The solidly-built and well-priced Grande Punto could turnaround Fiat’s record of poor sales, writes Ashish Masih

If there ever was an award for most talent but far too little glory, then Fiat India would certainly be a winner. The company has always delivered cars that are ideal for Indian conditions, but failed to achieve even half the sales glory that rivals with comparatively compromised cars have managed.

All that could well be history with the arrival of the aptly named Grande Punto (it translates into ‘grand point’). It promises to be everything that small-car buyers want.

For a start, it’s got the same 1.3 Multijet diesel engine that has legions of buyers waiting for months for the Maruti Swift and Swift Dzire. Interested?

One look at the Punto will assure you that Italians are indeed great at design. The Punto’s silhouette is well-balanced, whichever angle you look at it from. The big lights up front and the long nose look sporty, and give it plenty of character. The rear gets compact lights mounted high up on the pillars. And the big wheels complete the purposeful stance. Well, Fiat owns Ferrari and Maserati; easy to understand once you look at the Grande Punto’s design.

Fiats are always known for their tough and robust build quality, and the Punto is no different. The first thing you will notice when you step into the cabin is the manner in which the doors shut with a solid ‘thunk’. It is a sound that is found on more expensive saloons, and there’s no tinny, built-to-a-price feel. The next thing you’ll notice is that the rear seats aren’t really as impressive as the generous external dimensions of the car suggest. The width means that three occupants will fit nicely but legroom is just about adequate and similar to most rivals. The high-set seats are very comfortable and both underthigh and back support is good.

Front seat passengers won’t have any reason to complain. The seats up front are wide and legroom is also generous. The driver’s seat adjusts for height but the steering only adjusts for rake, not reach, so finding the ideal driving position can be a little tricky.

The dials are similar to the ones found on the Linea, except they are in black. Fiat oddly hasn’t marked a redline on the rpm gauges. The dashboard controls fall easily to hand, and are intuitive to use. The indicator stalks, though, are annoyingly placed on the left.

The company hasn’t followed the beige interior trend that most rivals have made the norm now. The dark grey-black cabin can be a bit tiring to look at after a long drive. Another grouse is the inconsistent quality of plastics. Though the dashboard is made from relatively dense materials, some bits let it down.

Another area that Fiat hasn’t been paying attention to is the usability of the cabin. There aren’t too many places where you can put that takeaway glass of iced tea or your cellphone. The boot, at 280 litres, is again the norm in its class rather than a standout feature. The suspension towers intrude into it, limiting its usability. The high sill doesn’t help loading either.

What you will greatly appreciate is the number of features on offer in this car. The Grande Punto’s top-end Emotion variant comes with ABS and twin airbags, a voice-activated Bluetooth pairing for your phone (dubbed Blue & Me), climate control, alloys and an iPod dock, among other features.

There are three engine options on sale. The cheapest is the small 1.2-litre petrol, which develops 68bhp. Fiat didn’t offer this for a test drive, so we reserve our judgment on this model. The other is a 1.4-litre petrol motor with 89bhp. This engine is refined and revs till its redline without any fuss. It lacks outright punch but is more than adequate for town driving. There isn’t much in terms of power low in the rev range, so you will have to push the revs up if you want a rewarding drive. We managed to get 10.2kpl in the city and 14.6kpl on the highway. Decent figures for the car’s size and weight.

The third engine is the familiar 1.3 Multijet diesel that we’ve seen in the Swift and Swift Dzire. Start it up, and you’ll notice the familiar diesel clatter from a cold start. If you’ve driven a Swift, you’ll immediately notice that the Punto isn’t as refined, and there is plenty of engine noise entering the cabin.

The engine is slow to respond to throttle inputs below the 2000rpm mark. But even after crossing that mark, it fails to excite. While the Swift diesel leaps forward like a cat chasing a mouse, the Punto moves progressively. The 1.3 diesel delivers 13.7kpl in the city and 17.5kpl on the highway. The gearbox isn’t as slick as the ones found in the Fabia or the Swift.

The Punto excels in the ride and handling department. It manages to damp out road undulations really well, tackling most bad roads adroitly. Ride quality improves as speeds increase and there is always a reassuring feel about the suspension, even at faster highway speeds. The steering also offers plenty of communication from the front tyres. Body roll is minimal and the grippy tyres aid handling further. The Punto is willing to be pushed into corners at faster speeds, always following a predictable and composed line.

Overall, the Punto is near the top of the small car pecking order, and will be adequate for families. It’s solidly built, well-priced, has a comfortable ride and decent fuel economy figures, but it fails to match class leaders in driving pleasure.

Technical Data

Engine size 1.2/1.4/1.3 (P/P/D)

Price from Rs 3.99 lakh

Power 68/89/75bhp

0-100kph

NA/16.58/17.84sec

Economy NA/ 10.2/14.6; 13.7/17.5kpl

(city/highway)

20-80kph in 3rd

NA/ 14.11/12.57sec

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Fiat planning CNG option for Punto November 18, 2009

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