|Fiat Grande Punto
Pretty, Well Equipped, Keenly Priced, Safe
Buyers Spoilt For Supermini Choice, But Honda Jazz Still The Leader
Will Grande Punto Be Fiat Talisman, Leading It Out Of Financial Mire?
Weak Brand Image, Dodgy Dealer Reputation Won’t Help The Cause
**** out of 5
Fiat wants you to know, so badly, that the new Punto is bigger than the old one, it decided to put it in the name. Not only that, Fiat will keep on making the older, smaller one so that if you doubted their veracity, you can simply look at them both together.
The Grande Punto is not only the biggest car in the supermini sector, according to Fiat, it is arguably the prettiest too. That and two dollars will get you on the subway. In this section of the market, a pretty face is not enough. The cars must be well priced, well made, and be able to cruise effortlessly at motorway speeds and get down and dirty for the trip to the dump at the weekend.
To pass my buyers test of approval, it must also be demonstrably better than the leading car in the sector - the Honda Jazz. The Grande Punto will also have to face down some serious new competition during 2006, when shed loads of neat sounding superminis will appear. There’s the Toyota Yaris, already on sale. Later this year we will see the new Peugeot 207, Vauxhall Corsa, BMW Mini, the Renault Modus based Nissan Note, and the Volkswagen Fox.
The Grande Punto passes test number one with honours it looks great. It was designed by the Fiat Styling Centre, with a little help from Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign studio. If you were to look at the entire range of possible superminis (see table below), the Grande Punto would probably win the beauty contest. The front grille has an Italian sports car air to it. The car’s lines from the side view sweep backwards in fine style. It looks terrific.
Firmly entrenched dental work required
The steering is noticeably quick and direct, so much so that it takes a bit of getting used to. But the driving experience is decidedly better than the outgoing model, with the ride nicely damped.
Fiat has paid a lot of attention to safety and says that the new car won the maximum 5 stars for passenger safety, and including child and pedestrian protection, scored 33 out of a possible 37 “the highest overall score yet recorded in its market category”. You can opt for 7 airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag, the first time this has been available in a supermini.
There is a bewildering array of engines and versions. Prices start at £7,594-€11,200 (£1 less than the current Punto) through £12,295-€18,100 with 5 trim levels Active, Active Sport, Dynamic, Eleganza and Sporting. Standard equipment is generous with all versions including ABS brakes, remote central locking, driver and passenger front airbags, electric front windows, a CD player, electric power steering and “follow-me-home” headlamps (they just stay on for a few extra seconds and turn off automatically after you’ve walked up the drive).
Other available engines are a 1.3 litre 75 bhp Multijet diesel, a 1.4 litre 77 bhp petrol and a 120 bhp 1.9 litre diesel. Coming shortly is a 95 bhp 1.4 litre petrol engine mated to a 5-speed sequential manual gearbox with a fully automatic mode.
Fiat, not surprisingly, is beside itself with admiration for its new product.
“It boasts the widest range of diesel engines, has a very competitive price/content ratio, and offers conspicuous value to customers. As a result, Grande Punto meets the fundamental requirements of this class, and then it adds a new level of styling, along with a driving experience that befits a country that produces the world’s best sports cars, and does it all in a highly original way.”
Serendipity? Maybe. But Fiat has to take great credit for designing a very impressive little machine while many investment bankers and investors were writing off the company as a financial basket-case heading for the knacker’s yard. Fiat must still grapple with its weak brand image. The most recent JDPower consumer survey wasn’t very flattering for the previous Fiat Punto. Fiat dealers are acknowledged, even by Fiat, to be in need of a shake-up.
So the Grande Punto doesn’t knock my favourite, the Honda Jazz off its pedestal, but it does make me think that the diesel free Jazz, might be even better if it was powered by the Fiat 1.3 litre 90 bhp diesel Multijet.
Neil Winton February 6, 2006
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