Garry Fabian road tests and reviews the Fiat Punto Pop and Lounge.
After an extended absence, Fiat has come back to Australia with a line-up of several models. It can’t get enough of the spunky and impish 500 to satisfy demand, and the Freemont seems to have found a foothold.
So maybe the market is ready for another Fiat. For sure, the re-launched Punto won’t do the brand any harm.
At $16,000 drive away for four doors, style with a bit of passion, and the crisp handling that sits deep within the DNA of all Italian cars, it will make more of a mark this time round.
The Fiat Punto Pop is up against the likes of the Barina Spark and Mitsubishi Mirage at the lower end of the light car category, and Mazda2, Honda Jazz, Yaris, VW Polo and Kia Rio at the upper end.
Make no mistake, it is a very crowded segment of the market, and the question is, is there room for another contender?
But don’t dismiss the Punto; it’s better than you’ll expect.
It doesn’t in fact feel like a light car, neither in the quality of the accommodation, its space, nor in the settled way it drives.
Given half a chance, it will entice buyers from the larger ‘small car’ segment. The challenge for Fiat will be to get them into showrooms and sit them at the wheel.
The entry-level Pop is no poverty pack. The cabin plastics, black and charcoal in the main, are a bit raw looking but there’s a feel of ‘substance’ to them.
While some of the contenders in this segment feel light to the point of flimsy; that’s not the solid little Fiat.
All up, the Punto Pop’s interior is neat and functional and appears well put-together, if not the last word in style.
The fabric seats are a little shapeless, especially for rear seat passengers, but are supportive enough. The manual gearshift and clutch feel too is just right.
Also good is the direct, connected feel through the sporty height and reach-adjustable steering wheel. It’s small and snug and there’s an indent for each thumb at the ‘ten-to-two’ position giving a good grip.
Other features, in a well-featured entry level car include trip computer, air-con, remote central locking and power front windows. The audio system is a six-speaker radio/CD/MP3 player with steering wheel controls, and comes standard with Fiat’s Blue&Me Bluetooth connectivity.
Add to that a standard start/stop system, daytime running lamps, 60/40 split fold rear seat electric power steering and a full suite of safety features including ABS, traction and stability control and six air-bags.
The Lounge comes with a much smarter dash and interior presentation than in the Pop; the dash design is quite different and is appealing and sporty.
It also gets leather seats and trims, piano-black surfaces and real-metal garnishes.
Add in climate control air-con, electric driver’s seat, electro chromatic rear view mirror, ambient dashboard and front door lighting, darkened privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers, body kit, fog lights, aluminium exterior mirror caps and 16-inch alloy wheels.
You can also option a dual-pane sunroof ($1500), heated front seats ($500) and TomTom sat-nav ($595). For the smart interior, the bigger 16-inch alloys and long feature list, the Lounge has some obvious appeal to these eyes.
It’s an Italian car, so feeling sporty at the wheel is a given… right? Well yes, but no.
It’s no race horse and while both manual and auto feel brisk enough around town – they’re geared to get quickly away from the lights, but at the end of the day it is a small engine.
The five-speed manual is fun. It has a typical (for Fiat) slightly rubbery feel, but the throw is about right and you can snick it neatly back and forward through the gate.
The five-speed Dual-logic robotised semi-automatic transmission in the Lounge is a different kettle of fish.(You can specify one in the Pop; add $1500 to that drive away price).
It should be simple, and it looks it – push forward for neutral, pull back for reverse, push left for manual control – but it caught us out a few times .
It comes with a gear-shift indicator on the dash that suggests the optimum gear for best fuel economy. But it has another trick up its sleeve.
Through Fiat’s Blue&Me, it also incorporates an eco-drive system that enables you to download your driving information onto a USB stick.
Then, through your home computer, you can access Fiat’s eco-drive website which will analyse your driving habits, give you a score out of 100, and then give tips on how to improve it.
Tricky technical bits & pieces aside, both Lounge and Pop handle exactly as you’d expect them to. Italian roads can be pretty ratty; both these cars handle broken bitumen better than most in this segment.
There is a nice elastic feel to the suspension, good compliance for a comfortable ride, and free of that hard, irritating jitteriness of some European suspensions.
The electric steering is well-weighted for tight streets, but perhaps a little over-assisted in the initial first few degrees of turn – it sometimes feels a bit too eager to tuck in. The start/stop system works ok; it’s a bit lumpy when kicking back into life though.
So that’s the ‘new-again’ Punto. It’s more ‘city car’ or second car than tourer, but is surprisingly compliant on road. For such a nicely balanced little chassis though, it’s a pity we don’t get a slightly bigger engine, or even a diesel, added to the model mix.
All up, there is a bit of flair about the Punto. It’s got a sporty feel, is one of the better equipped of its near competitors and is solid and well-built.
Sure, if it’s a hot hatch that’s on your shopping list, that’s not the Punto. But, Pop or Lounge, it adds a bit of personality to your buying choices.
NUTS and BOLTS
Engine: 1.4 litre four cylinder petrol engine producing 57kW and 115Nm
Transmission: Five speed manual or five speed automatic
Safety: Not tested
Price: From $15,900