Fiat Punto

Thanks to low prices and a youthful image, the Fiat Punto has established itself as a popular supermini

Trendy looks, an entertaining chassis and spirited engines make the car fun, too, while the broad range includes everything from entry-level three-door special editions to an accomplished diesel and Abarth-tuned HGT sports model. Build quality is an issue, however, as many Puntos have been used and abused in hire car fleets, so it pays to buy carefully.Punto checklist * Build isn't the best, so carefully check interior trim and switches are present and working. Electrical problems are often reported, with dodgy lights and blown fuses quite common. * Some Puntos built in 1999 were recalled for a potential steering fault. Check the work has been done. * Tempting bulk deals saw lots of Puntos on rental fleets, so they haven't all been looked after. Only buy with service history, and check for uneven tyre wear or signs of accident damage. * Paint finish on some early cars was poor, with lacquer falling off metallic models and flaking on body edges. Ensure panels are properly repainted.Glass's View Trade bible Glass's Consumer Values says Puntos depreciate more than rivals, which leads to good deals. Plenty of ex-hire cars means a wide choice, so shop around and don't pay too much.My Fiat Punto Dave Sanderson has owned his Punto Sporting for a year. The 37-year-old bar manager from Purfleet, Essex, is on his third Fiat and says the efficiency of his local dealer, Lions of Grays, is the main reason for his loyalty. The Punto is a contrast to his previous Fiat, a Barchetta, but he says it still has flair. "The biggest advantage is the insurance saving," Dave said. "I loved the Barchetta but premiums were high. I do most of my driving in town, so the Punto is more sensible." It hasn't all been plain sailing with the supermini, however. Prob- lems with the air-con meant the Punto had to go back to the garage twice, but the faults were fixed under warranty. Dave says he loves his car's looks, economy and fun handling, but doesn't like the hard ride, harsh plastics and lack of standard equipment. He also hates the "girlie button" which gives extra assistance to the steering. Dave said: "It makes the car feel as though you are driving a blancmange."

Verdict

The 1.8 HGT and Abarth are quick, but disappoint as drivers' cars and have high insurance costs. If you're after a lively engine the 1.9 JTD is a sound buy, while 8v 1.2s are adequate but breathless. Our favourite is the excellent 16-valve 1.2 unit. Go for ELX or Sporting editions which have low mileage and service history.

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