 x 1490 mm|
|Cargo Capacity||275 Litres|
|Fuel Tank||45 litres|
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5 stars|