From £9,655
Facelift builds on Punto's appeal. Great value but refinement is still not good enough

Our Verdict

Fiat Punto

Decently spacious for a supermini, with a good range of engines, but the Punto's driving dynamics are less-than beguiling

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2 September 2003

It's perhaps too grand a statement to say that Fiat's finances rest on the Punto's new nose. But the Stilo and Seicento aren't exactly packing them in just now, and the Panda city car and de-uglified Multipla are a while away. So it's left to the perked-up Punto to get bums on seats.

As with all the best facelifts, Fiat has kept things fresh without ripping up the formula for one of Europe's best-selling cars. The front end has been Stilo-fied, complete with new corporate grille and larger headlights.

Round the back there are new lights and rear bumper, resulting in something that enhances a car that was already one of the more stylish superminis.

Technical changes were more pressing, so a couple of new diesels have been ushered in, including the 1.3 Multijet and a 1.4 petrol.

Existing engines, including the 80bhp 1.2-litre 16-valver tested here, have also been tickled, giving economy and performance boosts.

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But it was the Punto's ride quality which was most in need of surgery. The outgoing version was a strange Italian which felt fine hammering down an autostrada or plodding round a piazza, but was unbearable on British tarmac. So this version sits 10mm higher with retuned springs and bushes, resulting in a softer ride.

To some extent it's been successful in dialling out the old car's constant fidget on seemingly smooth surfaces. But it still can't cope with sharper bumps, crashing over tarmac blips that you simply wouldn't notice in a Fiesta or Fabia. You're still not protected against bounce on undulating roads, and body lean is excessive.

Yet it's easy to make a case for this Punto. The 1.2 motor loves being revved and rewards a red line-nudging driving style, without feeling unacceptably tardy at less manic crank speeds. There are also the usual virtues of space and impressive value: this mid-ranking Active Sport trimmed model weighs in at £8895.

Factor in a dealer discount and thats a tidy deal; and it looks even better down in 1.2 eight-valve, three-door territory. Just make sure you can live with the ride.

Chas Hallett

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