REVIEW DATE: 12 Sep 2007
There's more to a great supermini than sassy styling. Andy Enright takes a look at what makes Fiat's Grande Punto tick over an extended period
Have you ever asked a question and then instantly regretted doing so? I just have. Having asked why Fiat's Grande Punto was so named, I was informed by a Fiat product manager rather dryly that it was because it was bigger than its predecessor. Next question. I may have been left feeling a little crestfallen at the answer but in this sector of the market, size sells and it's as honest a response as any. The Grande Punto is a model that is pivotal to Fiat's success and it's one that looks a decent bet to do well.
Based on the same platform as the latest Vauxhall Corsa, this alliance was brought about by the tentative but ultimately aborted relationship between General Motors and Fiat. While this love affair may have turned sour, it has produced a very good car in the Grande Punto.
The genius in this car is, rather quirkily, in making a very modern supermini feel a little traditional. There are a number of modern car traits that many customers find annoying. Huge fascias and distant windscreens that make you feel as if you're driving an MPV, lifeless steering, anonymous styling and gratuitous gadgetry are all absent from the Grande Punto and it's a better car for it. Despite this, it manages to rack up a five-star Euro NCAP score and features a range of engines that most rival manufacturers can only look upon with envy.
Sales figures suggest the Grande Punto's mix of the modern and the old school is finding favour with British buyers. Sales are encouraging and what's more, Fiat isn't having to rely on the vagaries of big fleet customers to make up those numbers. Fully 80% of all Grande Punto sales come from customers walking into dealers and stumping up their own hard-earned cash. These sales are what marketeers dub 'high involvement decisions' based upon a lot of homework, rather than the lowest common denominator of pence per mile that so often swings the balance for fleet operators.
"Even the entry-level version has a real presence and swagger"
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Grande Punto's sales performance to date has been its split between diesel and petrol sales. One of the aspects that General Motors was keenest to exploit was Fiat's expertise in diesel engine production and the Grande Punto features two of the best oil burners in the supermini class: the 1.3-litre Multijet in 75bhp guise and the punchy 130bhp Multijet 1.9-litre powerplant.
The Active trim is definitely the biggest draw, fully 65 per cent of Grande Punto sales being attributed to this entry-level model and this highlights a trend in small car ownership. The higher end models always were smaller sellers but the market is becoming increasingly focused on high efficiency, small capacity engines. Fiat probably could plumb the 2.4-litre 20v engine from the Stilo into the Punto chassis but the top brass realises the market for such a car would be vanishingly small. Instead they are looking, in the medium term, to fit a 1.4-litre turbo unit as the flagship engine, a unit that promises decent power as well as manageable running costs.
The Grande Punto is decently equipped although many of the Active buyers will be tempted to opt for air conditioning. Metallic paint remains the most popular option although Fiat has configured the trim packs in such a way that it's usually more cost effective to opt for the next trim level up rather than attempt to add a number of options individually. It works out cheaper for the customer and easier for the factory to plan parts ordering around.
Speak to any Grande Punto customer and the first thing they mention is the car's styling. It looks like no other supermini on the road and is probably the only one that has an element of the exotic about its exterior design. Look at those teardrop-shaped headlamps and chromed air intake. If you saw that appearing in your rear view mirror, you'd be forgiven for thinking a Maserati Coupe had sliced through the traffic and was sitting on your back bumper. Styled by Italdesign-Giugiaro in partnership with Centro Stile Fiat, the Grande Punto is one of those rare cars that looks good from every angle. Five-door or three-door version, it makes little difference, although the three-door car does have a slightly wedgier and tauter appearance.
Our long term car is representative of the sort of car customers actually buy. It's the 1.4-litre Active three-door. I'd have liked air conditioning in there but aside from that, the car drew very little complaint. It drove well, handled reassuringly and was still suffused by the trademark Spirito di Punto despite letting its belt out a little. It also averaged just over 40mpg during its tenure with us, not too far off Fiat's 47.9mpg claim, especially given our array of lead-booted testers.
If you're looking for a car that's a perfect antidote to the increasing amount of nonsense that's built into many modern superminis but you don't want to buy an anachronism, the Fiat Grande Punto is a wise choice. The cutting edge technology is largely hidden from view, working unobtrusively rather than gratuitously thrust in your face.
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