Stylish and spacious new Punto is up there with the best
We've run a Fiat Punto as our second car for the past five and a half years and it was nearly five years old when we bought it.
To say it's been a delight is an understatement and my wife (its main driver) says it's the best little car she has ever had.
Never one to show overenthusiasm for the different vehicles that arrive at our front door on test (a cursory question about what colour it is, is par for the course), her interest did show abnormal levels of curiosity this week when she noticed the Punto badge.
For once, her questions and mine were the same: What's different about this new Punto?
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Compared with our 51-plate model, the change is radical; less so for drivers of more recent iterations. But in all cases there is a comforting consistency in styling, that is evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
Side by side, both are unmistakably Fiat Puntos.
The 2012 Fiat Punto maintains the model's instantly recognisable and dynamic shape but it has been made even more elegant and characterful thanks to a host of detail changes, inside and out.
The most noticeable of these modifications is a new front bumper. To ensure the exterior look of the car reflects the cutting-edge technology inside, it blends the strong points of the 2005 Grande Punto's design with those of the 2009 Punto Evo. Whether in three or five door, the new bumper gives the front an elegant look, aided by being painted the same colour as the rest of the car.
The two air intakes are split by the number plate but enclosed in a single trapezium-shaped perimeter. The direction indicators remain on either side of the number plate with headlights above, the round fog lights with cornering function are located within the lower air intake.
All models have a black grille, with a hexagonal mesh pattern. This makes the grille stand out from the rest of the car, giving the new Punto's appearance a more technical and sporty feel. The body-coloured front bumper also helps the Fiat badge stand out more prominently than before.
At the rear the Fiat badge now doubles as the door lock – push it and the tailgate opens. The Punto logo sits beneath it in the centre and has a red dot in the same colour as the Fiat badge. As at the front, the rear bumper has been redesigned to be the same colour as the rest of the car. Beneath it the rear fog and reversing lights have been elongated and integrated into the surrounding surface.
To go with the smart new appearance outside, new materials have been used on the seats and dashboard to give the 2012 Punto a fresher, more youthful look.
There are four main trim levels: Pop, Easy, GBT and Lounge – the entry-level Pop model still being very well equipped. It comes with stylish Spicy Grey interiors complete with fabric seats that have red stitching on them, height and reach-adjustable steering wheel, height-adjustable driver's seat, trip computer, remote central locking, electric front windows, driver, passenger and window airbags, radio, CD and MP3 player and anti-lock braking.
The mid-range Easy and GBT trim levels offer an exceptional price to equipment ratio. Designed to embody a combination of style and technology, their dashboard has black Diamond inserts and the seats feature embellishments in one of three colours which contrast with the charcoal interior elsewhere.
On top of the equipment in the Pop, the Easy has as standard manual air-conditioning, driver knee airbag, leather-covered steering wheel and gear lever knob, a rear bench that splits 60/40, darkened headlights, body-coloured electric heated door mirrors and 15in Comfortline alloy wheels.
The GBT version has the same specification as the Easy, but with 15in Sportline alloy wheels, darkened privacy glass, sports suspension and body-coloured rear spoiler and side skirts.
Top of the range is represented by the elegant and sporty Lounge model. This has 15in Sportline alloy wheels, front fog lights with cornering function, the Skydome electric sun roof, chrome-plated exhaust pipe, sculpted Castiglio fabric seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, front arm rest, ESP, electric rear windows on the five door, ambient lighting inside and Blue&Me with Bluetooth, plus USB and aux inputs.
There is a choice of four engines and a total of seven different power outputs. As you would expect, the majority of engines for this size of car are petrol offerings.
These include a 68bhp 1.2-litre petrol, a 75bhp 1.4-litre petrol, an 83bhp TwinAir three-cylinder petrol, a 103bhp 1.4-litre petrol MultiAir Turbo and the flagship petrol engine is a 133bhp 1.4-litre MultiAir Turbo, as tested here.
Two diesel engines are available – a 73bhp 1.3 Multijet and a more powerful 83bhp 1.3-litre Multijet engine.
The explanation of how the MultiAir engine works is horrendously complicated but suffice to say the result is reduced consumption and emissions with increased power and torque.
The addition of a turbocharger on the engine in my test car gave it the feeling of being a "hot" performer; a 0-62mph figure of 8.5 seconds certainly demonstrated it was no slouch. But despite this and a top speed of 124mph, it still boasts an economy figure on the combined cycle of 50.4mpg and emissions of 129g/km.
Handling felt really sharp and it was nice to see the Punto retains the same "City" button as on our 11-year-old car – push this and the steering becomes lighter, making it easier to drive it urban/congested conditions.
Space in a Punto has always been a strong point – it's why we love ours – and here, stands up well against the opposition. Four adults can sit in relative comfort and, once the rear seats are folded, there are few small cars around that will challenge what you can cram in here.
The change, then, is all for the better. It continues to surprise me why the Punto is often overlooked by those buying a small car. For me, it's up there with the best. For her, it was a case of "Can I have a new one, please?"