Decently spacious for a supermini, with a good range of engines, but the Punto's driving dynamics are less-than beguiling
What is it?
This is what Fiat calls the ‘Fiat Punto 2012’. It began life in 2005 as the Grande Punto and was facelifted to become the Punto Evo. Now, it has had another nose-and-tail job (returning it close to its original look) to become the plain Fiat Punto. A mild re-trim and re-fresh of the interior and the choice of 10 different engines complete the changes.
One of the engines now available on the 2012 model is the much-discussed 84bhp, 875cc, TwinAir two-cylinder turbocharged engine, which made its debut in the Fiat 500. It’s good for 103lb ft of torque at 2000rpm and has an official Co2 rating of just 98g/km in the big Punto body.
The TwinAir engine uses Fiat’s highly sophisticated MultiAir valve control (which uses electro-hydraulic controls to finely vary the opening and closing times of the engine’s inlet values) and a small turbocharger which, says Fiat, will minimise engine response time.
As a twin-cylinder unit, the engine is not naturally smooth-running. Aside from the in-built balancer shaft, Fiat says the installation in the Punto also gets new engine mounts and a vibration-damping dual-mass flywheel (something usually used on diesel engines) as well as extra engine bay sound proofing.
The engine also gets a selectable ‘eco’ mode which is activated via a dash-mounted button. This is designed to prevent the driver from exploiting the TwinAir’s inherent rev-happy nature, firstly by calming the throttle response but mainly by restricting the engine’s torque output to just 81lb ft at 2500rpm.
What’s it like?
Unusual. At tickover, the engine’s distinct off-beat thrum can be sensed through the cabin floor. Climbing up through the rev-range there’s no disguising that there’s a twin-cylinder engine under the bonnet: the sound track is as clear as it is unexpected.
That’s not to say the engine is rough, indeed, it is smoother than many small-capacity diesel. It’s more the unusual aural intrusion than a lack of mechanical refinement that marks out the driver experience. And, despite its small capacity, the engine can easily haul the 4m-long Punto around with two adults on board. It also has the legs for brisk motorway driving and pulls well at higher revs, even in the longer-striding sixth gear.
It’s the Punto’s on-road performance, that is rather less beguiling. The steering is lightly weighted at the rim but it also conveys a sense of disconnection. Steer into a roundabout or a fast bend, and you are never quite sure of position of the front wheels. At speed, the Punto is quite hard to place accurately.
Pushing through a series of bends, the Punto demonstrates a degree of nicely rising lateral grip, but you don’t feel you can exploit it because the car rolls a reasonable amount and because of the lack of confidence in the whereabouts of the front end. The ride wasn’t half bad, though, especially on the very poor surfaces near Fiat’s Balocco test track. This car lopes along pretty well.
Should I buy one?
It’s an intriguing car. Decently spacious for a supermini, nippy and, thanks to the engine, particularly characterful. And the showroom price is competitive. But the driving dynamics are decidedly humdrum and the engine’s unmistakable warble is a love-it or loather-it issue.
More importantly, there’s a question mark over the real-world economy of this tiny engine. Run back-to-back with a 1.3 Multi Jet diesel Punto, and using the on-board trip computer, the oil-burner was significantly more economical. Owners of Fiat 500 Twin-Airs are reporting similar findings.
Fiat Punto TwinAir
Price: £12,700; Top speed: 106mph; 0-62mph: 12.7sec; Economy: 67.2mpg (comb); Co2: 98g/km; Kerbweight: 1090kg; Engine type: twin-cylinder turbocharged petrol, 875cc; Power: 84bhp; Torque: 103lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox: six-speed manual