Fiat Grande Punto

Test venue: Royal Berkshire, Bucks, Herts and Oxon

February 2006

Fiat is placing a huge amount of importance on the success of its new Grande Punto, which went on sale in the UK on February 11th, but has already sold over 130,000 units in Germany, Italy and France in left-hand drive form since September 2005. The company hopes to sell 360,000 cars globally per year.

The radical new design has already won three awards in Western Europe, but the resurgent Italian company knows that it needs the Punto to succeed if it is to retain market share in the UK.

Fiat UK management stress that the stalwart of the range was renamed Grande Punto to convince the paying public that this was not merely a facelifted B-segment model, but more a completely new design. The original model first went on sale in 1993, was car of the year in 1995 and underwent two facelifts.

Marketing speel promotes the fact that the Grande Punto is the largest car in its segment and is also the cheapest, when compared with main rivals the Toyota Yaris, Renault Clio and the Opel Corsa.

In a clever marketing coup, UK management have reduced the price of the base model by £1, with the entry-level 1.2-litre, eight-valve model costing a mere £7,594. Prices rise to £12,295 for the range-topping 1.9-litre, Multijet model with top-of-the-range trim levels.

The new Grande Punto features a revised, rigid chassis, improved safety, uprated suspension, better residual values and a reduced insurance grouping. There are 13 derivatives of the Active, Active Sport, Dynamic, Eleganza and Sporting available, with six engine options. These include 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol units and 1.3 and 1.9-litre diesel alternatives.

Fiat UK chose the luxurious surroundings of Lord Astor’s former Cliveden National Trust property, near Taplow, as the base for the launch. Better known for the location of the Profumo affair, which rocked the British Government in the 1960s, Profumo, Christina Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies would have been impressed with the road manners and competitiveness of the Italian company’s latest offering. “We thought we would plan a grand launch for a Grande car,” joked Fiat UK’s Marketing Director Elena Bernardelli.

On a variety of country roads, stretches of motorway and dual carriageway in rural Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and the borders of Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire, I was able to drive three of the engine derivatives.

There is no denying that the 1.9-litre Multijet engine is leagues ahead of his smaller stable mates. The torquey engine delivers 130 bhp and an impressive punch throughout the rev range and the car offers a safe and comfortable ride. There is an amount of tyre boom on certain road surfaces and a little wind noise on the motorway, but the car handles well on a wide range of roads.

The range-topping 1.9-litre unit is mated to a six-speed manual transmission, as is the turbo-charged 1.3 unit, with the other models utilising a five-speed gearbox. Fiat’s UK Managing Director Giulio Salomone also hinted that there would be a turbocharged petrol engine and a sequential transmission version in the near future.

The smaller 1.2-litre, eight-valve Fire engine lacks a little punch at low revs and suffers on steep ascents, such as the Aston hill climb, near the Cliveden.

This unit only delivers 65 bhp, but reaches illegal speeds in 14.5 seconds and presses on to a maximum speed of 96 mph. It is sure to appeal as a shopping car and to a growing market for car hire companies, keen to offer budget hire to clients. The 130 bhp diesel engine will reach a top speed of 124 mph and the speed limit in under 10 seconds. It is like chalk and cheese to the smaller petrol engine.

From the exterior the new Grande Punto is quite an attractive car. It looks very similar to the older model from the rear, but a modified front light assembly and grille are, dare we say it, similar to the front profile of a Maserati. It is compact, feels solid on the road and gives you the immediate feeling of better build quality.

I didn’t like the shreaking beep from the dashboard when you tried to pull off without a seat belt in place and the fact that you activated the in-car telephone control buttons when driving with your fingers inside the steering wheel. But I did like the build quality, the styling, the driving position, the practicality of the new car and, more importantly, the price.

Fiat knows that there can be no mistakes with the Grande Punto and is already upgrading its customer services and dealer communications network. Competition is intense in the B-segment, but this car is an improvement on the outgoing model and is even £1 cheaper…..


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