Abarth Grande Punto

Legendary nameplate returns in hot hatch Grande Punto guise

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

This tuned Grande Punto is worthy of the legendary Abarth badge – and not only because of its impressive power output. The subtly enhanced looks, together with the improved suspension and bespoke interior, really do mean that this is no ordinary model. And coupled with the parts that make up the esseesse kit, it’s certainly a performance car to be reckoned with, too. Plus, with the three-year warranty, you get total peace of mind, whether out on the road or on the track.

What's it to be... RS, GTi or even Cupra R? As any performance car fan knows, with hot hatches there is no shortage of special badges.

Fiat, however, is set to do things differently. Its hottest models won’t be given a unique logo; instead, they will get a new identity that makes the most of the firm’s motorsport history!

Auto Express took to the road in the car that marks the rebirth of the legendary Abarth badge: a 152bhp evolution of the Grande Punto.

To distance it from the Fiat on which it is based, the newcomer gets Abarth logos on the nose and rear wings, plus red mirrors and two-tone alloy wheels. At the rear, the stylists have also added a special aerodyna­mic undertray, as well as twin exhaust pipes with a chrome finish.

From behind the wheel, drivers will immediately notice the new bucket seats, plus Abarth badging on the clearly marked instruments. In the model we tried, an optional leather-clad dashboard was enhanced by a simple scorpion motif, which is taken from the heart of the Abarth badge.

However, with the four-cylinder engine idling, there are few clues to the performance modifications that have been made to improve the car’s straight-line pace. The exhaust note is subdued, and the turbocharged unit is virtually whisper-quiet.

Fortunately, things get much better on the road, and as the revs rise, the twin pipes begin to growl. Under full throttle, the Abarth also feels far more powerful than its 1.4-litre engine would suggest. With up to 230Nm of torque available and a slick-shifting six-speed gearbox, the Grande Punto will sprint from 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds. Top speed is 130mph.

Steering is sharp and accurate, and the uprated disc brake arrangement is very powerful. On our route, the car felt well balanced, too, refusing to give in to understeer in all but the tightest corners. The 17-inch wheels and tyres provide plenty of grip.

Despite sitting 10mm lower than the Fiat, our model rode smoothly on uneven surfaces – just like the standard Punto. It’s effortless to drive, and not only meets Euro IV emissions rules, but also returns at least 35mpg.

But while that’s sure to impress high-mileage commuters, top brass at Abarth are concerned that the brand will also cater for more enthusiastic drivers. So a line-up of tuning parts has been introduced to boost the Grande Punto’s performance further. The range is called esseesse – which is loosely inspired by the original SS badge – and enables Abarth to offer a variant that delivers an impressive 180bhp and 270Nm of torque.

We also had the opportunity to try this model, which gets 18-inch alloys and an optional chequered roof to set itself apart from the standard Abarth. It’s an incredible machine to drive on the track, with bucket seats, a res­ponsive throttle and huge grip.

On the road, the esseesse doesn’t ride as well as the standard model, partly because it’s lowered by a further 10mm, and also as the track-oriented suspension is even firmer.

All Abarth models come with a full three-year warranty, and even those tuned after they leave the showroom are protected. It’s perhaps that which makes the new range so appealing. You can have all the excitement, yet none of the risk, associated with buy­ing a tuned car which is as ready for the track as it is the road.

Rival: Vauxhall Corsa VXR With its 1.6-litre turbocharged engine delivering 180bhp, the VXR has furious pace. At £15,625, it sounds expensive, yet the car’s performance is comparable with much more expensive machinery – it’s capable of 140mph and has a 0-60mph time of 6.8 seconds.

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