Abarth Grande Punto

Hot supermini has a strong brand heritage to live up to.

When Fiat bosses announced plans to revive Abarth, fans of the brand were elated. With fond memories of hot 500s, enthusiasts have been aching for the Italian badge to make a comeback.

The sporty three-door Grande Punto lives up to its billing from the outside. Our car’s striking white paint and contrasting arches combine well with the smart two-tone alloys and lowered suspension to give it a much meaner stance than the standard model.

It rides 10mm closer to the ground than regular Puntos, and if you look closely, you’ll notice the absence of Fiat badges. Instead, the famous scorpion emblem proudly adorns the grille, flanks and tailgate.

The strong first impression continues inside, where supportive bucket seats hold you tightly in place. Sporty touches include a dark rooflining and alloy pedals, while a black leather dashboard – complete with red stitching – provides a genuinely special feel. There’s plenty of kit, too, such as cruise control and Fiat’s Blue&Me interface, which incorporates Bluetooth phone connectivity.

Press the Sport Boost button on the dash, and you’ll increase the resistance of the electric power-steering and raise maximum torque from 206Nm to 230Nm. So far, so good then. But how does the new Abarth rate where it matters: on the road?

Fire it up and there’s a bassy burble from the exhaust, even though the engine has a meagre 1.4-litre capacity. The turbo produces 153bhp (5bhp more than Corsa), and delivers it more smoothly than its rival. Yet it still trails the SRi by just over half-a-second from 0-62mph, with a time of 8.2 seconds.

We’re unconvinced by the Italian car’s Sport Boost mode. It makes a noticeable difference to performance by providing added in-gear punch, but owners will be tempted to leave it turned on all the time – making it a bit of a gimmick. Worse still, the button itself looks cheap. Much more successful is the Punto’s revised suspension. Enter a corner and the front tyres grip hard. It doesn’t have the tight body control of the Corsa when pushed, but the softer set-up is better in most driving conditions.

The Abarth feels much more supple than the stiffly sprung Vauxhall, and doesn’t crash over rough surfaces with the ferocity of the SRi. Hit the motorway and the gap between the models widens even further, as the Punto is a much more comfortable car. Indeed, long-distance refinement is only spoiled by wind noise from around the A-pillar and door seal.

The biggest disappointment is the artificial steering feel. It is too light in normal mode, and the weightier Sport Boost setting doesn’t provide any extra feedback. Nevertheless, with its mix of character, pace and comfort, the stylish Abarth makes a strong case for itself.

Details

Price: £13,500Model tested: Abarth Grande PuntoChart position: 1WHY: First car under relaunched Abarth badge should bring style and value to the hot hatch class.

Economy

The Scorpion-badged Fiat is cheaper to buy and run than the Vauxhall – but you might have to factor in lengthy trips to your nearest dealer. At the moment, the resurgent brand has only 10 UK outlets, and there will only be between 15 and 20 nationwide when the network is up to full strength. This is in stark contrast to the hot Corsa, which can be maintained at any of the UK’s 404 official Vauxhall outlets. A lower list price helps to compensate, but fuel consumption in the Grande Punto suffers when you use all the performance it has to offer. Official economy was calculated with the Sport Boost turned off, so owners can expect poorer returns.

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