Fiat's new turbo Punto has both the guts and the go to justify its Abarth badges

What is it?

The first car from the reborn Abarth brand.

In standard Abarth form it pumps out 155bhp at 5500rpm (redline 6500) with 152lb ft of torque at 5000 rpm. It'll cost around £16,000.

Splash out an extra £4000 and you can get a specially-appointed dealer to convert your car to Essesse (SS) spec, as tested here. That gives you 180bhp at 5750rpm, plus 200lb ft at 3000 rpm. With this, your Punto can hit 135mph, and sprint from 0-60mph in a shade under 7.5 seconds.

What's it like?

As far as we can tell from an early high-speed acquaintance on the billiard-table surfaces of the Balocco test track in nothern Italy, Fiat's execution looks immaculate.

Even the basic 1.4 litre, 155bhp turbo car fizzes around the track with a speed and precision that sits well with the revered Abarth scorpion badge that adorns the flanks.

It's the Essesse that really goes, though. Lowered some more, fitted with race seats and that 180bhp engine, it feels really fast and special.

Under the circumstances, Fiat's aim to sell 5000 cars and 2000 kits a year seems conservative.

Three things instantly impress: the all-round performance of the diminutive 1.4 litre turbo engine, the precision of the steering and the lack of torquesteer.

Press the prominent "Sport Boost" button in the dash and the electronics make the already quick steering feel even more purposeful, the accelerator travel shorten and provide a turbo overboost that lifts torque output.

The Essesse is definitely worth the money: you get a better-looking "evo" version sitting on 18-inch OZ wheels and 40-series Pirellis (the standard Abarth has 17-inch 45s) which really percolates.

The car goes so hard and handles so well, it won't matter (except to macho-men and zealots) that the standard and specially sports-tuned ESP can't be disengaged.

Should I buy one?

The great unknowns are the ride comfort on UK roads and the right-hand-drive conversion. Past sporty Fiats have often felt better to drive at home than in Britain.

But on first acquaintance the Abarth feels firm, solidly made and ideally damped. We have high hopes for it, but the competition from the likes of Renault and Ford is hot.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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tannedbaldhead 21 May 2009

Re: Fiat Punto Abarth Essesse

1 Abarth dealer in the whole of Scotland. U're having a laugh. It's a Fiat not a Ferrari. If my local dealer can't service it I'm sorry but I wouldn't/couldn't look past the Clio.

drivenfromthere... 6 May 2009

Re: Fiat Punto Abarth Essesse

Lee23404 wrote:
My Mrs can't be the only person who wants a sporty supermini but needs 5 doors? I guess the market is small but they must be missing out on sales.

No she certainly isn't! And yes they are missing out on sales. Pity for them and you.

My missus didn't like BM's first either, now she wants me to have another! Had an A2 TDi some years back and it was a cracker (just two seats in the back again) and lamented the day Audi phased it out, it was one of the best driving Audis, and is up there still now - fantastically rigid shell and thrummy little 3 pot, again my wife loved it. Put 30k on it a year no probs.

Pretty practical too.

Thing is will the A1 be a Polo with 4 holes? I really hope not.

Lee23404 6 May 2009

Re: Fiat Punto Abarth Essesse

drivenfromtherearplease wrote:
Do you think a Fabia vRS will be on the way? It's the only 5dr with some interest and a good dose of practicality for the size I can think of other than the usual sporting Corsa/Fiesta etc. Then again it will never have that "Italian Soul".

I think a vRS is on the way and no doubt it will be a cracker, unfortunately the Mrs doesn't like Skodas. Nothing to do with the badge, she doesn't like the design of Skodas with the hude chrome grill - there's no pleasing some people!

A 5 door Mito would be nice as well. I guess the only hope for a sporty 5 door supermini will be the new Polo. Hopefully they'll do a GTi version. My Mrs can't be the only person who wants a sporty supermini but needs 5 doors? I guess the market is small but they must be missing out on sales.

As for the 1 series in spite of the impression I've given I do like them. Sadly the Mrs doesn't like BM's (I know, I know). In fact the list of cars she dislikes is so long I haven't a clue how she ended up with a Meriva (in spite of me telling her to get a Focus).

Ah, just remembered, she does like Audi's. Perhaps a 5 dr A1 (or whatever it's going to be called) will do nicely.