Building a new brand is very tough. Just ask the Koreans, and more lately, the Chinese. But what is arguably even tougher is to rebuild a brand that has fallen from grace. It is not very difficult to understand why. People are more likely to try something new, than to give a second chance after having burnt their fingers the first time round. The French brands are in this boat at the moment, and so is Fiat. Once a near default market leader when it came to small cars, it has slipped out of the mainstream and into a very niche (read, “small”) positioning of appealing to only Fiat “enthusiasts”. It’s a slippery slope that almost always leads to irrelevance. Can the company’s facelifted Fiat Grande Punto reclaim some lost ground and re-establish Fiat in the mainstream motoring consciousness.
Mini-Maserati looks for Fiat Grande PuntoOne thing is certain… Fiat has not lost its ability to design attractive cars. While there may be a number of reasons for the failure of the Fiat Grande Punto thus far, styling has not been one of them. Its grille design and even the shape and position of the headlamps have a whiff of Maserati 3200 GT about them, and this is not a mere coincidence. Both cars were designed by style master Giugiaro. So the Fiat Grande Punto certainly has the kind of Italian flair that should stand it in good stead in this segment. And while it has been around for a good couple of years, it hasn’t dated much. Consequently, Fiat has wisely not fiddled too much with the exterior styling.
Instead, it has focused on improving the interior, which needed it. The improvements to the visual quality of the cabin are noticeable, but the refresh has not done enough to put the Fiat Grande Punto on an equal footing next to newer rivals such as Ford’s Fiesta and the Mazda2. The centre section of the facia still looks comparatively dated, and the control layout lacks the style of some competitors. Still, build quality has certainly improved.
As is the case with many older-generation Italian vehicles, the driving position takes some getting used to. Sure, the steering wheel is adjustable for rake and reach, and the driver’s seat can move up and down, but even so the driver will have to compromise slightly in terms of how far he/she slides the seat back, in order to get the preferable position behind the steering wheel. The seats, however, are good. Initially they feel a bit too firm, but proved comfortable on longer trips. Rear space is also acceptable for this segment and has not come at the expense of boot space, where a full-size spare is also accommodated. As with most cars in this segment, the rear seat is split 60/40 and folds forward.
“Dynamic” specification means the standard features count for the Fiat Grande Punto is relatively generous, especially in terms of safety. Included in the price are; six airbags, air-conditioning, electric mirrors and windows (front only), a radio/CD player and multi-function steering wheel. Upholstery is in a durable, comfortable cloth.
Pleasant driveBesides aesthetic appeal, another trait that is generally expected from an Italian car is performance and agile handling. In most respects the Fiat Grande Punto delivers. Power comes from a turbocharged 1,4-litre petrol engine that delivers 88 kW and 206 Nm of torque. The engine impresses not only with its power, but also the linearity of the power delivery (there’s very little lag) and refinement. It is also very well-matched to a slick six-speed manual transmission.
Resultantly, performance is very good, with a 0-100 km/h time of around 9,0 seconds and a top speed of near 200 km/h. It’s a delight to shift up and down the gears and feel the thrust of the power delivery. And… it’s even economical. Drive like a normal person (not a motoring journalist) and you could very average around 7,0 L/100 km.
There’s nothing particularly unique about underpinnings of the Fiat Grand Punto – it features a torsion beam arrangement at the rear – but what is peculiar to it is the “City” steering mode. This lightens the steering feel around town, making the Fiat an almost entirely effortless city car, and especially so during parking manoeuvres. The downside is that even when the City mode is deactivated, the steering remains too light and too lifeless, resulting in the driver feeling somewhat disconnected from the car. At least the steering is relatively fast.
To be honest, the driving experience is somewhat at odds with the mini-Maserati looks and the performance of the engine. The focus has clearly been on comfort, rather than sporty dynamics, and consequently the Fiat Grande Punto has good bump suppression qualities, but probably too much bodyroll. This means the Fiat Grande Punto is lovely to drive when you’re not in the mood for thrills, but also that cars such as a Fiesta or Mazda2 are superior in terms of driver enjoyment. Admittedly, this is unlikely to be a major deterrent to most consumers…
Fiat Grande Punto - VerdictWhat remains the biggest turn-off, unfortunately, is the badge on the nose. For some consumers the poor reputation for quality and after-sales service will be too hard to swallow, especially given the relatively high price. Sure, Fiat has added a lengthy service plan to sweeten the deal, and the long service intervals further boost confidence, but we fear the product itself needs to be more convincing too, as a complete package. At present, it is delightful in certain areas, but disappointingly sub-par in others…
- Good looks
- Willing engine
- Quality improvement
- Facia layout
- Fiat reputation
Engine: 1,4-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol
Power: 88 kW @ 5 000 rpm
Torque: 206 Nm @ 2 000 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheels: 15-inch alloy
Top speed: 195 km/h
0-100 km/h: 8,9 seconds
Fuel economy: 6,6 litres/100 km
- Ford Fiesta 1,6 Titanium: A deadly rival, especially as the price is essentially the same. The Ford’s facia design is vastly more modern and made of better materials. The specification level is good, too, and the driving experience very pleasurable.
- Mazda2 1,5 Individual: Slightly underpowered compared with the others, but it is also lighter, so the performance on the road is similar. Zesty dynamics make the Mazda a fun car to drive and specifications levels are high. Could do with some NVH refinement.
- Honda Jazz 1,5i-VTEC EX: A very highly rated car by those that should know best – owners. Build quality, space, practicality and even performance are all good. Slightly down on spec, but you’re unlikely to regret this choice.