Driven: Fiat Punto Pop

With a change of importers, Fiat is back in Australia with a vengeance. Having dwindled down to a single model (the 500 in various versions), things had got pretty grim for Fiat here. Chrysler Australia has taken over (as Fiat is the majority shareholder of the US company) and they're giving Fiat a shot in the arm here. Along with expanding the range, pricing has been a target. With 500s starting at $14,000 driveaway, Fiats are no longer expensive luxury toys. Good move.

The Punto has been reintroduced, in an updated version after a couple of years of absence from the Australian market. No longer pitched against cars like the Golf, Punto ownership starts at a remarkable $13,000 driveaway, which a pretty attractive proposition. Dualogic transmission adds $1500. Three trim levels are offered. Hopefully more powerful versions will follow...

So how does the Punto stack up? In isolation, it's a very competent little car. The handling, roadholding and steering are, as you'd hope of an Italian car, really good. The car sticks to the road better than you might expect from its little tyres and the ride comfort is a cut above its class, soaking up irregularities on the road well and turning into corners in an almost sporty way.

The power output from the 1.4-litre engine is nothing to write home about. It makes a noise, it goes. Not much more really. It's a willing enough unit, but not inspiring. The gearshift, brakes and on-road characteristics are of a high enough level that you know they handle more powerful versions more than adequately.

Inside, it's a bit of a plastic paradise - nicely but unadventurously designed, well enough put together and decently functional. Remember this design is a few years old now and the game has moved on a bit. That said, it's still well up to the job and by no means worse than its opposition. There's no flimsiness to the interior, which can't be said of some of the Punto's opposition.

As a basic, entry-level car, it's well equipped: Air conditioning, power front windows, remote central locking, power steering, Bluetooth, stop/start system, ABS, traction and stability control, 6 airbags and more. It's an easy, undemanding car to live with.

Compared to its opposition - now cars like Suzuki Swift, Honda Jazz and Mazda2 it offers a bit of classiness and Euro-chic, excellent handling and very attractive pricing. Even with a few years under its belt, the Punto is a good looking car too. If Fiat can get potential buyers into the showrooms and behind the wheel, they should have a winner here.

Engine: 1.4-litre 4 cylinder
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front wheel drive
Power: 57kW
Torque: 115Nm
Performance: 0-100km/h 13.2 seconds
Price: $13,000 driveaway at time of review
Text - Paul Blank (copyright)