You may recall in April, I needed to buy a small, cheap car to use for a while and for my daughter to learn to drive in. It felt the ideal time to search out a euro car to see how good (or bad) it would be, when my ceiling is $5,000.

I settled on a 2005 New Zealand-new Fiat Punto Sport, and you can read the previous article from Apirl, here.

Has it been all what I hoped it would be, for just five grand? What about famed bad reliability of cheap European cars?

Pros

I mentioned in the original article it sits apart from all the boring grey or silver 4 door cars out there, and it still does. It looks great, goes brilliantly, sounds good and handles well.

This car loves to be driven. We car reviewers at DriveLife have it pretty good – we get a tasty selection of cars to review on a regular basis. After I got the Fiat, I thought I might hate getting into it again after stepping out of (for example) a 197Kw Subaru Levorg. Surprisingly, not so. The little Fiat still puts a smile on my face, nearly every time I drive it. It loves to rev – really loves to rev – and while it’s no Alfa Romeo, it has proven to be a cheap driver’s car.

That close-ratio, 6-speed gearbox is so nice. The throw is a little longer than would ideally like, but it’s a nice box to row through the gears when entering the motorway. It’s impressive that this 11 year-old 1400cc car can pull away quite cleanly in 6th gear from about 2,000rpm, or about 60km/h. I didn’t think it would be that flexible.

Handling is on the better side of things – it does roll a little if you push it hard around a tight bend, but the grip is certainly there. It is real fun to toss it around a bit, and the chuckability reminds me of the DS4 Crossback I had the other day on test – it too loved to be pushed around on a twisty road. With a very short overall length and a wheel at every corner, this little Fiat handles well.

drive-life-fiat-punto-2

The factory Blaupunkt stereo continues to impress me with the sound quality, even though it starts to skip CD tracks now and then.

Space hasn’t really been an issue, and I will regularly have 4 people in the car – and for one trip, 5 of us. Trying to sort out that middle-rear seatbelt proved difficult as I’d never used it, but we got there in the end. I don’t think I’d take it on a long trip with 5 in it, but honestly – 4 people would be okay.

Even the boot has proven to be pretty usable and folding the rear seats down when needed means we have used our Honda Odyssey less and less. That seems like a tank to drive after the Punto.

The trip computer is simple, and easy to use. It’s quick to push the button at the end of the wiper stalk and flick through the options; range, instant consumption, average consumption, time traveled, distance travelled and something else I can’t remember.

Cons

There are some things I don’t love about Stumpy. I still can’t get the seat/steering wheel relationship right, and have given up. It’s either arms straight and can’t push the clutch right in, or steering wheel in your chest but can get the clutch all the way in. The medium isn’t the best, but I have got used to it. I now only notice it when I get into other cars.

Luckily, the seats make up for it. Perfectly padded, height adjustable, lumbar adjustment, and with some excellent side-support. Apparently even the rear isn’t too bad.

About three months ago, the clutch started to shudder. It wasn’t bad, but for my daughter learning to drive in, it wasn’t helping either. I ended up putting in a new clutch, and now it’s even lighter than before, and a pleasure to use.

Then a month or so ago in a torrential downpour, the wipers died on me. It ended up being one of the arm things under the bonnet where the bottom of the wiper connects to the motor- it fell off and is one of those things that can’t simply be bolted back on. The answer? Of course you can only buy a whole new motor and arms = near on $400 just for parts. Well, what do you do…they are back to normal now, and I am lighter for the cash.

While the gearbox is great to use, I think the synchros might be a little weak, as there is a little bit of pressure when changing gears that shouldn’t be there. Double clutching sorts it out and it doesn’t worry me. It’s funny as I double clutch in every manual car I drive anyway – even new ones. Old habits die hard.

Speaking of double clutching, I do wish the accelerator pedal was a bit lower. Heel and toeing is not really possible without some weird, painful angle on your ankle. Not the end of the world, but I do like to practice my heel and toe in everyday driving.

I miss Bluetooth. Using CDs is fine, but having music from my phone and being able to take calls handsfree would be so good.

Not really a problem of the car, and I love black cars – but it’s hard to see on the road. Whenever I’m in a 100k zone, I’ll put the headlights on. Really it needs DRLs.

The Verdict

Even with all the cars we get to test drive, I’ve done over 7,000km in 6 months, so that’s surely a pretty good test of an older European car with nearly 100,000k on the clock.

Also, it’s a car my daughter is learning to drive in, so that adds a bit of pressure to it. Actually she’s pretty good at driving so far, and the light clutch and gearbox have helped – and so has the super-short length of a 3-door hatchback.

I wasn’t expecting to put a new clutch and wipers in – but hey, this is an 11 year-old, cheap European car – you have to except something to wear out at some point.

Many people told me that all the switches would break and electrical items would fail. Nothing has, except the CD skipping tracks now and then.

Every tankful of gas feeding that 1.4-litre motor gets me 6.3l/100km. For me, that’s a more than reasonable return.

Would I do it again? Totally. It is such a pleasure to be driving something different, and something that loves to be driven. I’m a euro convert!

P.S. I still love my American cars though.

Kate’s Point of View

Learning to drive in the Fiat has been a breeze. Being a beginner driver, it would be hard to start with a big car. But Stumpy is just the right size and drives smoothly, making it easier to learn in. I have quickly become more confident using the car. The only downside of the Punto is that it is quite hard to get it into reverse quickly. When I try to put it into reverse it goes to 6th gear instead, which will be difficult when on the road.

But other than that, it’s a great car for a person learning to drive, like myself. I would recommend it to anyone learning to drive or if you want a tiny/easy car to drive.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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