The Fiat Punto Pop.
The Fiat Punto Pop.

Road test: Fiat Punto is no Italian stallion, more workhorse

POLITICALLY correct terminology calls them "price sensitive".

But I'm more your to-the-point kind of man. The Fiat Punto Pop appeals to tight-arses.

There is no need to mince words or dance around the fact that at 16 grand drive-away, this little Italian hatch sits in the bargain basement.

It remains a good looking little European which surprises some who automatically assume it comes with a higher price-tag.

Despite its sharp value, the Punto hasn't shared the same success as its retro-inspired sibling, the Fiat 500, which has been an instant success since being relaunched starting from $14,000.

But the Punto at $16,000 with nothing more to pay is also worthy of a look, with more practical dimensions than its 500 stablemate.

Comfort

What the Punto Pop lacks in personality it makes up for in functionality.

There are a lot of plastics, across the dash, console and doors, which are not offensive but just lack some excitement. All the buttons are within easy reach and are basic to operate.

Graphics on the stereo and driver's instruments are simple and easy to ready although won't win any beauty contests.

The Blue&Me system to pair your phone can take some initial training but once hooked up and you learn the commands you'll never have to take your hands off the wheel to make a call.

For a car in the light segment, there is surprising space in the Punto. Four adults can be housed with generous head, leg and knee room, and we managed two kids in bulky car seats across the back bench seat without any dramas.

The driver has height and reach adjustable steering while the seats are comfy for longer journeys.

On the road

Across the range there is only one engine - a 1.4-litre petrol engine.

It produces a meagre 57 kilowatts at a high 6000rpm which means you really have to give it a rev to reap acceleration rewards.

Hilly terrain really tests the little hatchback and often requires the driver to drop back into second at 60kmh. Keep it above 3000rpm and the Punto will answer the call, but you do have to be patient on occasions.

Primarily designed for around-town driving, the Punto can still cope with the open road and will sit on 110km comfortably - although it could do with cruise control.

Our test car featured the five-speed manual which would be our choice of shifter. The five-speed robotised semi-automatic feels too jerky with awkward changes at low speed.

It's not a bad steer with as relatively light feeling through the wheel. The four-potter engine doesn't have enough power to get you into much trouble, though.

What do you get?

This base Pop model has a six-speaker CD stereo with MP3 compatibility, Bluetooth phone connectivity with hands-free operation, electric front windows (the back are old-school winders), air-conditioning, daytime running lamps, while safety includes six airbags along with stability control and anti-lock brakes.

One optional box worth ticking would be the $500 15-inch alloys to get rid of the steelies with hubcaps.

Other options

Fiat isn't picky with five-door targets, anyone and everyone is in its sights, including the Toyota Yaris (from $15,690), Mazda2 (from $15,790), Hyundai i20 (from $16,590), Kia Rio (from $16,290) and Mitsubishi Mirage (from $12,990).

Running costs

We managed average fuel consumption of 6.2 litres for every 100km which is just about the official figure.

For those who really want to save, you can download your driving history to a USB and input the data into Fiat's eco:Drive system for hints on how to improve economy.

Servicing shouldn't be too expensive, neither should insurance.

Funky factor

The Punto possesses some nice Euro good looks.

With a range of cool accessories available, it's easy to add some extra personality.

Among the options are various decals and mirror covers, while you can also opt for some cool chrome touches on the exhaust, front grille and boot moulding.

Practicality

There is a useful boot space and the back seats do fold. Unfortunately, they don't drop completely flat which impedes the load space, but it managed to house an adult's bike with the front wheel removed.

Up front there are two small cup holders which can get in the way of manual shifts, and another in the console but no space in the doors for larger bottles.

What matters most

What we liked: Interior space with easy-to-use operations, drive-away pricing, good European looks.

What we'd like to see: Zestier performance and diesel option, less internal plastics, cruise control, Bluetooth audio streaming.

Warranty and servicing: Three year/150,000km warranty. Maintenance is annual, with oil and filters at every 15,000km or 12 months with servicing every two years or 30,000km.

VITAL STATISTICS

Model: Fiat Punto.

Details: Five-door small front-wheel drive hatchback.

Engine: 1.4 -litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 57kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 115Nm @ 3250rpm.

Transmissions: Five-speed manual or Dualogic automatic.

Consumption: 5.7 litres/100km (combined average, manual); 5.4L/100km (auto).

CO2: 132g/km (manual); 124g/km (auto).

Bottom line: Pop (m) $16,000 drive-away (as tested); Pop (a) $17,500 drive-away.


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