The premium hatchback segment in India has grown over the years. The sales are ever increasing and people aren’t shying away from buying a Rs 10 lakh hatchback while there are sedans galore at that price. The Fiat Punto is a premium hatchback that was launched in 2009. The car had everything that would appeal to an enthusiastic buyer - styling by design ace Giugiaro, a good ride and handling package and the MultiJet diesel engine. But, somehow the Punto didn’t make a dent in the sales chart despite being a good product.
Time has flown and it is almost six years since the car has been on sale in India. Now, Fiat has updated the car and has called it the Punto Evo. The company says the Evo name was given to it to signify evolution of the car. We set sail to Lonavala from Mumbai in the Punto Evo to find out if it has evolved into a game-changer.
It is surprising to know that the Punto’s design will be a decade old next year. The car also got a facelift in the European markets and ideally one would have expected the company to carry forward that design here, instead, the Punto Evo gets styling inspired from the Avventura concept that was shown at the 2014 Auto Expo.
The Punto was always a looker and the Evo looks even better. The front now looks aggressive and has a ‘don’t mess with me’ look. The large front bumper, the new trapezoidal grille, sweptback headlights and the V shaped bulge on the bonnet ends are new. Fiat has done a lot of research on customer preferences and as a result the car gets a generous dose of chrome at the front and rear. Chrome door handles is one feature that was exclusive to the 90bhp model in the old car but now it has made its way to the 75bhp variant as well. The front grille, air dam, the fog lamp inserts and the rear fog lamp and reverse lights inserts at the back also get their share of chrome. The Fiat logo has now moved from the grille to the top of the bumper and while most liked the position of it on the old car, I like the way it is placed now.
The 15-inch alloy wheels on our test car was the best I have seen in a car under Rs 10 lakh and one that I would definitely want to steal.
The rear styling of the Punto Evo makes me say this – it has the best back in business. The rear of the Punto was very attractive and the new car adds more sparkle to it. Unlike the front, which gets a bulge and different crease lines, the tail gate of the Punto is same as the old car. The bumpers are new and accommodate the rear fog lamps and reverse lights at the bottom on both sides. While the restyled funky front end looks great, one look at the rear and I couldn’t take my eyes off it, it’s that good looking. While looks is a subjective term and some might like the way a Swift or a Polo looks, I feel that the styling of the Punto Evo has given it a marginal edge over the competition.
Fiat has added seven colour options to the palette - exotica red, glitterati gold, magnesio grey, hip hop black, vocal white, minimal grey and tuscan wine.
If you were to blindfold a new Linea owner and make him sit in the driver’s seat then don’t be surprised if he shouts Linea! The dashboard layout, steering wheel, position of the audio system, climate control buttons and the instrument cluster are a straight lift off from the new Linea.
The Punto never had premium upmarket interiors that matched cars like the VW Polo and the Hyundai i20. It is still not the best, but the interior now feels well appointed and gets an upmarket feel. An interesting touch that will make its owner smile is the orange ambient lighting that glows when the headlamps are switched on. The rear wipers start automatically once you engage the reverse gear and we found this to be a very clever feature.
The fit and finish is one department Fiat hasn’t managed to get right even with the new car. In comparison to the Polo which has the best-in-class cabin quality, the Evo lags behind. The new i20 will be launched soon and is also expected to carry similar levels of fit and finish as the Polo.
The Punto was made for the European markets and although Fiat India has tried to Indianise its looks, the car is still European from inside. The seats are big enough to support drivers of most sizes and heights. Finding an ideal driving position is a task as I found out while driving the car and I ended up being uncomfortable. The steering wheel is still oddly placed and the adjustment for rake is limited which makes it difficult to find a correct driving position, also, the clutch travel is very long.
The car lacks ample legroom at the rear for tall people, but the headroom is marginally better than the Polo and the Swift. The rear seats are supportive and wide, three abreast in the car is just about comfortable.
The Punto gets Fiat’s famed Blue & Me audio system powered by Microsoft that stores your contacts, can read out SMS and even take voice commands. The AUX and the USB cable ports are now placed above the gear lever and are easy to access, but it could have been convenient had they made a slot for them on the display like in the Polo. The sound quality of the system is good. The climate control system and a rear AC vent help maintain ideal temperature inside the cabin. Although, we tested the car while it was raining, we are sure it will keep its occupants cool even in our hot summers.
The Punto Evo has 280 litre of boot space and gets 60-40 split rear seats in case you are carrying more than essentials. But, loading up large and heavy cargo might be a task because of the high loading lip. The Volkswagen Polo has the largest boot space in the class at 294 litre and the Swift has the least at 205 litre.
Engine and Performance
The Punto was never known for its straightline performance and sadly Fiat hasn’t really given it the firepower it deserves. Enthusiasts would expect them to plonk in the 1.4-litre T-Jet engine from the Linea, but there are no additions to the engine options. The Evo retains the same powetrains from the old car - a 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel engine offered in 75/91bhp variants and the 1.2-litre and 1.4-litre petrol engines with an output 67bhp and 88bhp.
Fiat claims to have changed the final drive of the car and the 75bhp variant now gets taller ratios. The difference is barely noticeable and you need to drive the old car and the Evo back to back to understand the difference. The Punto lacks outright performance, the punch of the new Polo or the impatience of the Swift diesel when you put your foot down. The engine wakes up after 1900rpm and until then turbo lag is noticeable, but once past that mark power delivery is linear. The slightly taller gearing has improved the fuel economy as it now gets an ARAI rated figure of 21.2kmpl over 20.5kmpl of the old car. Also, the revised ratios have added a few clicks to the turbo lag. The Swift, with a similar engine, has a rated fuel economy figure of 22.9kmpl and the new Polo manages 20.14kmpl as tested by ARAI.
During our drive we did manage to go as fast as we can in the car and although it has good poise at high speeds, the car feels best at cruising speeds of 100 to 110 kmph. In city driving where we tend to drive the car mostly in second and third gear, the turbo lag is evident, more so in third gear, but once past the 1900 mark it is pretty manageable and the power delivery is not so spiky as compared to the new Polo or even the Swift. However, the Polo has got a powerful engine and will definitely set the new benchmark for top speed and acceleration, the second best car that feels as sprightly as the Polo is the Swift. The Punto Evo 75bhp variant feels the least enthusiastic and don’t be surprised if it sits at the bottom of the table in this department.
Ride and handling
When it comes to driving, enthusiastic drivers will want a car that has a 50:50 balance of ride and handling. The Evo rolls a bit, but it has the ideal ride and handling balance for a car under Rs 10 lakh. The car has some body roll thanks to the high ground clearance, but despite the high centre of gravity it still doesn’t miss a beat when you are enjoying your favourite set of corners. Often, you might end up carrying more speed into corners than you would with other cars. Its brilliant poise and body control are the best-in-class and the steering feedback gives oodles of confidence even to an inexperienced driver.
The ride is simply good; the car soaks up everything you throw at it without being erratic. At low speeds it has a voracious appetite for potholes and only large craters manage to ruffle its feathers. At high speeds it takes every obstacle in its stride and even mid corner bumps fail to shake the car off the line unless you do something insane. The suspension set up of the car is one of the best in class. The Polo is the closest rival to the Punto in this department followed by the Swift, but the 75bhp Punto has the better suspension setup when it comes to overall ride and handling.
The Punto has been on sale for more than half a decade now and this is the only major facelift it has received so far. The car has one of the best ride and handling in the class, but doesn’t have the performance to match its panache around the bends. Fit and finish is still sub-standard and will take a lot of convincing for prospective customers who aren’t fans.
Fiat has launched the Evo at Rs 4.55 lakh and has pegged the 90bhp Sports diesel at Rs 7.2 lakh. The pricing undercuts the new Polo by around Rs 44,000 at the bottom and up to Rs 79,000 for the top-end variants. The base model is just Rs 3,000 dearer than the base model of the Swift and if you consider the top-end variants, the 75bhp variant costs 12k more than the Swift and the 90hp a massive Rs 50k over the Suzuki.
Unfortunately, despite the gorgeous looks, impressive interior and plethora of features, Fiat’s service reputation will not allow it to command that premium over the segment leaders. Maybe they are saving their knockout punch for the Punto Abarth.