Primmed up Punto

Launchpad The new Fiat Punto is not just lovely to look at, it also offers one of the most comfortable rides on any small car, writes Ashish Masih

T here's one thing you can always guarantee with a new Punto — it will look pretty much the same as any other version. That's certainly the case with the new Punto 90bhp diesel. But the changes run much deeper than the similar looks might suggest.

Externally, the only noticeable difference is a new 90bhp badge on the bootlid, while the interiors get red stitching on the seats to lend a sporty touch. The quality as well as fit and finish of the car are also much improved from the versions we've driven before.

But at the heart of the matter lies the biggest change, literally. Fiat has plonked the Linea's more powerful diesel engine. It's actually the same 1.3-litre Fiat Multijet diesel which the regular Punto and legions of Swifts/Ritz/Indica Vistas have but with a small difference. In place of the regular turbo, this unit has a much advanced variable-geometry turbo. So power goes up from 75bhp to 90bhp, making it one of the more powerful small diesel hatchbacks in the country.

On paper, this seems like the right thing to do — taking the Linea's 90bhp motor and sticking it in a car that's a 100kg lighter. And the performance figures also speak for themselves. Zero to 60kph comes up in 6.02sec (the 75bhp takes 6.79sec). The 90bhp gets to 100kph in quicker time too. It is 1.4sec faster, and you'll hit 120kph a huge 3.7sec earlier than the 75bhp version.

But driving in the real world isn't all that different. The newer version's engine is as unresponsive at low revs as the regular 75bhp car. Progress below the 2500rpm mark is slow and the engine feels lazy to respond to throttle inputs. The best useable power is between 2500-4500rpm, and you will have to shift gears constantly to keep it in the right powerband for best results. This means you will have to keep changing gears constantly in town, a big chore when negotiating traffic. However, the in-gear acceleration times are virtually identical, making it hard to notice the power increase in everyday driving. Twently-80kph in third gear comes up in 12.52sec, similar to the 75bhp version's 12.57sec. The difference in performance is visible only on the open highway. Another issue we noticed was that the engine becomes quite audible when nearing the top of its rev range.

As usual, the Punto impresses in other areas. The solid build quality is simply brilliant. The taut handling is predictable and the Punto has plenty in terms of cornering ability. What's more, you get one of the most comfortable rides on any small car. Ride comfort is consistent and annihilates almost any kind of road surface without much getting into the cabin.

The 90bhp version comes only in the top-end Emotion package and costs Rs. 6.79 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), which is not exactly cheap but seems like decent value But the 90bhp isn't such a big leap over the regular 75bhp version. Our advice: if you love the looks of the Punto and want to have one, then buy the cheaper 75bhp version; you won't be able to tell any major difference between performance in the city, but you will save a not-so insignificant Rs. 33,000. But if you do long journeys, then the extra power might sway you. Either way, it's a lovely car to look at.

At the heart of the matter lies the biggest change, literally. Fiat has plonked the Linea's more powerful diesel engine into the Punto

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