What started as a replacement for the ageing and long serving Uno resulted in a car called Punto, which did not look as desirable, but that was way back in 1993. May be it did look desirable for its time since it’s a Fiat in the end, a manufacturer which has a knack for making good looking cars. Unfortunately many of Fiats offerings reached our shores later than the international markets as was the current iteration of the Punto, launched in 2005. The beautiful lines of the current attention grabbing Punto were carved by none other than the legendary car designer of the Century, Giorgetto Giugiaro himself. As blessed as we are, Fiat rewarded us with yet another drool-worthy car after the Palio and instantly created a niche market.
Having owned the Fiat Palio 1.6 GTX, I knew what to expect from a Fiat product – typically robust build quality, good driving dynamics and involving driving experience. While facing testing times of dealer network coverage, Fiat`s alliance with Tata motors for sales and service came as a much needed respite for owners which sadly did not blossom into a longstanding partnership. Fiat has yet again made a move to revive the brand through dedicated dealership network and cafes, a brand which is dear to many. By launching the 2013 Grande Punto Fiat is trying to woo customers by adding a few more features to what still remains a desirable package.
Style & Design
Praise Giugiaro that despite being around for almost 8 years now, the 2013 version still looks stylish and attractive. That eyeballs kept turning at the “Pearl White” machine dressed in chrome front grill, silver accentuated fog lamp surrounds and graphite shaded smart looking 15” alloy wheels, was a proof enough. Visually, not much has changed over the previous Puntos. Fiat has however added extra colours to the line-up, freshened up interiors with new fabric and provided 2 extra speakers to the incorporated audio system with a remote control. That said, could we expect the face lifted Punto in 2014, replete with new bumpers, front grille, tail lamps and new interiors?
Fiat has tweaked the suspension and the ride height to suit “our” road conditions meaning higher ground clearance (195 mm) and a lot of gap between the tyre and the wheel arches, which is usually an eyesore. The Punto, however, despite riding taller than the previous versions, is not quite difficult on the eyes. While other manufacturers are going fluidic and kinetic with their design approaches, all Fiat has done is splash a few new shades of paint and freshen up the already good design. The Punto stays away from creases along the waist or complex looking intricate bumper design. Instead, it retains clean lines. In the colour tested, the car looks simply fantastic when viewed from the front three quarters.
Interior and features
Stepping inside, one is greeted by the familiar Punto interiors, well crafted seats, lovely to hold steering wheel, classy silver finished dashboard central console and retro dials. Even though the red stitching on the gear lever and steering wheel and seats look racy, the dashboard in contrast is a mix of classy elegance and chronograph-like dials. The dashboard remains dark shaded with a nice grain finish and a chrome strip running across to break the monotony. Fiat could have used a better color or shade on the lower parts viz., the glove box and the door panel inserts which carry a down-market grey shade and reduce the diminish the overall appeal of the cabin.
The seats, though they have firm padding the ones at the front offer good support. The passenger seats again have firm padding and come with adjustable head restraints. The driver seat comes with height adjust, and to help you find the a driving position that best suits you, Fiat also offers rake adjust on the Steering wheel which also has controls for the multimedia systems.
The driver seat offers a good view outside with large rear view mirrors while the quarter glass on the front doors adds to the airiness of the cabin. The dials are clear and easy to read with an amber lit display when dark, and offer a host of information on the central LCD which can be accessed via the Trip button mounted on the right side wiper control stalk. Instantaneous fuel consumption, average consumption, range, trip distance, audio media details and such can be cycled through by pressing the Trip button. The Grande Punto Emotion 90HP also comes equipped with airbags as a safety feature.
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Engine and Gearbox
The multiple award-winning 1.3L Multijet that was offered on the previous form of the 90HP remains the same. While it comes with a Variable Geometry turbocharger which should ideally give it boost on tap in theory does have a bit of lag. The engine comes alive a shade under 2000 rpm and gives the surge which continues well until 4500 rpm after which it tails off before reaching max revs.
Even though the engine sounds harsh in the upper half of the rpm band, its linear torque (thanks to the VGT) and its free revving nature makes it addictive. The gearbox has short throw and is quite precise as well as effortless to use with positive shifts without getting too notchy. This coupled with a light action clutch with fairly progressive engagement makes it fun to drive. What it thankfully lacks is the spiky boost of the fixed geometry turbo. Once one gets a hang of keeping the revs above 2000 rpm, the car transforms into a zesty supermini.
Steering, Suspension, Brakes and Handling
The overall driving experience and fun factor is always an amalgamation of many elements. Fiat, in the Punto, has almost got it right. The steering, which is good to hold isn`t very sharp or much direct. Unlike many manufacturers who are switching to Electronic Power steering units in favor of negligible fuel economy gains, Fiat thankfully has retained its Hydraulic unit with variable power assist. The steering feel, typical of hydraulic units is on the heavier side even at parking speeds but not ungainly so. As the speed builds up, it maintains its feel without becoming lifeless.
A good handler that the Punto always was, the uprated ground clearance seems to have robbed it of a bit of sharpness around the corners and endowed it with marginal body roll. While the suspension setup is firm at slower speeds, it manages to absorb the undulations without unsettling the car or its occupants, where it really shines is as the speeds build up the Punto exhibits its high speed stability. 195mm of ground clearance also meant that we drove the car over broken surfaces and tallest speed breakers with gay abandon and the Punto obliged.
Speaking of the brakes, which are just about adequate with a tendency of being a bit grabby have received additional assistance in the form of ABS and EBD. This also meant that while driving flat out, testing the suspension and ride quality, we could literally stamp upon the brake pedal if any surprises were thrown in. The two electronic brains work tirelessly in conjunction to lend the Punto additional confidence in less than perfect road conditions making it even safer than just tough body shell and airbags which it already has.
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The driving experience, summing it up
Right from the Siena to the Palio and now the Punto, Fiat have struggled to provide drivers achieve that perfect driving position. The pedal-seat-steering interplay isn’t the perfect one around despite Fiats efforts of providing a height adjustable driver seat and rake adjustable steering wheel. While it is not completely disconcerting, with the additional adjustment possibilities, finding the point which is closer to the perfect driving positions has become easier.
While the car is not a slouch, on paper it does sound faster with the engine specs. In actual driving , it’s only a matter of time until when one gets used to making the engine spin faster than 2000 rpm and enjoy the drive which becomes quite rewarding. Tipping the scales at 1144kg, the Punto isn`t the heaviest hatchbacks around but does exhibits the road manners and stability of one.
Rock solid as ever with more functionality in the MY2013, the Punto presents its case as one of the sportiest hatchbacks around. There is a price premium for the extra power, but if you like this machine, you’re just not going to settle for anything else.
Price as tested : 7.5 Lakh ex-showroom
Engine 1248 cc, 4 cylinder diesel with VGT
Power 92 bhp @ 4000 RPM
Torque 209 Nm @ 2000 RPM
Fuel efficiency 20.5 kmpl
Gearbox 5 Gears, Manual
Suspension Front Mcpherson struts with stabilizer bar
Suspension Rear Torsion beam
Front Tyres 195 / 60 R15
Rear Tyres 195 / 60 R15
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Features illustrated with images
Illuminated instrument cluster. Racy markings, those!
Various readouts in the multi information display
The seats are wide, supportive and comfortable
Two cup holders ahead of the shifter stick
12V power socket for the front passengers
USB in socket is located inside the glove box
Rear seats are 60:40 split foldable
Height adjustable driver’s seat
Boot space of 280 liters at par with class
Space saver spare with 80kmph max speed limit
Tip of the stalk works as a toggle button for various MID readouts
Driver side door panel
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