The Abarth Punto Evo is an update of the Abarth Grande Punto, a car which found just 250 homes in 2009. Abarth has higher hopes for its new hot hatch, packing it with an award-winning engine and a revised chassis.

Taking the standard Fiat model, Abarth has tweaked its styling and given the excellent Multiair engine a slug more power, revised suspension and a Manettino switch that’s sure to excite Italian supercar fans.

It’s a more rounded package than the more hardcore Abarth 500, but that doesn’t mean it’s less fun to drive.

The 1.4-litre Multiair engine offers performance and a feel more like a 1.8- or 2-litre turbocharged engine, and its engine note has a character that’s rare from a four-cylinder engine. Its 165bhp equates to a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds and a top speed of 133mph – but feels much faster thanks to its impressive 250Nm of torque which endows the car with huge midrange punch.

An even hotter Esseesse version, packing 180bhp will be offered soon.

This large torque figure improves drivability at low speeds too, without the frequent gearchanges often required from a small-engined hot hatch.

The engine is mated to a slick six-speed manual gearbox, although the throw is a little too long to offer rifle-bolt shifts.

Despite the Abarth’s racing pedigree, the ride quality is good, soaking up the worst of bumps making it a good compromise between comfort and handling, although a few laps on a test track revealed a fair degree of body roll which is absent at road speeds.

Ferrari-inspired Manettino

Abarth’s Manettino switch which sits in front of the gearstick and offers normal and sport modes, the latter engaging the Torque Transfer Control (TTC), which acts like an electronic differential by braking the inside wheel under extreme cornering, adding weight to the steering and increasing the throttle response.

This gives increased throttle response gives the car a more eager edge, but the added weight to the steering feels a little artificial and oddly offers more feel in the lighter, Normal mode.

Depending on the position of the Manettino, the shift light either indicates the most economical time to shift or when the engine reaches the 6,000rpm redline, which is a nice touch.

Abarth Punto Evo gallery:

Jaeger instrumentation

Like other Abarths, the Punto Evo is fitted with a bodykit and larger alloy wheels, while the interior comes with sports seats, Abarth badging with matching red and yellow stitching around the interior trim and Jaeger instrumentation.

Other equipment includes cruise control, electric front windows and electric, heated mirrors, air-con, trip computer, Blue&Me Bluetooth connectivity, Brembo front brakes and Interscope stereo.

Start-stop is fitted as standard, which Abarth says improves urban fuel consumption by 10 per cent, helping the Punto Evo to achieve an official average of 47.1mpg and emissions of 142g/km.

At £16,500, the Abarth Punto Evo is well priced, and matches the Seat Ibiza Cupra and Skoda Fabia VRS punch for punch. But the Abarth is likely to be a rare sight on the roads and is a far cooler brand than either the Seat or Skoda. It might not move the game on like the Abarth 500, but it’s an intoxicating alternative to the establishment.

Key facts:

Model tested: Abarth Punto Evo 1.4 Turbo Multiair 165bhp
On the road price: £16,500
Price range: £10,995 – £16,500
Date tested: July 2010
Road tester: Stuart Milne