Fiat Punto hatchback (2009 – ) expert review

By Alex Robbins, 14th April 2011

The verdict

While the Punto is a stylish little car, it’s been overtaken by newer rivals in quite a few areas. It doesn’t disgrace itself, but there are still plenty of better choices out there.

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Expert rating:

2.5

Pros

  • Attractive design, inside and out
  • Still reasonably practical
  • Some good safety kit comes as standard

Cons

  • Ride comfort isn’t great
  • Steering feels numb and overly light
  • Many rivals are cheaper to run and better equipped

Full Review

1. Exterior

Despite having gone through several facelifts, the Punto’s supercar-like front end means it still looks reasonably stylish – although compared with some rivals, it perhaps doesn’t feel quite as fresh. Even the most basic Pop model gets colour-coded bumpers, door handles and door mirrors, while Easy trim adds alloy wheels, tinted headlights and front fog lights. The GBT model gains tinted rear windows, a rear spoiler and a bodykit, while the top-of-the-range Sporting gets a meatier design of alloy wheel, as well as a gloss black roof and door mirrors.

Our rating: 3

2. Interior

The Punto’s dashboard looks appealing, with curvy lines that swoop around the centre console and, while a couple of the switches are oddly located, most of the controls are easy to get to grips with. The gloss black inserts and attractive upholstery look pretty chic, too, but many of the other materials on show – particularly the plastics around the footwell – look and feel rather cheap. The footwells are also rather narrow, which could have a negative effect on your comfort, but with a height-adjustable driver’s seat and a steering wheel adjustable for reach and rake standard on all models, fine-tuning your driving position is easy.

Our rating: 3

3. Practicality

With the rear seats raised, the Punto’s 275-litre boot is a touch smaller than some others in its class. However, if you drop those seats down, the load space extends to a cavernous 1,030 litres – more than both the VW Polo and Ford Fiesta. But bear in mind that a 60/40 split in the rear seat, while standard on most models, is only an option on the entry-level Pop. Despite a decent amount of space in the back, the sculpted rear bench can make it tricky for the middle passenger to get comfortable, meaning the Punto is better suited to carrying four people than five.

Our rating: 3

4. Ride and handling

Thanks to extremely light steering (and a City Mode that makes turning the wheel even easier), the Punto is a breeze to nip around town in. It’s a shame, then, that the ride quality around town, even in the more softly sprung Pop and Easy models, is such a disappointment: it crashes unpleasantly through potholes and jolts over speed humps. Even when you’re cruising on the motorway, it fails to settle down completely and, at these speeds, that light steering starts to feel vague, sapping your confidence. By comparison, the Ford Fiesta feels far more sophisticated in both environments, and it’s much more fun to drive, too.

Our rating: 2

5. Performance

The base 68bhp 1.2-litre feels too lethargic to recommend, but further up the range, there’s a choice of two naturally aspirated 1.4-litre petrols with either 76bhp or 104bhp, and there’s also an 84bhp 0.9-litre petrol turbo. All three perform well, but the 104bhp 1.4 is the sweetest. It offers more pull and better refinement than the 0.9, which can get rather noisy at times. There’s also an 84bhp 1.3-litre turbodiesel, which combines good low-down pull with low emissions and commendable fuel consumption, although it’s a touch too noisy for our liking. Fancy something with a bit more go? The Abarth version has a 1.4 Turbo with 177bhp, but while it’s brisk, it doesn’t have the fizz or the excitement of the best hot hatches.

Our rating: 2

6. Running costs

Sadly, most of the Punto’s engines are feeling a little long in the tooth now and can’t hold a candle to competitors such as the Ford Fiesta for fuel economy or carbon dioxide emissions. The exceptions to the rule are the 0.9-litre petrol turbo and 1.3-litre diesel, which both, on paper, offer competitive figures. That said, you’ll have to pay quite a lot of cash for these models, which you probably won’t get back come resale time. Combine that with the fact that no version is especially cheap to buy in the first place, and it might be hard to make the costs stack up.

Our rating: 2

7. Reliability

Fiat places pretty highly in the manufacturer standings on Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index website, but the same research also suggests that the Punto itself is below average for reliability. The suspension, electrics and engines seem to be the main sources of trouble. It’s worth noting, too, that the Punto has a two-year manufacturer warranty: a third year’s cover with a 60,000-mile limit is included with the same level of cover, but this is administered by an independent company. While that shouldn’t make much difference to you as the first owner, it could put potential buyers off when you want to sell your car on. Some rivals, such as the Hyundai i20 and Kia Rio, also offer longer warranty periods.

Our rating: 3

8. Safety

The Punto’s predecessor, the Grande Punto, was crash-tested by Euro NCAP and given a full five-star rating. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this test was performed under the less stringent, pre-2009 conditions. That said, the Punto offers a decent spread of safety equipment, with driver, passenger, curtain and driver’s knee airbags standard across the range, and side airbags standard from Easy trim upward. Hydraulic brake assistance, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution and rear headrests are also available on all models, although the Pop trim misses out on ISOFIX rear child seat mountings. More disappointingly, electronic stability control is a fairly pricey option and there’s no sign at all of the City Brake Control system available on the 500L.

Our rating: 3

9. Equipment

Four different flavours of Punto are available, with the Pop kicking off the range. While it might not look too cheap on the outside, it feels somewhat drab inside, with plain seat trim, and only a CD/MP3 player and electric front windows perking up the otherwise rather bare spec list. The Easy model gains air-conditioning, start-stop technology, electric door mirrors and a leather steering wheel. From here on in, though, the upgrades are mostly cosmetic, with GBT trim gaining nothing more than a bodykit, different alloy wheels and sports suspension (you don’t get the latter if you choose the base 1.2-litre), and the top-spec Sporting getting voice-controlled Bluetooth and further cosmetic trinketry. On the whole, though, equipment levels aren’t as high as similarly priced rivals, with some bits of kit (for example, electric rear windows) available only on the options list where competitors feature them as standard.

Our rating: 2

10. Why buy?

The Punto looks pretty smart inside and out, and it’s more practical and reliable than you might expect. If that’s enough for you, you might be able to forgive its shortcomings, of which there are quite a few.

Our rating: 2

Expert review 2.5stars

  • Exterior3
  • Interior3
  • Practicality3
  • Ride and handling2
  • Performance2
  • Running costs2
  • Reliability3
  • Safety3
  • Equipment2
  • Why buy?2

Our recommendations

Pick of the range:

Easy 1.4 MultiAir 16v 105
All the kit you’d need and the best engine in the range

Most economical:

1.3 Multijet 85

Diesel gets some highly respectable figures

Best avoided:

GBT 0.9 Twinair 85

A lot of money for a raucous engine that isn’t as economical as the diesel

It’s a shame that the ride quality around town, even in the more softly sprung Pop and Easy models, is such a disappointment. The Punto crashes unpleasantly through potholes and jolts over speed humps.