One’s always taught to never judge a book by its cover. Take Fiat’s all-new Punto for example, fresh from its international launch, it may look like a menacing WRC Group B throw back capable of surging through turns of the Col de Turini like a Lancia Integrale of old. But sadly, it’s a bit limp-wristed and prefers to talk a good race rather than drive at a good pace.
For 2012, the local Punto range swells from two derivatives to four, the Italian marque dropping the asthmatic 1.2 Active model, preferring a 1.4 engine displacement across the line-up, ranging in output from the eight-valve 57kW four-cylinder to the 99kW Multiair. The award-winning, high output turbocharged Multiair is the pick of the bunch and the only variant, if we’re honest, worthy of a second glance. Problem areas consist of sloppy dynamics, vague steering and a spongy throttle response, which detract from the Punto’s general drive. Oddly, the 99kW derivative is also only mated with a five-speed manual, whereas a six-speed transmission is standard on the 77kW output version.
As with most Italian cars, the appeal of the Punto lies predominantly in its aesthetics. The model features new front and rear bumpers body-coloured bumpers, revised head- and tail-lights and deeper front air intakes. Stop/start technology is also now standard across the range together with a full five-year/150000km warranty. This move reflects the confidence Fiat Auto SA has in the Punto, and may help improve quality perceptions of the past.
The top-of-the-range Lounge specification boasts a high standard features list when compared with its segment rivals, including such safety items VDC dynamic stability control, ESP (electronic stability control), ASR anti-slip regulation, a hill holder and ABS braking with BAS brake assist.
Aggressively priced from R129900 for the entry-level 1.4 Pop to R209900 for the 1.4 Turbo Multiair Lounge, the 2012 Punto’s underwhelming dynamics and the current strength of competition in the B segment (think new Kia Rio, Volkswagen’s Polo and Ford’s Fiesta), sales are likely to be sporadic rather than spectacular.