Launched way back in 2009, the Fiat Punto had a significant task; to succeed the ever so popular Palio. With their so called comeback, it might have been the Fiat Linea which made the Italian marque noticed in the automotive segment in India, but it was the Punto which was hoping to garner better sales volumes. With the B segment gaining traction and helping a lot of manufacturers to cash in, Fiat wants a piece of this pie too. Hence, this facelift. The Fiat Punto we have on sale is the 3rd generation model, and this is the second facelift it has received. When launched earlier in 2009, the car had already received a global facelift. It’s taken five years for a facelift to arrive, and it’s going to be quite some time more for the product to be completely changed. Hatchbacks are no longer looked as a value for money proposition, and are getting feature rich along with good quality inside-out. Hyundai has been leading the race with the Grand i10 and i20 in terms of the feature list along with premium fit and finish, while Maruti has been cashing in on the sales figures with the Swift. Although just a facelift, things have changed inside-out on the Punto Evo, and not just minor cosmetic add-ons. But will this be enough to help Fiat drive in more sales figures? Will it make the cut in the premium hatchback space? Let’s find out.
The Fiat Punto was always a stunning looking proposition for hatchback buyers. It looked, well, Italian, and was a much needed break from the Japanese and Korean design language. The car now gets a brand new face and is inspired from the Avventura concept revealed at the 2014 Auto Expo, in Noida. The car looks much wider from the front now. The previously dipping front end has now been raised, and the car does have significant changes in proportions at the font. In the pre-facelift, the headlamps started to taper off towards the inside, hence giving the car a narrow front end. Now, the wrap-around headlamps are pulled back, rather than moving ahead, giving it a wider stance than before. The front grille is completely different compared to the pre-facelift. It is not just a minor revision, but is all new. The grille is divided into two parts, the upper half with an almost hexagonal design with a chrome slat in between, and place holder for the number plate, and a chrome surround. The lower half is a wide section working as the air dam. Both the upper and lower sections have the same honeycomb like design element. Front bumper has been redesigned to incorporate these changes. Fog lamps are of the same round design, but, the housing is now in chrome. Big chunky chrome surrounds highlight the fog lamps and also add a little bit more to the premium appeal. Not to forget, Indian customers love chrome and relate it directly to the premium appeal of the car. The headlamps are pulled back, identical to the Avventura concept we saw at the Auto Expo. Slightly smoked out, they do have a resemblance to the pre-facelift version, but look new enough to be placed on the Evo. Bonnet now gets crease lines, on the centre all the way to the logo on the bumper, and a slight bulge on either side as well. Side profile might look identical to many, but if you look closely at the front fender, the crease line from the front quarter glass to the headlamp is now missing. However, the wheel arches at the front look more beefed up now. There is an additional crease line on the lower end of both the doors, which wasn’t seen on the pre-facelift. ORVMs are sharper than before and now get integrated LED turn indicators. Door design remains the same, but the door handles are now in chrome. Blackened B pillar renders that sporty touch when seen from the sides. The Punto comes with two different alloy wheels, based on the variant you chose. Our 90 HP diesel variant was shod with 16″, silver finished, 5 bi-spoke alloy wheels shod with 195/55 R16 Apollo tyres. At the back, what Fiat fan boys will love, is the new set of tail lamps. These are identical to the Evo spec tail lamps sold internationally, and are brilliant to look at. Boot lid design remains unchanged, but the spoiler is now more prominent than before. Also, the spoiler houses the rear stop lamp. Higher variants get the rear wash wipe functionality as well. The rear bumper has now been redesigned. It gets a chrome element running across to either sides, wrapping around the fog lamp (RHS) and reverse lamp (LHS). With a blackened background, the chrome does stand out and differentiates the Punto Evo from the pre-facelift one. There has been a slight revision even to the number plate housing, which although the same design, is now recessed from all sides (including the bottom, where it used to open up on the pre-facelift). Fiat has also changed the logo for the Punto. Earlier, the P used to look like a man holding the steering wheel. But now, it gets rid of that and has a different font used as well, without italics. Also, sitting below the Punto badge is the Evo branding, making it clear that this is the facelift version. 90 HP variant nomenclature is on the bottom right of the boot lid. Build quality is solid as before, the doors close with a noticeable thud. At 1,095 kg for the base petrol, the Punto Evo is not a light car by any means and it reflects in the planted feel you have when on the move.
Where the exteriors of the Punto were talk of the town when launched, it wasn’t a similar story about the interiors. It failed to look as contemporary as its rivals did on the inside, and lacked to deliver that feel good factor once you stepped in. Thanks to the direct lift-off from the Fiat Linea facelift, the Punto now gets a brand new cabin (read dashboard). Compared one on one to the pre-facelift, just from the looks of it, the Punto Evo looks far more superior. It is evident that Fiat is trying hard to get rid of the brand perception people have, and push their cars with slightly more premium look and feel. There is an option of a dual-tone beige interior theme, based on the variant you chose. Our test vehicle, the 90 HP diesel had all black interiors. While the black interiors do look sporty, it adds to the in-cabin claustrophobia. The beige interiors on the other hand make the cabin feel airy at all times. The dashboard now is completely redesigned. The top of the dashboard is now a lot more curved than the previous flat design. One thing that was better on the pre-facelift version, was the passenger airbag dashboard cut-out. On the Punto Evo, the entire dashboard top will have to be replaced in case the airbag deploys during an accident. On the face of the dashboard, the section below the top, plastic used if from the soft-touch parts bin. Centre console has been completely redesigned, and we are glad that it has been changed. It is no longer the boring silver finished panel which would fade away with time, but now gets piano black finish. The dashboard top is neatly cut-out around the centre AC vents and the storage bin above. This storage bin, has a lid, to keep your toll tickets and oddities in place. However, the quality of the plastic used here does not feel like it would last the distance. Head unit is also housed in a piano black finish and is easier to use compared to the previous model. It looks much better, and the sound quality is acceptable by segment standards. You get CD, USB, Aux-in and Bluetooth connectivity, powered by the Microsoft Blue-&-me. Below the head unit you get the automatic climate controls, which remain unchanged. Below this, the pre-facelift version offered two cup holder, but on the Punto Evo, you get just one cup holder ahead of the gear stalk, and the other is occupied by the Aux-in and USB port. Gear knob and the surrounding area are again carried forward without major changes, just that it gets a contrast white stitching on the leather. Cigarette lighter has now been replaced with just a power-output socket and a storage spot below that.
Steering wheel is also simply carried forward. It gets audio controls and voice command functionality as well. One issue that still hasn’t been resolved is that the even at the lowest position, the steering wheel is slightly higher to one’s taste. Fiat should have worked on the rake range a little more on the Punto Evo. Instrument cluster has the same layout as before, but it gets protruding dials around the speedometer and tachometer. Fuel gauge and the engine temperature gauge are placed in between the speedo and tacho, along with the digital MID placed below. The MID provides a host of information such as the radio station chosen, a clock, outside temperature, odometer, trip meter, average fuel consumption, etc. Font size is reasonable and thanks to the rear set design, it is easy to read the instrument cluster even under the bright sun. Front seats are extremely supportive and have a bucket like effect to them. They provide good lateral support and enthusiasts will be kept in place when playing around the corners. Also, the seat height adjustment, along with the fore and aft range provides a good view of what is happening in front of you. Seats are of the medium compound and will work well during long drives. A driver arm-rest would have rounded off the front cabin perfectly, but it is absent here. Driver foot well has the pedals well-spaced out and the dead pedal provides decent support on those highway runs. Fiat might have tried hard to make the cabin look premium, but the touch and feel of the parts and plastics inside is way behind what we call the segment best. To touch, the parts used are strictly average and are nowhere close to even a Grand i10, leave the i20 aside. A surprising addition we noticed at night was that Fiat has given the Punto Evo an additional ambient light under the passenger side dashboard. These small things do show the amount of effort a manufacturer is putting in.
Rear seats are equally supportive for the two passengers on either side. The 5th passenger, however, does not get a similar bucket seat like feel, but will remain comfortable. The Punto is a spacious car and accommodating three on the back seat won’t be an issue. Minimum floor hump will also interfere less with the 5th occupant’s feet. Rear passengers get a small AC vent between the front seats to maintain the temperature on a hot sunny day. Boot space is good for 3-4 medium sized bags, and the boot is illuminated too. Rear parcel tray moves up along with the boot lid to make loading and unloading a tad bit easier. Spare wheel provided is a regular steel wheel, but shockingly, was a 15″ unit shod with 195/60 R15 tyres when the car was running on 16″ rims. Hopefully, Fiat officials read this review and provide a 16″ spare wheel to the customers, once the car is launched.
Under the hood, one can chose from a total of four engines — two petrol and two diesel. Options are; a 1.2L 67 BHP petrol, a 1.4L 89 BHP petrol, a 1.3L 75 BHP diesel and the 1.3L 92 BHP diesel. No points for guessing that it’s the diesel engine which will sell in much better numbers compared to the two petrol engines. We got our hands on the 90 HP diesel sighting that enthusiasts, who consider the Punto as one of the few drivers’ cars available on sale, would want to know more about the variant which has more power on tap. It’s weird how the same engine, which feels so much more refined on cars like the Swift, even the Manza at times, feels so gruff in a Fiat itself. Fire up the engine and the NVH levels are a notch below the competition. Revv the engine and it is audibly coarse. Gearbox shift quality is rubbery and simply doesn’t match the Korean or Japanese slick shift quality. Also, the car is quite heavy and the power to weight ratio is not going to bring a smile on ones face either. Start moving, and the MJD offers decent driveability inside the city. On the 75 BHP variant, Fiat has tweaked the final drive to help reduce the gearshifts in crawling traffic. But just like the 92 BHP variant, the 75 BHP variant also lacks the outright punch. You have to keep working on the engine to keep making brisk progress, and while doing so, the engine does not sound very happy. In the lower revv range, there is not too much power to play around and the turbo lag is prominent on the 92 BHP variant. On a few inclines, with four on-board, we had literally floored the accelerator in 1st gear, but the car was nothing but crawling. We had to slip the clutch to move faster.
But if you care less about outright speed and focus more on ride and handling, the Punto Evo will satisfy you just right. Ride and handling continues to be one the assets of this hatchback, and in certain areas, is much better than its competitors. Also, we have to mention this, that the Punto is one of the few cars available in the market with a hydraulic steering wheel. The steering weighs up just fine and allows you to play around those twisty ghat sections. Something that an EPS can never deliver. High speed stability is easily one of the best in the segment and passengers are kept comfortable with the brilliant suspension setup. Also a massive 185mm (diesel) – 195mm (petrol) ground clearance helps you glide over rough terrain. Not once during out entire test drive did the Punto scrape on a speed-breaker. But, this also results in a slight body roll. With such good ride and handling abilities, the Punto Evo could have managed with some more power on tap easily. Braking abilities were decent, although the pedal did feel a bit spongy.
So, would you buy the Punto Evo? If you’re looking at a good looking hatch back, this is good enough. If you’re looking at best in class ride and handling, this is again good enough. But if you’re looking at brisk engine performance or good quality interior fit and finish, there are quite a few deal breakers here.
Pricing remains the key aspect again. Also, Hyundai is coming up with the next generation i20 in a month. Soon, the Honda Jazz would make a market comeback as well. The premium B segment is going to have stiff competition with a lot of segment first and segment bests. Will the Punto Evo manage to sell better than the pre-facelift? Only time will tell.