Straight to the punto

When Fiat MD Oscar Rivoli speaks English, it’s conveyed in a monotone, but give him an opportunity to say an Italian word or two—even simple words such as Grande Punto or Cinque Cento (which is the common name for the Fiat 500)—and he sounds like a completely different person.

His pronunciation and tone come alive almost as though he’s saying something of great importance and my ears perk up automatically in anticipation even though he’s only talking about current and future models in the Fiat range.

Rivoli and his team launched two new additions to the updated Grande Punto range as well as an all-new people-carrier, the Scudo.

There are four new engines for the Grande Puntos, which have undergone minor tweaks to the exterior and interior. The one we drove during the launch is the flagship turbo-charged model.

The 1,4-litre T-Jet Sport looks like a run-of-the-mill hatch, but when you start driving it, you realise just how extraordinary it is. When you begin to push it a little, it is as if you’re whispering sweet nothings to it—in Italian of course.

It handles as well as any hot hatch in this price range of R191 900 and although Fiat didn’t make any adjustments to the suspension, the overall handling felt pretty good at speed.
But the five-speed manual transmission could do with some work as the gearshifts weren’t as crisp as you would expect of a range-topper and the clutch felt a little too soft.

The new turbo-charged Grande Punto develops 88kW of power and 206Nm of torque so it’s not going to blow your hair back, but it does the job of being a comfortable, lively hatch quite easily and the fuel consumption is claimed to be in the region of 6,6 litres/100km, so you don’t feel too guilty about a little enthusiastic driving.

Interior fit and finishings look good and the standard features on this model include ABS, EBD, an electronic stability programme, traction control, a hill holder mechanism and six airbags.

Among the features on the updated range are sticker kits and new upholstery though there isn’t much that’s standard on the three-door 1,2-litre option at the bottom of the range, but given that it costs R118 000 one can’t expect too much.

One of the nicest features about the new Grande Puntos is that service intervals are at 30 000km and for the first 12 months of ownership 24-hour AA roadside assist is free.

The Scudo MPV comes into Fiat’s range under the Ducato as a vehicle for small business owners or large families as it seats up to nine people.

The Scudo felt like most vans in that it’s difficult to manoeuvre in small spaces, but it was very easy to drive on the open road. It has ABS, two airbags and costs R363 100.

For the uninitiated, punto means “point” in Italian and it’s obvious that Fiat is making a statement that it does small cars as well as any of the leading manufacturers.

Rivoli emphasised that Fiat is firmly focused on improving service by paying attention to customer satisfaction and one hopes this is true because Fiat—like most smaller manufacturers—faces a tough time in South Africa and it needs to be serious about offering more than just great cars to its customers.

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