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Fiat Punto Evo Dynamic 1.4 16v MultiAir 5-door

Click to view picture gallery“Theres a revolution going on in
  the UK
s car market — due to the
  recession, higher motoring taxes
  and less space on the roads, more
  drivers than ever are downsizing.
  And Fiat’s new Punto Evolution is
  ready for the revolution
...”

DOWNSIZING AND DOWN-PRICING everybody's doing it, as confirmed by the sales figures for last year: small city cars up 142%; 'supermini' sized models up 2.2%. And sales for every other class were down. In this climate Fiat has been hugely successful with their chic 500 range and the more traditional but frugal Panda hatchback their UK sales last year were the highest since 2002, with a 9% increase to 60,337 UK registrations. Admittedly over a third of sales were driven by the Scrappage Scheme but you still have to have the right cars in your armoury to succeed.

Now Fiat is sharpening up its larger offering: what was the Grande Punto range of three- and five-door 'supermini' sized hatchbacks is now the Punto Evo range. Evo being, of course, short for evolution because the Grande Punto has now evolved into the new model.

Prices range from 10,995 to 15,595 and currently there are 22 different versions to choose from — a huge number for the expected 12-13,000 UK sales expected this year. Retail customers will make up nearly 100% of purchases and 60% of customers will choose the three-door models; 90% will choose a petrol engine and the age profile of customers is sub 35 years of age — hence the slant towards the sporty three-door body preference. The most user-friendly body option, however, is the five-door variant — easy for rear seat passengers to use and the front doors are not as wide so they're easier to open in car parks.

The evolutionary move of the Punto Evo caters for today's customers who are more demanding than ever. The 'supermini' hatchback range has been designed to meet the requirement for smaller, more environmentally friendly cars that are easier to park and more affordable to run, yet are still stylish, safe and comfortable. These new models also offers new engines and a healthy dose of technology along with features traditionally associated with larger cars.

The Punto Evo has a bold new look inside and out, cloaking a stronger structure that makes it safer, better to drive and more welcoming for passengers. The exterior looks sharper and less bland — visually, it has more character. The latest version incorporates many safety features to further enhance the ownership experience, including knee airbags, double seatbelt pre-tensioners and ESP with Hill Holder. There is a notable improvement with the quality of the interior and a higher level of specification. However, the ride is just as firm and ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) is not fitted as standard to all models, although where it isn't part of the standard spec it can be added as an extra cost option.

Low CO2 emissions
mean customers will also
pay low levels of road
tax — just 35 in the
case of the new Punto
Evo MultiJet range
...”
In line with Fiat's philosophy of technology-for-all, every model in the range is fitted with the firm's Blue&Me interface that allows drivers intuitive control of all the car's major functions. And all models, except Active, can be specified with the cutting edge Blue&Me TomTom system.

This means fingertip access to a touch-screen navigation system, mobile phone, trip computer and MP3 player with steering wheel commands. It also includes Fiat's helpful eco:Drive which helps owners lower their fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. For the first time, eco:Drive is a fully integrated system in Punto Evo, and customers can now receive real-time suggestions for more environmentally friendly motoring.

But this car's introduction is most noteworthy because it heralds the launch of two important new 'Ecotechnology' engine line-ups: the MultiAir petrol family and MultiJet II diesels.

The Punto Evo's range of five engines all conform to Euro 5 emissions requirements and are all fitted with Start&Stop technology as standard. But improved fuel consumption isn't the only way in which Punto Evo owners will benefit from its innovative engines. Low CO2 emissions mean customers will also pay low levels of road tax — just 35 in the case of the new Punto Evo MultiJet range.

Whichever engine customers choose, they'll have two different chassis philosophies and five trim levels to deliberate over. All the GP and exclusively three-door Sporting versions follow the Sport chassis philosophy with racy on-road behaviour and more assertive looks. Three- or five-door Comfort versions come in either Active, Dynamic or Eleganza trims with a more elegant look and feel to them. My advice? Stick to the Comfort versions — they are just that; more comfortable with a much better ride quality although that's still on the firm side.

Even the entry level Active model features a generous amount of standard equipment including front driver, passenger and driver's knee airbags, five standard-size seats, two rear head restraints, front electric windows, height-and-reach adjustable steering wheel, electric mirrors, and Blue&Me infotainment. Fiat is not clear as yet, due to the market conditions, on which level of specification will be most popular — price, as always, is an important issue.

My probable choice would be Dynamic specification because it offers air conditioning and split/folding rear seats as standard but still only with steel road wheels although an alloy option is available. And that means 'splashing-the-cash' more than necessary for the Eleganza variants which could, for some, be a step too far. I really think the Punto Evo range offers too many models when you consider the two body styles, the five levels of equipment and chassis setup and five engine options.

What all this means in
the real world is that the
105bhp 1.4-litre MultiAir
unit in the new Punto
Evo emits just 134g/km
of carbon dioxide along
with 49.5mpg Combined
Cycle fuel economy
...”
The range starter is the 1.4-litre 77bhp petrol engine which, like every other engine in the 22-strong range, now complies with Euro 5 exhaust emissions legislation. This is likely to be the most popular engine if price is the main consideration. The other petrol units feature Fiat Powertrain Technologies' new MultiAir expertise — a technological leap forward that is to be rolled out across the company's entire fleet of models.

Very briefly, the new MultiAir system constantly changes variable valve timing, valve lift and the number of injections of fuel and air throughout the stroke of each piston in each cylinder at all times throughout the entire RPM range. Fuel economy is claimed to show a 10 % average improvement alongside an average 10% reduction in CO2 emissions; a 10% power increase; and a 15% torque improvement. At the same time, toxic emissions are dramatically reduced: 40% of HC/CO and 60% of NOx in the engine warm-up phase.

What all this means in the real world is that the 105bhp 1.4-litre MultiAir unit in the new Punto Evo emits just 134g/km of carbon dioxide along with 49.5mpg Combined Cycle fuel economy — my test drive fuel economy figure for this engine was 40.9mpg — yet offers lively performance and a 0-62mph acceleration time of just 10.8 seconds. This unit offers most, I think, for most people. It is smooth and feels more responsive than its 1.4-litre capacity would lead you to expect and there's another reason to go for this engine — it's the only one to be used in conjunction with a six-speed gearbox.

Most impressive of all in sporty performance terms is the range-topping 135bhp 1.4-litre MultiAir Turbo, even though only around 5% of customers will go for one. With almost 100bhp per litre at the driver's command, this delivers a petrol engine benchmark for acceleration with a 0-62mph time of 8.5 seconds, yet it also offers combined cycle fuel consumption of a remarkable 50.4mpg and a CO2 figure of just 129g/km. It would benefit form a six-speed gearbox to reduce engine noise at motorway speeds but that aside it's a cracking unit for its size with a real life fuel economy during my test drive of 38.7mpg.

Only 10% of Punto Evo customers are expected to go the diesel power route but Fiat are famous for their MultiJet engines and the new model showcases the latest improvements to the 1.3-litre unit. This is available with the choice of two power outputs, 95 and 75bhp with fuel economy of 67.3 and 68.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 110 and 108g/km respectively.

The main technical change to MultiJet is to the fuel/air supply — it was five injections per cycle, now it's eight. So, lean and mean but new torque characteristics mean delivery can be 25% greater at low revs. My 95bhp test car returned 47.4mpg.

So how does the new 1.4 16v MultiAir Evo rate? On the plus side there's lower emissions, better fuel economy, higher level of specification for downsizing customers, improved quality, great new responsive engine, six-speed gearbox and improving service from dealers. Against? Firm ride, road noise intrusion, front quarter blind spots from the wide A-pillars and no ESP as standard.

It's a tough market, especially in the 'supermini' segment, with rivals like the Fiesta, Corsa and new Polo. However, with a much improved small car line-up, dealers now being 'star rated' for performance and with sales on the increase, Fiat looks to be on the way up and the Punto Evo should definitely help the evolution of the brand. — David Miles

Fiat Punto Evo Dynamic 1.4 16v MultiAir 5-door
| 13,695
Maximum speed: 115mph | 0-62mph: 10.8 seconds | Overall test MPG: 40.9mpg
Power: 105bhp | Torque: 96lb ft | CO2 134g/km | Insurance group 11