The Punto GP, it makes you smile

By Philip Hedderman

 

 

 

THERE’S nothing like a little lift to put a smile on your face … and I mean that quite literally.

Every now and again a car comes along and just brightens your day.

They don’t have to be particularly brilliant or outstanding in any way, but possess a smidgeon of je ne sais quo.

Sometimes it’s the interior, other times it’s the drive, but more often than not, it’s something like economy that just blows you away.

The magic ingredient in this case was the surprise factor.

 Multiple surprises in fact, which happened to be a concoction of all of the above and packaged as a three-door sporty hatch.

The only clue to her identity …. the words Punto GP emblazoned across the bottom of the door sill.

Yep, you read right a Punto or Punto Evo GP to give her the full title. .

The experience is an absolute assault on the senses and one found it hard to fathom that your tusche was actually sitting inside a FIAT.

You see, I’d never sat in any FIAT, or for that matter any bread and butter hatchback finished to such a high standard.

I kid you not.

We’re talking buckets seats – finished in the finest leather, double stitched in red to compliment the black hide which also featured on the sports steering, around the door panels and followed through to the cockpit.

Setting off the cabin are sunken clocks finished in snazzy chrome and a central console finished in piano black.

But the best feature of all is the built-in TomTom sat nav – protruding at an angle from the top of the dash which can be removed (stalk and all) at the flick of a switch. (Only one glitch here it is quite bulky and took quite some fiddling to get it to fit in the glove box)

It also came with a panoramic double sunroof which gave the whole interior an airy and roomy feel to it.

Now, I know I’m sounding a little hysterical, but this is a bloody FIAT.

It is testement to just how far the marquee has come in the last decade … and I know first hand.

My first car came courtesy of the Italian giant.

A hideous,chocolate brown 127 with a gold go-faster stripe up one side and resting on a 1976 PIK reg plate.

It was 1998 by the time I got my hands on her for the princely sum of £295.

Rust had started to take its toll and the fly windows were so worn that if you opened it in traffic it came away in your hand.

The windows didn’t wind down all the way and if it even began to spit rain, the distributor cap had to be mopped out and dried before it would start.

Still, to me it symbolised freedom and a second hand tape deck turned her into real a babe magnet.

Initially I thought that fond memories of the 127 were clouding my judgement a little, but a turn of the key soon put paid to that notion.

Now, it is not going to break any land speed records but the 1.4 litre 105bhp petrol has enough grunt to do what it was designed to do and a bit more.

It nips through the city traffic with ease and is more than capable of holding its own on motorway jaunts hitting 0-100kph in just over 10 seconds.

Cruise control as a €145 option and standard driver’s armrest make light work on the long hauls.  

It sounds absolutely beastly too.

Although completely manufactured a little gizmo in the exhaust amplifies the revs and the sound of the acceleration tricking the pilot into thinking he’s in charge of a V8 muscle car.

She is pretty frugal too for a petrol with emissions of 134g/km, keeping the annual road tax bill down to €156.

Fuel consumption is decent too returning around 50mpg or 5.7 litres/100km thanks to MultiAir technology, Stop/Start (as standard) and a six speed gearbox.

The GP is also dripping with gadgets including Blue & Me which offers Bluetooth for hands free phone use and a USB port connected to the steering wheel for all your iPhone/iPod music.

So, is the new Punto as good as its main rivals, namely the Fiesta, Fabia and Polo.

In the style stakes it’s better but the drive just lets it down.

Ford are the daddy here while Polo and Fabia  just shade it on build quality.

The steering tends to be a bit wooly on more challenging roads at higher speed and road noise can be an issue.

But the biggest bug bear of all is the clocks.

They seem to be the wrong way around with the rev counter on the right and speedo on the left.

The drivers eye constantly switching right to left to check the speed.

That said, I’m sure time will remedy that and to be fair could be argued that FIAT’s way is actually the norm – not the other way around.

Hardly worth getting your knickers in a twist about.

Residual values may be though as  the Punto generally takes a right old spanking.

Still, this little car is a far cry of the dark old days of bits falling off and nothing working.

 Prices for the Punto Evo begin at €13,595.

The GP model on test costs €16,495 (without options).