A flexible grande car

Fiat Punto
Fiat Punto
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Fiat’s Punto supermini. Yes, that’s what it’s called now. In 2005 it was re-launched as the Grande Punto, then in 2010 as the Punto Evo. Now though, we’re back to plain old Punto. Fortunately, there’s nothing really plain about this car. In fact, if you want to make a style statement in the supermini sector, there’s really only one choice. And if you’re on a budget, this 1.2-litre 8v petrol model will be your starting point in the range.

Ask people what they know about how a Punto drives and most will either give you a blank look or pass reference to the ‘City’ button that makes the steering feel as if it’s become disconnected when you press it. The better informed will talk about the clever two cylinder TwinAir or 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol units that in recent times have added a bit of hi-tech to the range. Maybe the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel will also get a mention. Here though, we’re focusing on a much more affordable variant, the 69bhp 1.2-litre 8v petrol model.

This powerplant is one of Fiat’s older ones, but it’s still a willing, if rather noisy unit, making sixty from rest in 14.4s on the way to 97mph flat out. It offers reasonable in-town flexibility, which means you won’t have to row the thing along with the gearlever. And urban driving’s also where you’ll appreciate the light steering, with that clever ‘City’ set-up. You activate that by pressing this dashboard button that instantly lightens the steering for tight parking manoeuvres.

Which is great, but when you’re out on the open road with the ‘City’ option deactivated, it would be nice if the extra steering response you then get also gave you more of a connected take on the tarmac. As things are, it can be difficult to place this car as accurately as you might like through the bends. The ride’s not bad though, unless you make the mistake of going for a variant fitted with rather over-stiff sports suspension. Ultimately, after all, this is never going to be any kind of hot hatch. Just a very credible, very efficient and in many ways rather endearing modern supermini.

Italian design always has been and always should be about style. The very first Punto was no great looker but it did have a cheeky charm that small families loved. The MK2 model was smarter and more sophisticated but one of Fiat’s finest moments came with the introduction of the third generation version, the Grande Punto, in 2005 with its mini-Maserati looks. And it’s these that have supplied the inspiration for the car we have here. Redesigned body-coloured bumpers front and rear reprise the clean, effective styling that made the Grande model great and helped buyers to overlook its aging engines and plastiky cabin.

The Fiat Punto isn’t the freshest face in the supermini sector, it’s far from the best drive and it faces an uphill task to compare on costs with the latest and greatest. So does all of this make it a bit of an also-ran, something rather dated that’s marking time before replacement? Not at all. The Fiat has a coolness that will always evade a Corsa or a Fiesta. It just never seems to be trying too hard and always manages to make you feel good about driving it. Can you put a price on that? Alongside the Volkswagen Polo, it’s probably one of the few superminis that would fit in at any social engagement with no justifications sought nor required.

You’ll need to buy one of the more expensive cars to get the full triple espresso shot of Latin insouciance, but I reckon even an inexpensive variant like this 1.2 8v is worth trying if budgeting’s tight. Think of it like this. You could buy a German suit that was made of some fantastic breathable, water repellent, stain resistant super fabric but looked a bit square. Or you could buy an Italian suit which was just a damn great looking suit. Where are you going with your money? Right. There’s life in this one yet.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

CAR: Fiat Punto 1.2 8v

PRICES: £9,900 - £10,500

INSURANCE GROUP: 6

CO2 EMISSIONS: 123g/km

PERFORMANCE: 0-62 14.4s / top speed 97mph

FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 54.3mpg

STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: ABS with EBD, twin front and side airbags, daytime running lamps

WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: Length/Width/Height mm 4065/1687/1490.