site search by freefind
MotorBar: 1200+ unique in-depth car reviews. Plus travel & destinations, and 1000 DVD and CD reviews. Online for 14 years. Written by experts.
Grande Punto Abarth

Click to view picture galleryThe famous tuning and motorsport
  brand Abarth, bought by Fiat in 1971,
  arrives in the UK now in the form
 
of the Grande Punto Abarth. Marked
  out by its ‘must-have
iconic Abarth
  styling, is it good enough to be the
  new leader of the pack?


UNDERSCORING THE ABARTH'S EXCLUSIVITY, Ivan Gibson, head of the Abarth brand in the UK for Fiat Group Automobiles UK, has said: "Abarth will be a stand-alone specialist sales and service operation and initially only 10 Fiat dealers in the whole of the UK, out of our 164 strong network, will be able to sell and service the new sports models."

So, potential UK customers eager to see and try the new Abarth Punto will not be able to nip into their local Fiat dealership unless they live in Glasgow, York, Chesterfield, Nuneaton, Stoke-on-Trent, Corby, Romford, Aylesford, Bournemouth or Plymouth. Further Abarth specialist dealers are planned for Cardiff, London, Swindon, Birmingham, Manchester, Belfast and The Channel Islands. Dealers chosen to become Abarth centres will have either a dedicated area within an existing showroom or a separate branded sales facility. All Abarth dealerships will have fully trained Abarth sales personnel and service technicians.

The 155bhp three-door Grande Punto Abarth 1.4 T-Jet hatchback — based on the Fiat Grande Punto 'supermini' — costs 13,500 and there are two additional tuning kits available to customers. These are known as Assetto (chassis tuning) and 'esseesse' (SS) with a 180bhp engine upgrade kit and which together cost 3,500. Ivan Gibson said that expected to sell 550 to 600 Grande Punto Abarth models in the UK this year and around 800 units in a full year, with 30 per cent of customers opting for the tuning kits. He added that the 500 Abarth should sell around 1,500 units in the UK next year.

Abarth was founded in 1949 by the Austrian Carlo Abarth and made its debut in the racing world with the 204 A Roadster based on the Fiat 1100 and the partnership with Fiat products was formed. From then on the 'Scorpion' legend — after Abarth's his birth sign — was formed. Fiat eventually became outright owner of Abarth in 1971 and the last Fiat Abarth model to be sold in the UK was the 2.4-litre Stilo, which finished four years ago.

The brand was re-launched by Fiat 18 months ago in Italy. Today Abarth runs Fiat's motorsport activities, designs, develops and engineers motorsport and tuning components and assembles vehicles. The company operates with 130 employees in brand-new purpose-built premises at the Fiat Group's Mirafiori complex in Turn. Abarth is building 30 cars a day, five of which are for right-hand drive markets. Europe has 90 Abarth dealers, nearly half of them in Italy.

The Fiat Grande Punto Abarth (or Grande Punto Abarth as Fiat want us to call it) is the first bespoke Abarth model to be available for 20 years and it is eagerly awaited by those who know or have heard about the legendary 'Scorpion' rally and race-car models.

At 13,500 on the road the 'supermini'-sized three-door Grande Punto Abarth is undoubtedly now the price leader against the more expensive competition such as the RenaultSport Clio 197, Vauxhall VXR and MINI Cooper S or John Cooper Works models.

The Grande Punto in standard form is an elegant looking car so by adding the bespoke Abarth touches to it the Italians have done what they do best — added style. Compared with the standard Grande Punto, the Abarth's track has been widened by 6mm; the ride height lowered; and the front springs are stiffer.

The Punto Abarth is equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, with the option of contrasting striping bearing the Abarth name along each side. The front bumper has been specially redesigned and houses headlights set in a dark surround, while the larger air intakes, adapted to cater for the turbocharged engine's cooling requirements, are enhanced with an exclusive Abarth design.

The sideskirts, wheel arch rims and black plastic underbody complete the fairing on the lower section, which is profiled to boost aerodynamic performance and extends as far as the tapered rear bumper. The Abarth badge is clearly visible, positioned in the centre of the front grille, the rear hatch, and on both flanks at door handle height. There is no Fiat or Punto badging to be seen anywhere on the car. Let there be no doubt about this — this is an Abarth.

Inside, the Abarth touch is equally apparent. The scorpion badge is positioned on the passenger side of the dashboard, while the 'carbon effect' central console is decorated with a textured cube motif. The car's instrument panel has been given a sporty new design, and the same sports finish — black leather with red stitching — is used for both the steering wheel and gear stick.

Driver and front passenger seats have also been designed to capture the style and driving experience of Abarth. Both have built-in head restraints, lumbar support and lateral thigh support. As an option the seats and central dashboard section can be finished in full-grain leather.

A comprehensive equipment package includes a host of safety and comfort-enhancing features. Safety features include window airbags, side airbags, height adjustable driver's seat, Blue&Me hands-free communications system, foglights, rear head restraints, ABS and ESP.

The importance of safety is also shown by the fact that an Electronic Stability Programme comes as standard and cannot be deactivated but, thankfully, in is not really intrusive. Other standard equipment includes a radio/MP3 player, fully adjustable steering wheel, air conditioning, dark tinted windows, electric front windows, Dualdrive electric power steering and cruise control.

The Grande Punto Abarth is fitted with a 1.4 turbo (T-Jet) four-cylinder, petrol engine, delivering 155bhp. With a 6-speed manual gearbox, this engine gives the car a top speed of 129mph, and 0-62mph acceleration of just 8.2 seconds. This excellent and responsive powerplant will officially return over 40mpg in the combined cycle and restrict CO2 emissions to just 162g/km to give it a roads tax bill of 145. In real-life, pushed very hard with some hill climb motorsport driving at the famous Harewood Hill circuit, 22.3mpg is all my test car returned but I estimate around 30mpg is probable for day-to-day driving.

Abarth say that through cubic capacity downsizing allied to the adoption of a small turbocharger, this responsive 155bhp, 1.4 litre T-Jet engine delivers a performance equal to, or better than, a conventionally-aspirated 2.0-litre engine with a reduction of between 10 and 20 per cent in fuel consumption and emissions.

Fitted with a 'drive-by-wire' throttle system, the 1.4 T-Jet petrol engine provides excellent diesel-like low-end torque. Push the 'Sport Boost' button located in the centre console and the engine will deliver an impressive 169lb ft of torque at 3,000rpm (152lb ft in normal mode). Using the Sport Boost function also modifies the amount of steering effort required by the driver, so as to give a sportier feel.

For confident stopping power the car is equipped with disc brakes all round; the front brakes being ventilated and equipped with Brembo fixed four-piston callipers.

The Assetto and esseesse (SS) kits are delivered to customers packed in original wooden crates — in keeping with Abarth tradition. They can only be sold and installed by the official Abarth network and are specific to the Grande Punto Abarth 1.4 Turbo T-Jet 155bhp. The kits are factory supplied by Abarth but have to be fitted after the car has been purchased by the customer at an Abarth specialist dealer, within one year or 12,000 miles from its first registration. Conversions are covered by a two-year Abarth warranty from the installation date. Each bespoke kit is stamped with the chassis number of the Abarth car it is intended for to ensure the provenance of the vehicle.

As a first step-up from the standard Grande Punto Abarth, a handling Assetto kit is offered which includes springs that lower the ride height by 15-20mm, special front brake pads, cross-drilled front disc brakes and alloy wheels with very low profile tyres.

The full 3,500 esseesse (SS) kit comprises of engine and Assetto chassis modifications. Additionally, these include a Garrett GT 1446 turbocharger (which increases boost pressure from 1.3 to 1.5 bar), new water and oil pipes to the turbo, new exhaust manifold, heat shield, complete injector rail, MAP sensor, boost sensor, modified catalytic converter, larger diameter exhaust, new intercooler pipework, adapted radiator pipe, new water pump, waste-gate valve and a new engine ECU.

Fitted with the full esseesse (SS) kit, the Punto Abarth has more than twice the power of the basic Fiat Grande Punto model. To be specific, with the full Abarth treatment and fitted with the 1.4-litre 16v turbo engine enhanced to 180bhp at 5,750rpm, with maximum torque of 200lb ft at 2,750rpm, the modified 'hot hatch' can achieve a top speed of 133mph, accelerating from 0-62mph in just 7.5 seconds. That's more than enough sting in the tail to entertain keen drivers.

Bad news first: too few UK Abarth dealers. And you'll need to be a committed driver to live with the very hard ride and non-compliant suspension on Britain's potholed roads, which can make for tiring driving. The good news is the 'must-have' iconic Abarth styling, the responsive engine and non-intrusive ESP. More major plusses include excellent grip, an attractive price and niche tuning kit options. — David Miles

Grande Punto Abarth | 13,500
Maximum speed: 129mph | 0-62mph: 8.2 seconds | Overall test MPG: 30mpg
Power: 155bhp | Torque: 152-169lb ft | CO2 162g/km | Insurance group 14