What is it?
This is the new Fiat Punto Evo. Maybe it’s the performance connotations associated with a certain Japanese marque, or maybe it’s just a racey name, but when Fiat revealed that it was making the Punto Evo, the initial imagery involved big wheel arches and flaming exhausts rather than clever variable valve technology and excellent equipment levels.
Don’t be disappointed. The new Punto delivers on a number of levels that its desirable if slightly underwhelming predecessor failed on; enough that the identity change is justified despite the Evo being a facelift rather than all-new model.
The star of the new Punto is the 1.4-litre Multiair engine, which we’re testing in 103bhp guise. By controlling the inlet and exhaust valves Fiat has managed to make a small petrol engine that has a better spread of torque, more power and uses less fuel than a conventional equivalent. A stop-start system also helps achieve the decent claimed economy figure.
This is the first time we’ve driven the car in the UK.
What’s it like?
It’s the new Multiair engine that really improves the new Punto. Unlike a conventional naturally aspirated motor, you can keep the engine spinning at below 2000rpm around town and still have enough torque available to accelerate without changing down a gear, despite the low torque output of 96lb ft.
The Punto Evo is equally capable outside urban limits. A six-speed manual box is an unusual and very welcome standard addition in this class, and it helps to make the Punto more involving on a spirited drive and relaxed on the motorway, though at cruising speeds you’ll still be doing over 3000rpm.
A supple ride quality also puts the Punto amongst the most comfortable cars in its class, with well-judged dampers absorbing most scarring in the road without compromising body control and stability.
Unfortunately the Fiat still falls short of the Ford Fiesta’s dynamic precision and the Volkswagen Polo’s level of refinement. The steering weights up nicely at speed, but is vague on turn-in and never feels very connected, and the cabin needs to be better insulated from tyre and engine noise.
But the Punto Evo has its strengths. Standard specification is among the best in class, and new additions such as a dash-mounted TomTom sat-nav make the cabin convenient and interesting, though the seating position and steering wheel adjustment could do with more range.
Should I buy one?
Certainly, if you like the looks and can get comfortable in the cabin the Punto Evo is a tempting prospect that manages the many and varied tasks of a modern supermini with verve.
In fact, it’s easy to see why you might choose the broad talents of the Fiat, even if in this naturally aspirated form it does not quite achieve class best in any one area.