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Fiat Punto

Broadcast dates : 8th August 2004
12th August 2004

The Punto is the latest in a rather fierce model offensive from Fiat Auto SA in the past 18 months.

Following on the quirky Multipla MPV and the stylish Stilo Performance hatch, the Punto is a smaller city car.

In South Africa itís up against the likes of the Renault Clio, the Opel Corsa and the entry-level Toyota Run-X 1.4.

The Punto comes with a choice of three engines and is offered in five basic derivatives. These range from the 1,2-litre petrol-engined entry model, through the 1,3-litre Multi-Jet diesel versions to a petrol-fueled 1,8-litre performance version.

Our test car is the Punto 1.3 JTD, which employs the new multi-jet turbodiesel engine. It also came in the upper of two trim levels on offer, this being the Dynamic.

An advantage of buying a European entry-level model such as the Punto is that it comes with a full specification of passive safety features. This is often not the case with locally built cars which only have items such as multiple airbags and electronic driver aids specified on the top models in the range.

The down-side to this is that cars like the Fiat, Renault, Citroen and some of the competitive Korean models donít have the highly-established dealer networks that you get from the likes of Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen.

And in many cases, the price of spare parts are more expensive for the fully-imported "newcomers."

Fiat has been one of the technological leaders on the diesel engine front, and the MultiJet engine is interesting. The diesel is injected into the combustion chamber in as many as five different phases, dispensing on throttle demand.

This results in a much more controlled combustion, as well as improved performance and emissions.

The Punto 1.3 JTD is, of course, turbocharged, like all modern passenger car diesel engines.

Throttle lag is still a factor on the Reef when pulling away, especially when the engine is cold. This is due to the lower atmospheric pressure at nearly 1 800 metres above sea level, where the engine is inefficient until the turbocharger is spooled up.

Once on the move the little Punto has reasonable performance, with a zero to one hundred time of 13,4 seconds claimed. Top speed is said to be one-sixty four kilometers per hour. Hardly racy, but adequate for an economy-orientated car,

Claimed consumption is Ö.. although we have found in South African conditions that general usage sees a slightly higher consumption. But the Punto should manage a figure of less than six litres per hundred kilometers in a mix of urban and freeway driving.

Feature-wise, the Punto comes well-equipped. All models, including the base model known as the Active, come with dual airbags for the front passengers, electric front windows, remote central locking, air-conditioning and electric power steering.

To this specification, the Dynamic model adds a CD/ radio combo with six speakers, ABS braking and electronic brake distribution, heated electric door mirrors, ISOfix attachments for child seats, front fog lights and alloy wheels shod with one eighty five Ėsixty by 14 rubber

The electric steering is interesting in that, like the more expensive Stilo model from Fiat, it has a specially City mode.

This greatly increases the amount of electrical assistance to the steering, making the car very easy to park and manouevre at low speeds.

At first the steering is so light itís disconcerting. But once you get used to it, itís actually very pleasant.

And at speeds of over 70 kilometres per hour, the system reverts to a normal progressive assistance for much better road feel.

This is much more of a traditional Italian Fiat. Whereas the Fiat Palio, built locally, has a rather third-world feel to its styling, the Punto is much more cutting edge, as an Italian car should be.

It has good basic interior styling and trim quality too, although there are still some glitches like the rather wonky rear window winders.

But overall, the Punto is set to make Fiat many more friends in one of the most competitive market segments in the South African car market.

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