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Fiat Punto Evo Sporting

Does Evo Sporting live up to its racy name on the road?

There’s no denying that Fiat is rediscovering its racy roots. Since the rebirth of its famous Abarth brand in 2008, the Italian manufacturer has delivered a range of models to challenge the hot hatch elite.

Bosses aren’t resting on their laurels, though. In an effort to attract even more keen drivers, they have revived the successful Sporting name for the new Punto Evo supermini. Packing a punchy 135bhp version of the hi-tech MultiAir engine, along with a £15,295 tag, the newcomer aims to strike a perfect balance of chic Italian style and driving thrills.

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Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Fiat Punto

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On looks alone, there’s no doubt the Sporting lives up to its junior pocket rocket status.

As with other Evo models, the Punto gets a bold new nose, which includes a large black bumper and chrome grille. At the rear, you’ll spot the distinctive upright lights and large Fiat badge which doubles as a tailgate release. Sporting trim adds chunky side skirts, a chrome exhaust pipe and eye-catching graphite grey 17-inch alloy wheels. Our test car’s £70 chrome finish door mirrors add even more visual impact.

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Owners who want to stand out even further can choose from a wide range of bold body decals, including Italian tricolore stripes which run down either side of the car. The racy theme continues in the cabin, where you’ll find a pair of heavily bolstered sports seats and a thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel.

Bosses claim that quality has been boosted for the Evo, and first impressions are positive. Soft- touch materials cover the dash, there are classy new dials and piano black trim surrounds the stereo. Ambient lighting gives a warm orange glow at night.

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Overall, the fit and finish are good, although not a match for the solidly screwed together Renault’s. Sadly, the plastics on the lower half of the dash look and feel cheap, plus some of the switchgear is flimsy and fragile.

There are no complaints about the space available. Five adults will be able to squeeze into the Punto, while rear access is adequate despite the three-door layout. Lifting the tailgate reveals a useful 275-litre boot, which extends to 1,030 litres with the back bench folded flat.

However, the Punto’s performance is even more impressive than its practicality. Thanks to its responsive 135bhp 1.4-litre turbo, it set a storming pace at our test track.

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The benchmark 0-60mph sprint was completed in only 8.3 seconds – a full 0.7 seconds faster than the Clio. In the real world, the car feels even quicker than its rival, and the healthy 208Nm torque figure means the Evo makes light work of overtaking slower traffic. Sadly, the Fiat’s hot hatch credentials take a knock when you hit a twisting back road. The steering is precise and there’s plenty of grip, but the car can’t match the Renault for poise, body control and driver feedback.

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And while the brakes are strong, the pedal needs a delicate touch if you want to stop smoothly. On the plus side, the ride is refined and becomes uncomfortable only over severe potholes.

Buyers won’t complain about the amount of standard gear, either. Our test car came loaded with the sort of features you’d expect on a larger model, such as cruise control, air-con and a trip computer. Also included is Fiat’s clever Blue&Me kit, which combines Bluetooth phone connection and a USB slot for MP3 devices. This system now links to a neat dash-top dock for a TomTom sat-nav unit.

There are hi-tech features to be found under the bonnet, too. A standard Start&Stop function helps to push CO2 emissions down to 129g/km and give decent fuel returns of 33.8mpg. In fact, there is only one real fly in the ointment: the Fiat’s price. At £15,295, the Punto is a hefty £1,010 more than the talented Renault. Will that cost it victory here?

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Chart position: 2WHY: Striking facelift and clever turbocharged engine help Punto take on the supermini elite.

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