Fiat is on a roll with its little 500 and Panda city cars, both of which have been critical and commercial successes. But the problem with introducing cool, trendy little cars is that they can make older cars in the range suddenly look long in the tooth. So it is with the Fiat Punto, a car that now looks rather dull compared to these two little upstarts.
Which is a big factor in why Fiat has introduced a revamped version of the Punto that includes the option of the two-cylinder TwinAir petrol engine. It’s the same award-winning engine that has added such a colourful soundtrack to the 500 and Panda models. It’s award-winning because, although it only has two cylinders, it still has four-cylinder-like acceleration and economy figures that approach that of some diesel cars. The low-friction, lightweight 875cc petrol engine has plenty enough pull allowing people to zip around in a little petrol car with diesel-like economy. The only trade-off to this technology is the engine note. It sounds insect-like and a lot like the original two-cylinder engine from the original Nuova 500 from the late 1950s, which is a very good thing. In the 500, people have loved the TwinAir engine because this green little car sounds like it’s absolutely flying and it feels properly characterful and retro. It suits the 500 more than any other engine Fiat offers.
But will it work in the bigger Punto? Fiat hopes the 85hp engine will add the same kind of excitement to the Punto model as it has to the 500, while at the same time delivering low fuel consumption, low CO2 emissions and low running costs.
So keen is Fiat to communicate how trendy and environmentally clean this car is that it is offered in “Unplugged Green”: a colour you can only choose if you have the TwinAir engine. Our test car comes in this traffic-stoppingly vibrant colour with a black roof, black grille, glossy black door mirrors and two-tone black and chrome alloy wheels. It attracts a lot of positive attention.
Inside, our car has black gloss and chrome details as well as unique TwinAir seats. The interior is comfortable and reasonably stylish and there’s a decent amount of space for four adults. There’s nothing to dislike, though it has to be said there is nothing to write home about either.
Driving the Punto around town, the engine throws out its boisterous – almost Vespa-like – note but somehow the noise doesn’t work like it does in the 500 where it makes the perky little car sound faster than it is. There’s no doubt that the TwinAir is a clever little engine. It’s surprisingly versatile and is powerful enough when puling away quickly. It’s easy to drive in town – there’s a “city” driving button that lightens the steering and the ride is good. It’s fine on the motorway too. But it’s not a particularly thrilling car in the bends and the constant scream of the engine as it redlines to every gear change is more annoying than exciting in the Punto. It does add character, I’m just not sure that I could live with it.
Conversely, the TwinAir engine is the only engine I’d want if I bought a 500.
Still, it’s clean and it’s green and running costs should be low. It isn’t as much fun as it promises to be on paper. Indeed, somehow it just doesn’t quite add the young and fun feeling that Fiat had planned for it – probably because it’s a larger and heavier car than the 500. It’s good enough for a buyer with a family that cannot squeeze into the 500 but who wants the unusual TwinAir engine.
THE FACTS: FIAT PUNTO TWINAIR
0-62MPH: 12.7 secs
TOP SPEED: 107mph
CO2 G/KM: 98g/km
MPG COMBINED: 67.3mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ***