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Review

First Drive: Fiat Punto Evo 1.4 MultiAir Sporting (135) car review

09/11/11

NOT EVERYONE wants the outrageousness of Abarth’s hot hatches, but some folks still want something small, stylish, light and fun with a good engine.

Cue Fiat’s Punto Evo 1.4 MultiAir Sporting, which uses the same engine as the Abarth 500 but looks a little more subtle. That said, it’s an absolute beauty with some of the prettiest alloy wheels on the market, an assured and confident stance and just-about-perfect proportions.

As a three-door, the doors are quite long, potentially making getting out it a bit of a squeeze in tight car park spaces. Fortunately the car isn’t very wide to start with so there’s a bit of leeway.

The Punto Evo is, unsurprisingly, an evolution of the Grande Punto, as it was called when it was launched in 2005. It’s the same shape bar a rather fetching facelift, but the Evo received a host of updates and improvements under the skin.

Not least of those is the range of engines. This one is a 1.4-litre with a turbocharger for added punch, and it’s a serious piece of kit. Fiat’s powertrain division developed what they dubbed MultiAir technology to improve on the old T-Jet system, with success that any driver can feel.

The engine is remarkably quick to respond; much quicker than many turbocharged motors. The sheer quantity of urge it pushes out even from low revs is astonishing, and even if it doesn’t have the high-revving thrashy nature of one or two rivals it’s just about the quickest car in its class in real world driving.

It’s surprisingly economical, too. A steady 60mph cruise sees miles per gallon figures in the 60s, and even driving it like a villain in a Hollywood car chase should see it average almost 40mpg. It’s a very reasonable £95 to tax for a year, and it sounds pretty good for a four-cylinder.

Fiat is a company well on top of its game in terms of engines and the 135bhp MultiAir unit is an absolute masterpiece. It’s even lightweight, contributing to an agile, chuckable feel that complements the well-balanced chassis – a trait that’s partly lost by specifying the heavier 118bhp diesel engine instead. The petrol version really is a hoot to drive, even if the steering and gearbox aren’t as good as they are in some rival cars.

The other side of the experience from the driver’s seat, the cabin ambience, is a very mixed bag. On one hand there’s soft, supple leather covering the important bits of the steering wheel, the handbrake lever and, as an optional extra, the seats. A good portion of the dashboard is also covered with lovely perforated leather.

But then it’s almost as if Fiat ran out of budget, because the hard plastics on the doors and the very top of the dashboard are plain and cheap-looking for this day and age. It’s not that hard plastic is unusual for the price and class, but some rival cars make their hard plastic bits look a bit more upmarket.

The rest of the dashboard and centre console is familiar territory for the Punto Evo, with rubber-covered heater dials aiding grip, but perhaps over time being more susceptible to visual signs of aging than hard plastic dials.

Build quality in general has been a concern with Fiats of past decades, but with the Evo the company has raised its game. This test car felt extremely solid for the money, and I can’t report any worries about solidity or perceived longevity.

Marks against the Punto Evo, at least in Sporting trim, include the fact that the ride suffers over rough surfaces, and cats’ eyes on motorways are best avoided. Road and wind noise in general are not as well suppressed as they might be, but the budget was spent more appropriately elsewhere. Otherwise they’d have called it the Cruising.

One thing that is good for cruising is the stereo, which isn’t bad at all. With a USB socket most MP3 players can slot straight in and work via the steering-mounted audio controls. For weekends away, boot space is adequate with good vertical depth and a reasonable load area to play with.

Overall, the Punto Evo 1.4 MultiAir Sporting 135, to give it its full name, is an absolute gem. It has its faults and areas where costs have been cut, but true to the Sporting name it’s a real bundle of fun, and it’s cheap to own as well. Truly no-compromise cars don’t exist, but this comes pretty close.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Fiat Punto Evo 1.4 MultiAir Sporting (135), £14,500 on the road.

Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol producing 135bhp and 152lb.ft.

Transmission: 5-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.

Performance: Top speed 127mph, 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds.

Fuel economy: 50.4mpg.

CO2 rating: 129g/km.

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power4 (higher than average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy4 (better than average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups4 (lower than average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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