Fiat Grande Punto 1.4 T-Jet Sporting

Engineered to pack a punch, can the feisty Fiat outmuscle its rivals?

  • Best-looking supermini on the market, flexible engine, comfortable, well laid out cabin
  • Cabin not as robust as rivals', no external rear boot lock, boot smaller than Clio's

There's good news if you’re a fan of Italian cars, because Fiat is on a roll. The maker’s resurgence has been nothing short of astonishing – it’s even starting to lose its reputation for poor reliability and iffy build quality. And looking at some of the models it’s produced recently, such as the Bravo and the wonderful 500, it’s not hard to see why.

Of course, the brand has never been found wanting in terms of style – and the Grande Punto illustrates that perfectly. It looks best in Sporting trim, but the standard car still features the same neat lines and distinctive looks. In the current crop of superminis, the Fiat is one of the few that manages to stand out.

The same could be said of its predecessor, but that car was badly let down by a low-rent interior. Thankfully, this third-generation model has a much improved cabin, with neatly laid out controls and an excellent driving position. However, it doesn’t feel as solid as the Mazda, and it’s a shame that there are some average quality plastics.

Unlike the other Sporting versions (the 1.9-litre Multijet and standard 1.4-litre), the T-Jet comes in both five and three-door bodystyles. We think it looks better with fewer doors, but for family buyers the former is a much wiser choice – access to the back seats in the latter is quite tricky.

The real highlight of the Punto is the 1.4-litre T-Jet unit. The 120bhp output is impressive for an engine this size, but it’s the 206Nm of torque that makes the biggest difference, particularly to in-gear pace. The Italian recorded a time of 8.6 seconds from 50-70mph in fifth, well over five seconds faster than either rival. It’s a great engine to use because there is barely any turbo lag, and the acceleration doesn’t drop off, even when you near the red line. Witness the fact that it polished off the 0-60mph sprint in only 8.7 seconds, a time which puts the Punto firmly in the warm hatch league.

But as it’s geared towards pace rather than economy, the engine puts out the most CO2 (155g/km), which means it will cost £25 a year extra in road tax compared to both rivals. It proved the least economical, too, achieving 31.4mpg. It’s clear that Fiat is using the latest technology to add more excitement to its range rather than enhancing its green credentials.

There are a few disappointments with the driving experience, though. The clutch is wooden and the throttle is slow to pick up, while the five-speed gearbox is slack compared to the Mazda’s. The steering is also a little too light, so the Punto isn’t quite as responsive as the 2. But that’s not to say the driving experience is detached – far from it.

With precise turn-in and a well balanced chassis, the Fiat remains composed in corners and feels as sure-footed as the Mazda, particularly in the wet, thanks to its grippy tyres. It’s not quite as agile as the Japanese machine, though, and more concerningly, the ride is poor. The suspension crashes over potholes and on uneven tarmac it can become uncomfortable and noisy. Still, this doesn’t prevent it from being entertaining on country lanes and, thanks to its raspy exhaust note, it’s an enjoyable experience.

It represents good value, too. It is £200 more expensive than the Mazda, but its T-Jet engine makes this model the fastest Grande Punto in the range. And not only do buyers get a sporty bodykit and alloy wheels as standard, but also stability control, Bluetooth, reach-adjustable steering and an MP3 player input.

Details

Price: £11,995Model tested: Fiat Grande Punto 1.4 T-Jet SportingChart position: 2WHY: The 1.4-litre T-Jet unit is new to the sporty Punto line-up.

Economy

Considering it has the most powerful engine, it’s no surprise that the Punto proved to be the thirstiest car on test. It returned 31.4mpg on our route, giving it the shortest range at 311 miles. However this figure went up to around 38mpg on motorways.

Residuals

Because the 1.4-litre T-Jet engine has only recently been introduced to the Punto range, our experts have yet to calculate residual values. However judging by other models, buyers can expect a respectable figure of around 41.0 per cent.

Servicing

Fiat offers a servicing scheme where you pay up front for three years’ maintenance, but the £608 cost was only slightly cheaper than our £630 total for three individual quotes. The 18,000-mile intervals are the longest here, though.

Tax

As with economy, the Punto’s powerful engine harms its CO2 emissions. At 155g/km, it sits three tax brackets higher than both of its rivals, and standard-band earners will pay nearly £100 more a year in tax.

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