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Fiat Grande Punto Sporting

No wonder Fiat is billing its new Grande Punto as a mini-Maserati; it looks every inch the baby Italian supercar. But does the hot-test model in the supermini range live up to its glamorous styling? To find out, Auto Express grabbed the keys to the all-new Sporting for a first UK drive.

The Grande Punto isn't as good to drive as it is to look at, but with styling which puts rivals in the shade, that's hardly surprising. The Sporting still impresses though, with a strong engine, roomy cabin and decent handling. Enthusiasts won't like the over-light steering or low-grade cabin plastics, but those looks and keen prices make it hard to ignore.

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No wonder Fiat is billing its new Grande Punto as a mini-Maserati; it looks every inch the baby Italian supercar. But does the hot-test model in the supermini range live up to its glamorous styling? To find out, Auto Express grabbed the keys to the all-new Sporting for a first UK drive.

Until the much-anticipated Abarth arrives, the 130bhp 1.9-litre Multijet diesel is the most powerful Punto on offer - and it's available only in three-door guise. Front foglights, deeper side sills and a subtle rear spoiler distin-guish the Sporting from lesser variants, and a set of gorgeous alloys complete the look. They combine with the chunky styling to give an aggressive stance, although the bland back end fails to live up to the promise of the front.

The neat design continues inside, yet overall cabin quality is let down by the low-grade dash plastics. The shiny finish and hard surfaces disappoint, but every-thing does appear to be well screwed together - something which couldn't be said of those cars tested on the original European launch.

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However, the tiny glove-box isn't even big enough for the handbook, while the spring-loaded grab handles feel strong enough to dent the roof when they snap back into place. A rake and reach-adjustable steering column plus height movement on the driver's seat ensure it's easy to get comfortable behind the chunky leather-trimmed wheel.

The 1.9-litre Multijet unit isn't as quiet as its smaller 1.3 sibling, although its impressive torque of 280Nm from only 2,000rpm makes it a strong performer. The 0-62mph sprint takes a mere 9.5 seconds, and with a decent six-speed box, the Punto's in-gear acceleration justifies the Sporting tag.

High cruising speeds are easy to maintain, but although the handling is entertaining with fine grip and a firm ride, the electric power-steering feels too light and artificial to inspire ultimate confidence. It retains the old car's City Mode with a super-light setting available at the touch of a button, but in reality you're unlikely to need it.

Progressive brakes keep everything in check, and the Sporting also has seven airbags as standard, as well as a class-leading five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. Fiat's talent for building small cars is clearly as strong as ever, and in this stylish guise the Grande Punto is a real head-turner.

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