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Driven: Fiat Punto returns from $16k drive-away

Taking a Punto: Fiat is hoping the Punto will have a greater impact than when it first sold in Australia between 2006 and 2010.

Second time lucky for Punto as Fiat pushes hard with $16,000 drive-away pricing

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Fiat logo2 Aug 2013

ITALIAN brand Fiat is hoping its European heritage and a sharp $16,000 drive-away price will entice people into the seven-year old Punto hatch that returns to Australian showrooms this week.

It’s back on Aussie roads after originally going on sale in 2006 before being discontinued by Fiat’s previous distributor, Ateco Automotive, in mid 2010, marking a three-year absence from the local market.

While the ‘new’ Punto is essentially the same vehicle Fiat sold here previously, it benefits from an update to the range that went on sale in Europe late last year, meaning refreshed exterior styling, an upgraded cabin for top-spec models and a boost to equipment levels.

But the biggest change for the resurrected Punto is the price. Kicking off from $16,000 drive-away for the entry-level Pop with a five-speed manual gearbox or $17,500 drive-away with the ‘Dualogic’ automated manual transmission, it undercuts its 2010 price of $18,990 plus on-roads by nearly $3000.

The Pop may be the only variant with drive-away pricing, but a spokesperson for Fiat Chrysler confirmed the $16,000 starting point is not just an introductory price and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

By reintroducing the Punto at this price point, Fiat is gunning for established light car competitors such as the Ford Fiesta (from $15,825 as of late-August), Holden Barina ($15,990) and Hyundai i20 ($16,590), while undercutting European rivals including Peugeot’s 208 Active ($18,490) and the Volkswagen Polo Trendline ($16,990).

Fiat is offering the Punto in three model grades – base Pop, mid-spec Easy and range-topping Lounge – and all Puntos are powered by the same 57kW/115Nm 1.4-litre four cylinder engine, with the availability of a five-speed manual or auto in the Pop, while the Easy and Lounge are auto only.

The power figures rightly suggest the Punto is no performance car and the 0-100km/h time of 13.2 seconds confirms it, but fuel economy is the ace up the little Fiat’s sleeve.

Official combined cycle fuel consumption figures of 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres in the manual and 5.4L/100km in the automatic are competitive against other light car contenders including the 1.4-litre Opel Corsa with 5.8L/100km and Kia’s 1.4-litre Rio on 5.7L/100km.

Front-end styling changes have given the range a fresh look, including a new front bumper, rounder, more streamlined air intakes, new fog-lights on top-spec models and a black honeycomb grille.

At the rear, it gains a new bumper, redesigned tail-lights and new rear fog and reversing lights, while pressing on the large Fiat badge on the rear operates the tailgate.

New dash materials and seat fabrics have been introduced, with one of the trim options featuring ‘electro-welded’ sections to assist with ventilation in hot weather. While the dash of the Pop model appears to be carried over, higher-spec models feature a new premium dash design with gloss black trim, chrome accents and soft-touch materials.

For the Pop’s $16,000 drive-away price, standard features include idle stop, six airbags, daytime running lights, air conditioning, electric front windows, remote central locking, six-speaker audio system, Blue&Me hands-free connectivity with Bluetooth and 15-inch steel wheels.

Mid-spec Easy is priced from $19,300 plus on-road costs and replaces the steel wheels with 15-inch alloys, the addition of a drivers knee airbag for a total count of seven, a premium dash, cruise control, leather steering wheel and gear shift, front centre armrest, electric front and rear windows and the Bluetooth system as well as a USB and auxiliary jack.

Finally, the flagship Lounge variant starts from $21,800 plus on-roads and features a sportier, more premium look thanks to 16-inch alloy wheels, a sports body-kit with side skirts and rear spoiler, adaptive fog-lights with cornering function, aluminium exterior mirror caps and a chrome exhaust tip.

The more luxurious cabin includes leather seats with electric lumbar adjustment, dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, tinted glass and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

A dual-pane sunroof can be optioned for $1500 on Easy and Lounge models, while a TomTom sat-nav unit is available on any model for $595.

As with Fiat’s other light car, the 500, the Italian brand offers an almost unlimited number of accessories for the Punto, from external chrome flourishes and different coloured mirror caps to alternative key designs and an Italian flag badge on the b-pillar.

All Punto variants come with a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating and along with the aforementioned airbags feature ABS, ESC and hill-start assist.

Cargo space is 275 litres or 1030 litres with the rear seats folded, short of rivals such as the Ford Fiesta (295 litres) and Opel Corsa (285).

Planning for Fiat’s model expansion, including the return of the Punto, kicked off when the Chrysler Group took over distributorship of Italian brands Fiat and Alfa Romeo from Ateco in May last year.

Under Ateco, the Punto had its best result in 2007 with 739 units sold before sales began to slide in 2008 with 418 units shifted and then just 235 in 2009.

While Fiat Chrysler Group Australia president and CEO Veronica Johns did not discuss projected sales, she said the Punto’s age was not a concern and buyers would determine the car’s success.

“When we took these brands on in 1 May last year, we took them on to grow the volume,” she said. “(Fiat) had been doing 2000 sales year-in, year-out for the last seven years. Punto hasn’t been in the country since late 2009.

“Fiat has an amazing line-up of small cars, we think we have got something we can bring to consumers in the market and they will tell us if we are doing alright or not.” The local Punto line-up looks set to remain at three variants for the time being, with the super-hot 134kW Abarth Punto Evo Supersport that was previously earmarked for an Australian berth in the fourth quarter of this year still under consideration.

2013 Fiat Punto pricing*
Pop $16,000 drive-away
Pop (a) $17,500 drive-away
Easy (a) $19,300
Lounge (a) $21,800
*Plus on-road costs

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