Since its launch back in 1994 the Punto has earned itself a good reputation as an accomplished supermini that majors on affordable running costs and superb practicality. After all it kicked off the whole trend towards ‘larger than before’ superminis that all new models conform to. Here I find out how good Fiat’s latest model fares in ‘Sporting’ trim fitted with the latest ‘Multiair’ powerplant.
Visually the transition from Grande Punto to Punto Evo has received mixed reactions as its forbearer was styled by the famous Giorgetto Giugiaro. The Evo features a number of subtle updates including a new arguably more cluttered, front bumper with plastic insert and a similar item at the rear.
There are also new alloy wheel designs (17 inch here) and revised lights front and rear. In the ‘Acid Jazz’ blue of our car it’s still a cracking looking design that manages to look a lot sportier than many of its rivals with its rising waistline, simple curves and pert bottom.
Inside there are even more changes but this time there is no denying their success. The pre-facelifted model didn’t have a bad interior; it had plenty of space for four adults and looked fairly appealing. Unfortunately the materials used were (to be polite) a little lacking in depth-of-quality and the switches were more Argos than Laura Ashley.
The new car has a completely new dashboard made of sturdier materials that are much nicer to the touch. There are also snazzy touches such as a small strip of LED lights above the glovebox and flashes of white trim lifting the mood. The dials are also a joy to look at and suitably sporty, as do the bucketed seats that keep the driver and passenger nicely pinned in place during more enthusiastic driving.
I did however find the driving position a little compromised as the seat is set too high even in its lowest position. Plenty of adjustment in the steering column and the positioning of the pedals and controls mean that it’s a comfortable space to spend time. If only those thick rear pillars didn’t restrict visibility so much when overtaking and parking.
On the road is where the Evo comes into its own. The engine is an absolute peach. With 133bhp (206 Nm 152 lb-ft of torque) from the Turbocharged 16 valve 1.4 Mulitair engine acceleration is brisk – 60 mph takes 8.2 seconds going on to a top speed of 127mph.
The revolutionary, and patented Multiair technology precisely monitors and adjusts the intake of air into the engine for better throttle response and greater efficiency. It works very well, power delivery is progressive with a nice slug of turbo boost where you would expect it in the powerband with little lag. The unit also has a nice, throaty sound under acceleration but this settles down when cruising and is as refined as any of its rivals.
The chassis strikes a satisfying balance between ride comfort and poised handling. The worst bumps are dealt with minimal fuss which given the size of the wheels on our car is remarkable. During cornering the little Punto turns in tightly, grips well, remains flat. Only when really pushed does it start to lose composure but it’s a gradual process kept in check by the standard fit ESP (electronic stability program).
The missing link is in the feedback from the controls which is severely lacking, the steering is woefully over assistant and feels distant so the driver never really knows what the front wheel are doing. The 6-speed gearbox is also far too rubbery to truly enjoy using it. Despite this there are still smiles to be had.
You would think with the performance on offer economy might not be so good but you would be wrong. The official figures of 38.7mpg urban and 61.4mpg extra urban are easy on the wallet as is its VED banding falling to a respectable band D (£100 Per 12 months).
With an asking price of £16,450 the Evo 135 Sporting represents good value and comes with generous equipment including Start&Stop, air conditioning, ambient lighting and a leather covered steering wheel and gear knob. Not forgetting Fiat’s useful Blue&Me technology for syncing your phone to the car.
The Punto Evo Sport despite its age is a really rather good little hatchback. Its looks are very appealing and the driving experience enjoyable. It also proved fantastically economical and can carry 4 adults with ease. The truth is, as good as the Evo is with its absolutely superb engine, for the ultimate in supermini thrills the Ford Fiesta will still be my preferred choice but if you are looking for something a little different then head over to Fiat.
Price as tested: £16,450
Engine: 1.4 16v 133bhp
0-62mph: 8.2 secs Maximum Speed: 127mph
Economy: 38.7 (urban) – 61.4mpg (extra-urban), 50.4mpg (combined)
Emissions: 129g/km (Band D)
Words and Photos by Rob McSorley (@ROBonCARS)