Fiat first came to India and gave us one of the first forms of what we recognise as privately owned affordable cars, the Premiere Padmini(to know more click here), which continue to crowd streets all over the country to this day. They had plans when they tried a resurrection with the Uno too. Yes, they had plans when that fizzled out and they tried yet again with the Palio and Sienna in the 90s. Now they have a plan to give a Punto the first facelift after its June 2009 launch. but this time, it might just work!
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. 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. Fiat’s 2009 launched hatchback looks stunning from the outside. The long nose wouldn’t be out of place on a Maserati and the compact rear with those angled, high-mounted lights gives the Fiat hatch a sporty look. In the half-light, the dash looks quite attractive with the glow from the chrome-ringed dials. The doors shut with a weighty thud you only get in European cars. You feel nicely cocooned from the outside elements and insulation from the road is pretty good.
Yet, it retains a certain individuality that can only be Italian, in fact, it can only be Fiat. Change the logo on the grille from the red Fiat logo to anything else and it will be completely out of place. The grille itself is a continuation of the theme set by Fiat designs in the recent past – a rectangular mesh that seems to be divided horizontally through the centre by a solid portion that also holds the registration plate – exactly the way it is in the Linea.
Jump inside and the interiors aren’t as roomy as you expect in a four-metre-long car. The front seats are large, there’s plenty of headroom, seat travel is good and the cabin feels wide and airy. The steering and driver’s seat both adjust for height too. However, the steering which doesn’t adjust for reach is too ‘in your face’ and the front seats slope down a bit so they lack a bit of support.
Get into the back seat, especially behind a six-foot-tall driver, and legroom is in short supply. However, it’s just the legroom that is a problem in the Punto. With the front seats pulled forward, the back seat is pretty comfortable.
The steering wheel is great to hold and even the gear lever has a sporty feel. However, when you take a closer look, the quality of certain plastics is quite disappointing. The Grande Punto is short on storage space as well. It has shallow cupholders and small door pockets. The car, however, does have a largish boot that measures 280 litres, plenty of space for a car in this class.
The Grande Punto uses the similar 1.3 multijet engine that is doing duty in the Ritz, Swift, Vista and Stile. But the Punto weighs a substantial 115kg more than the Marutis. Punto also has shorter gearing and this has sacrificed the top-end performance for better drivability.
In traffic, there’s adequate power and the Grande Punto feels quite eager in town. The shorter gearing also makes the engine work harder at higher speeds. It’ll hit 100kph in 17.84sec, which is mainly because of its 1190kg weight and ECU tuning.
The gearshift is quite light too but nowhere near as slick as the Fabia’s. However, the instant you want to make urgent progress, the diesel Grande Punto lacks sparkle. The initial turbo-lag is very much there but even after the turbo starts spinning, the strong tug or spike in the powerband, is missing. In fact, the motor feels strained when revved hard.
The in-gear timing is pretty good; especially the 40-100kph slog in fourth gear and the Grande Punto matches the lighter Swift.
Fiat has understood the importance of fuel economy the hard way after the first Palios, and the latest Fiats have all proved to be pretty frugal; the Grande Puntos are no exception. The diesel Punto gives a terrific 13.7kpl in the city and 17.5kpl on the highway.
There’s little doubt about Punto’s ride and handling prowess. It’s the car you can enjoy most, thanks to a beautifully balanced chassis, fantastic grip, accurate steering and perfect damping. Over any surface at any speed, the Punto remains unfazed and the refined suspension simply goes about its job keeping you completely isolated from the crater you just drove through.
The Grande Punto drives over the broken roads with utter nonchalance. Nothing seems to faze the Fiat as it effortlessly skips and splashes over potholed tarmac. Key to the Grande Punto’s terrific poise, especially over rough roads, are the large 195/60 R15 tyres, stiff chassis and absorbent suspension with a perfect spring and damper set-up. With its suspension raised for India, the Grande Punto does roll a bit into corners but this detracts little from the driving experience.
The superbly weighted and accurate hydraulic steering gives you an almost rally-car-like feel. What’s also special is the flat and consistent manner in which the suspension works. There’s none of the nose-heaviness or heaving that plagues most front-wheel-drive hatchbacks.
Quite simply, at highway speeds nothing comes close to the Punto. The suspension is amazingly quiet but it misses the low-speed suppleness of the Fabia, its only true rival in the ride and handling department.
When it comes to ride and handling, it’s the Punto that wins hands down. It’s beautifully styled and a number of people will buy it just for this virtue. Still, its average interiors, dull performance and relatively tight-on-space rear seats are deterrents to what is otherwise a brilliant car.
The Grande Punto is the car that saved Fiat’s hide. It took the European car market by storm as soon as it was launched in 2005 and gave Fiat a platform from which to launch its recovery. The Punto looks superb, it is solidly built and comes with class-topping ride and handling.
Performance, fuel efficiency and refinement are not the class best and even the interiors left us disappointed. The Grande Punto makes up with the value it offers. With the base 1.3 version starting at around Rs 6.24 lakh (On-road price, Bangalore)and the fully-loaded diesel 90HP cost Rs 8.22 lakh (On-road price, Bangalore), it may not be the cheapest hatch around but to take a line from partner Tata, the Grande Punto is a lot of car per car and pretty good value for money.
The company has also announced to set up its own distribution network and will continue selling through Tata dealers. With new products and a more dedicated dealer network Fiat could see higher numbers in India.
Special thanks to Muhaz & Kashaf for allowing us test the car and the photos.
Also see – Fiat Grande Punto 90bhp
More pictures of Fiat Grande Punto 1.3 Active (Diesel) –