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First look: Fiat evolves Punto

Fresh face: The Fiat Punto Evo is coming to Australia, but without the top-of-the-range MultiAir engine - for now.

Facelifted Italian small-car emerges in the form of Fiat’s Punto Evo

1 Sep 2009

FIAT has previewed the Punto Evo ahead of its official world premiere at the Frankfurt motor show on September 15.

The facelifted Italian hatchback, which goes on sale in Europe in late October, is headlined by Fiat’s new 1.4-litre MultiAir four-cylinder engine, a new 1.3-litre JTD turbo-diesel and new LPG and even methane-fuelled engines – all fitted with idle-stop as standard across the range.

Revised front and rear exterior styling in the shape of new bumpers and light clusters make the car about 30mm longer.

An all-new interior gets seven airbags as standard, including a driver’s knee airbag.

Sadly, Australian Fiat importer advises that while the new-look Punto range will go on sale here in the third quarter of 2010, the new MultiAir engine and both new alternative-fuel engines are unlikely to come due to their considerably higher cost.

36 center image “We can’t commit to the MultiAir engine for our Punto until we’ve seen pricing, which won’t happen until next April,” said spokesman Edward Rowe. “We suspect we’ll continue to take the current base (1.4) engine to maintain the current price point for as long as it is available.

“The MultiAir engines and other high-efficiency engines are built to meet Europe’s CO2-based taxation system. Australia is now the last mature market in the world not to have a vehicle tax based on fuel-efficiency.”

Fiat’s current Punto range in Australia opens with the 1.4 Dynamic five-door ($18,990) and extends to the 1.3 JTD ($23,990) and 1.4 Sport Turbo ($26,990), plus the three-door 1.4 Sport Turbo ($24,990).

Opening Europe’s Punto Evo range, however, will be an entry-level version of the premium 1.4 MultiAir four that will become available here earlier in 2010 in Alfa Romeo’s new Punto-based MiTo.

Fiat says its new MultiAir electro-hydraulic valve control system, developed by Fiat Powertrain technologies, will eventually be fitted across the Fiat Group’s entire petrol and diesel engine range. Like Unijet and Multijet, MultiAir is licensed to Bosch to make for a host of other car-makers, so expect similar induction systems to appear in a host of other vehicles soon.

Compared with a conventional engine of the same displacement, it is claimed to cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by around 10 per cent – as well as particulate emissions by up to 40 per cent and NOx emissions by up to 60 per cent – while increasing power by up to 10 per cent and torque by up to 15 per cent.

Meantime, benefitting from similar upgrades is Fiat’s second-generation 1.3-litre Multijet turbo-diesel engine, which employs anew common-rail injector to reduce consumption by around two per cent and NOx emissions by a claimed 30 per cent.

All of the 2010 Punto’s Euro 5 emissions-meeting diesel and petrol engines will come with Fiat’s idle-stop system, while two new alternative-fuel engines are claimed to create “the most complete and ecological range of engines in the segment”.

Fiat says the methane engine (designed specifically for Italy, which Fiat says has the highest government incentive for methane vehicles in Europe) is the most ecological dual-fuel engine available in the B segment by producing average CO2 emissions of 115g/km, as well as the most economical by setting a new running cost record of less than €4 ($A6.8) per 100km.

Known as the Punto Evo GPL, the new LPG variant is claimed to cost 50 per cent less to run than its petrol equivalent and set a record range of 1500km in the extra-urban fuel consumption cycle. Fiat says it was “developed using the company’s longstanding experience in alternative fuels to respond to the extraordinary growth seen in this market”.

Developed by Fiat’s Centro Stile, the upgraded Punto’s “completely redesigned” interior features a new dashboard, instruments, seats and storage compartments.

While the Alfa MiTo’s standard driver’s knee airbag will now also be standard across the Punto range, new options will include a hill-holder function to prevent rollback, adaptive cornering foglights that switch on according to steering lock and a new navigation system dubbed Blue&Me-TomTom.

Developed jointly by the inventor of Fiat’s Blue&Me connectivity technology, Magneti Marelli, and Europe’s leading portable sat-nav brand TomTom, it groups telephone, satellite-navigation and information functions on to a single colour touch-screen, and also features real-time driving-style information and suggestions for reducing environmental impact under the “eco:Drive Info” banner.

Australian Punto sales are 40 per cent down so far in 2009, with the same brand’s 500 retro-micro outselling it for the first seven months of the year, 222 to 158, and even the new Alfa MiTo proving more popular in Australia in July, its first month on sale.

Next year, Fiat will release its topless 500C, but the future of Fiat’s Abarth models remains uncertain in Australia due to the car-maker’s demands for separate retail outlets for the performance sub-brand. This is despite Ateco’s receipt of expensive local design rule certification for Abarth versions of the Punto and 500, and with the 500C Abarth due to emerge in 2011.

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