New entry-level Fiat ticks all the right boxes

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Fiat Punto 1.2 Active New Delhi, India – May 2010

There was definitely a gap in Fiat’s local line-up when the evergreen Palio was put out to pasture at the end of last year. A modern, affordable, practical, entry-level yet stylish hatch was most certainly needed.

Enter the Fiat Punto 1.2 Active – an up-to-date hatch which ticks every single one of these boxes. Built in a sprawling ‘technofest’ of a facility in Pune, South India, the new Punto with close to 90 percent local content is a staggering achievement for this greenfields project which has only been operational for two years and already features two current Fiat models on its CV – the Linea and the Punto. Comprising both an engine and an assembly plant, the Pune facility has the capacity to churn out more than 3000 vehicles per day.

To satisfy the surprisingly discerning Indian market, the Punto had to meet three main critera: i) it had to be a modern, stylish vehicle; ii) it had to be uncompromisingly practical – space, comfort and a generous spec list were non-negotiables; and iii) it had to be as robust as the Taj Mahal. Fortunately these are features that are just as appreciated by South African consumers which is why the Punto 1.2 Active makes such a welcome addition to the local Fiat range.

To avoid confusion, let’s set the record straight regarding where exactly the new Punto fits in: the Grande Punto will gradually be phased out to make way for the Indian-built Puntos at the bottom end of Fiat’s B-segment line-up.

At present there are two Punto models available in SA – the new 1.2 Active which is the subject of this release and the much higher-specced but still value-oriented 1.4 Emotion which was released onto our markets towards the end of last year. So, I hear you say, what happens to superb halo models such as the Grande Punto T-jet? Simple, during the second half of this year, the all-new Italian-built Punto Evo will make its local debut. This model, while clearly an evolution of the Grande Punto, is noticeably more upmarket in terms of styling, spec and performance.

But now coming back to the Punto 1.2 Active – a brief description of what it’s like to drive in India as experienced by a South African may help to contextualise this charismatic newcomer:

It’s sheer insanity and frankly you need to be certified to do it but nevertheless, we were able to coax three intrepid South African motoring journalists onto India’s roads (and I use that term loosely). Imagine cramming every conceivable mode of transport from a tuk tuk to an elephant onto a road no wider than a king-size bed and you have some idea of what it’s like.

Completing the picture are sari-clad honies on motorcycles (riding side-saddle of course) and whole families sandwiched onto ancient Royal Enfields together with the kitchen sink. With every centimeter you inch forward, the traffic haemorrhages yet another tributary of mechanical mayhem. (No wonder it took us half a day to drive 250 kilometres.)

Add to this the deafening cacophony of hooters blaring at ‘vuvuzelian’ levels and the slogan “Incredible India” takes on its true meaning. “Please horn” are words resplendently emblazoned on every truck tailgate which is just another way of saying: “I will attempt any one of many kamikazian moves so please be sure to honk when your life flashes before your eyes”.

Compounding this scenario is the fact that lawlessness appears to be actively encouraged – hell, even the traffic lights in this big free-for-all have a sign for U-turns permitted. Road markings are virtually non-existent but you still pay for the pleasure of driving on India’s finest as toll booths are more numerous than mushrooms after the rain. Suffice it to say that the most important safety feature on a car is most certainly not airbags or ABS but the hooter.

So, it’s against this backdrop that the new Fiat Punto cuts a dash in Incredible India. Stylistically superior, the simple lines of the Punto are in stark contrast with its fussy contemporaries. In fact, in an Indian context, the latest brace of Puntos and Lineas are regarded as more premium and upmarket than their obvious competitors. And, while the emphasis is on value, comfort has not been compromised – power steering, air conditioning and electric front windows all form part of the Active package.

Performance-wise, the 1.2-litre engine (part of the famous Fiat Fire family) has more than enough grunt to keep up with traffic and positively shines out on the open road. Maximum power of 49 kW might not sound that impressive but bear in mind that being an 8-valve mill, the engine features low-down grunt for added flexibility – maximum torque is available from just 2 500 rpm. Smooth and very free-revving, this little motor impresses with its levels of refinement. Further enhancing the driving experience is the drive-by-wire throttle.

And, don’t think that simply because it’s Fiat’s most affordable model that safety has been ignored. The structural integrity of the Grande Punto-derived newcomer means that rigidity and safety tolerances are at the very top of the class. Add to this Fiat’s unique Fire Protection System (FPS) and anti-submarine seats and you have a package that offers more than its price competitors.

And, with reference to the latter, this is where the new Punto 1.2 Active is in a class of its own. The recommended retail price is just R106 900.

However, for a limited time only, Fiat dealers will be able to offer the new Punto 1.2 Active for the introductory launch price of just R99 900. Please note that the new Punto 1.2 Active comes standard with a 3-year 100 000 km warranty as well as Fiat’s free roadside assistance for one year. Service intervals are set at 20 000 km.

Specs at a glance:

Engine Capacity FIRE1172cc SOHC
Power 49 kw @ 6000rpm
Torque 96 Nm @ 2500rpm
Valves 8
  • Front suspension: McPherson strut with Double acting Telescopic Dampers & Stabiliser Bar
  • Rear suspension: Torsion Beam, Helical Coil Springs, Double acting Telescopic Dampers & Stabiliser Bar
  • Steering: Hydraulic Power Steering
  • 0 to 100km/h = Not available from India
  • Top speed – 155 km/h
  • Fuel consumption – 100km/h cruising 6,7 l / 100 km and city cycle 7,7 l / 100 km

Standard Comfort Features:

  • Airconditioning
  • Power Steering
  • Front Electric Power Windows
  • Modern interiors and trim

Punto 1.2 Active is equipped with the additional features as standard equipment:

  • Fire Prevention System
  • Tilt Steering
  • Programmed Service Reminder
  • Follow-me-home headlamps
  • Footrest
  • 20000 kms service intervals
  • AA Roadside Assist
  • Warranty : 100 000km / 3 years