What is it?
This is the Punto Abarth, the first of the new-generation Abarths to go on sale in the UK. It is not, apparently a Fiat - look for a Fiat badge and you won’t find one anywhere.
This is because Abarth has a fine racing, rallying and road car heritage and, though it has always been linked heavily to Fiat, and owned by Fiat Auto since 1971, the Italians are keen to give it its own distinct brand image - so a warmed-over Punto T-Jet would simply not be on.
Instead, you get a 153bhp, 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, and the ability to get to 62mph in just 8.2 seconds.
What’s it like?
The Punto Abarth certainly gets off to a good start - it looks fantastic. The standard Punto is already blessed with elegant, clean lines, and the Abarth adds a dose of healthy testosterone with its lower stance, chunky 17-inch alloys and black side skirts and roof spoiler.
There’s more good news inside. Much as in the standard Punto, there’s still the odd bit of brittle plastic trim here and there and the aluminium-look plastic on the central console is unconvincing to say the least.
All the Abarth-specific interior trimmings are good, however. The steering wheel, handbrake and much of the dash are covered well-trimmed leather. The faux-suede seats (are comfy and supportive, though a little narrow shouldered. In fact the interior as a whole feels a fair bit more special than most cars in this class.
On the road, initial impressions are also good. Press the sport boost button on the centre console and peak torque (available at 3000rpm) jumps from 152lb ft to 169, and the weight of the steering is altered to give a chunkier feel. This makes for a meaty mid range, making overtaking easy and allowing you to maintain a swift cross-country pace.
Push the engine harder, however, and the combination of that low-down torque and a power figure that starts to tail away after just 5500rpm leaves you curiously unsatisfied. It’s almost like a turbodiesel in its power delivery, lots of shove, but not enough high-end zing, and that’s a bit of a shame. Still, stick to seven or eight tenths of the engine’s ability, and you’ll be going pretty quickly anyway.
It’s better to stick to eight tenths or so for the sake of the chassis, too. There’s no shortage of grip over most roads, and the car is eager to point where you want it to when you want it to.
The trouble is the ride. Over a typical fast-and-bumpy British B-road, the Punto is uncomfortable. It jars over sharp crests and dips, and shudders through potholes. There’s simply none of the pliancy and fluidity that you’d find in a Fiesta ST, and the Punto feels less controlled as a result, and much harder and more wearing to drive quickly.
Should I buy one?
If you love fast Italian cars, and are also fond of a bargain, the Punto Abarth has an awful lot to recommend it. It’s funky, fast enough to be fun, and should cost less than a Fiesta ST. So what if it’s not the last word in dynamic sophistication?