The Grande Punto has done well for Fiat, only the sparkling new 500 outstripping it for UK sales during the last 12 months. Its replacement is the Punto Evo, essentially a facelifted Grande Punto with new interior and exterior design treatments. Although, 'replacement' isn't strictly true because (unusually for the UK market) the Grande Punto will live on in basic form as an entry level option.
For the Punto Evo there's a wide range of petrol and diesel engines, six of which meet the new Euro 5 emissions standards and five are fitted with a standard start-stop system and hill-hold function. Read on for CAR's first drive of the new Fiat Punto Evo.
So what's different about the looks of the new Fiat Punto Evo?
Externally, the Punto Evo has a neater line with two radiator grilles and a new rear bumper with redesigned tail lights. Overall length has increased slightly though the width has stayed the same. I
nside, there's a new embossed surface to the top of the dash, and larger dials for speedo and rev counter with new typography for all the numbers making them easier to read. Door trims have been revised with larger fabric areas and seats have been freshened-up both visually and ergonomically. Distinctly Italian, the design work is nevertheless a step down from the full-on approach taken with new Alfas and will probably appeal to a much wider audience.
Does the new engine lineup make much difference?
Yes, quite a lot. Of the 10-strong engine range, there are three Euro 5 petrol engines rated at 77bhp, 105bhp and 135bhp. The two top petrols are fitted with the MultiAir variable valve control system that increases both power and economy at the same time. There are also two Multijet II diesels at 75bhp and 95bhp with the latest version of Fiat's common rail fuel injection reducing consumption and CO2 by a further 2% compared to the original system.
>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Fiat Punto Evo first drive
Economy is fine, but what does the new Punto Evo feel like to drive?
We tried the 95bhp Multijet II 16v diesel and the 135bhp, 1.4-litre MultiAir Turbo 16v. The top of the crop turns the Punto Evo into a warm hatch but one that’s not quite hot. That honour is reserved for an Abarth version which will appear at some point later on. The 135bhp Multiair engine characterises the art of 'downsizing' perfectly, gushing torque from as little as 1000rpm and making easy work of steep gradients in third or fourth gear.
It's a hugely flexible engine and powerful too, accelerating smoothly through the five-speed box with plenty of enthusiasm. Strangely though, there's perhaps a little too much light and shade in the way this engine performs for what is essentially a family hatchback. Incredibly flexible in the higher ratios, the rush of power it delivers when shifting down a gear can make progress a little tiresome at times. Despite its punchy response, the diesel doesn’t fidget, its character more in keeping with the car as a whole.
How about the comfort levels?
Inside space is the same as the Grande Punto with ample accommodation in the front and a very adjustable driving position. There’s room in the back for a couple of big blokes but not for any great distance.
The Punto Evo gets some new 17-inch wheels but even on Italian roads the ride felt supple despite body roll being kept well in check. The electro-hydraulic steering isn't the finest you'll encounter and still retains a slightly wooden feel too it. As before, you can still select city mode through a button on the dash for lighter manoeuvring but perhaps Fiat should ditch that idea and come up with a well balanced set-up for all occasions.
Brakes are powerful but typically of many cars now, touchy and over-servoed until you adapt to them. There are three and five door versions, seven airbags and the Blue&Me Bluetooth system has now been extended to Blue&Me with TomTom satnav.
How come the old car is staying?
Good question, but Fiat is adamant it will be until the Punto reaches the end of it's natural life. The plan is to keep a couple of base models as an entry level, overlapping with the new Punto Evo whose new engine versions will populate the upper end of the range. There's also the fact that the Grande Punto is still a strong seller in the UK despite being around for nearly four years.
Officially, right hand drive markets get their cars in January but Fiat UK says that it won't launch the car until the scrappage scheme is over and that could mean late January or later. The Grande Punto has remained a firm Fiat favourite with UK buyers and despite being around since 2006 still sold a healthy 20,500 units in the UK last year.
The new car will add a dash of Italian flair to your driveway without being too over the top and it’s competent, likeable and affordable. It also has a fantastic range of engines to choose from and although prices are a long way from being set, Fiat MD Andrew Humberstone assures us he is going to be 'very aggressive”'on that score.
Competitors? The Fiesta, Clio and Polo are all contenders and traditionally the Grande Punto has undercut them. It probably still will and the new enlarged range is likely to start at £10,995 for a bog-standard Grande Punto rising to around £16,495 for the 135bhp MultiAir Turbo.
>> Click 'Add your comment' below and let us know whether you'd buy a Fiat Punto Evo over a Fiesta, Polo or Clio.