First drive: Fiat Punto Evo
If you see the word 'Evo' attached to a car's boot, you might well expect to be looking at an outrageously fast Mitsubishi Lancer. 'Evo' has long been a performance badge, but that hasn't stopped Fiat seizing it to describe the latest generation of its Punto supermini.
So this is not the result of a partnership with Mitsubishi and 'Evo' is not Fiat's new performance arm– that remains Abarth. Instead, 'Evo' simply signals that Fiat has updated and upgraded its popular supermini.
There is a new look of sorts, the Punto now sharing a few design elements with its baby brother the 500. The front end is where this is most evident, the two cars both featuring what Fiat calls a 'moustache' above the front grille, which is fashioned from chrome. But beyond this new front end and a redesigned back bumper, there is little that has changed in terms of looks.Instead it's under the bonnet that you'll that you'll find big, and useful, changes. An all new 1.4-litre 16 valve Multiair petrol offering either 105bhp or 135bhp power outputs, and an updated 1.3-litre 16 valve Multijet diesel with a 75 and 90bhp power choice join a modified version of the entry-level 1.4-litre 8 valve petrol. Fiat expects the two higher-powered petrol engines to be the best sellers, and it is easy to see why. These new Multiair engines feature a new, more technologically advanced valve management process that replaces the camshaft and is a first for a road car. The result is improved performance, reduced fuel consumption and lower emissions.
The pick of the Multiair pair is easily the higher-powered version as far as driver enjoyment is concerned, although it comes only as a three door and with the Sporting trim level. It is certainly nippy, even if it doesn't feel quite as fast as its 8.5 seconds 0-62mph time suggests. It is a beautifully revvy engine though, and it is more than happy to drop down a gear to nip past slower vehicles where required. It's disappointing to only find five gears rather than six, which this version could find useful on motorways.
The performance-oriented setup of the 135bhp engine is not achieved at the expense of economy – besides the inherent efficiency of the Multiair engine, fuel-saving start stop equipment is standard on every Punto Evo and helps limit emissions to 129g/km and fuel consumption at 50.4mpg. Surprisingly, this betters the lower-powered 105bhp petrol engine, which still manages an impressive 49.6mpg and 134g/km CO2. And that's despite the fact that it has the sixth gear that the 135bhp version could do with, and is noticeably slower.
The diesel engines are best described as worthy rather than exciting, but they do a good job of fuel saving. The 75bhp and the 90bhp versions manage fuel economies of 68.9mpg and 67.3mpg and emissions of 108g/km and 110g/km respectively, so they make good financial sense.
Unfortunately the day we tested the Punto was one beset by snow so we weren't able to test the handling as thoroughly as we'd like, but the steering wheel still managed to convey a feeling of vagueness. There's a disconcerting amount of play around the straight-ahead, and it's not as responsive as we'd like for a car that will spend much of its time nipping around in tight, urban spots.
The gearchange is little better sadly – it's imprecise and there's little of the positive action that you'll find in a Fiesta, say.
The poor gearchange is as disappointing as the cheap interior plastics. They feel brittle and look likely to show scratches and mark with age.
The financial argument is a tricky one, as the Punto Evo is not cheap – prices start at £10,995 for the basic model and rise to £15,595. However, the running costs are highly competitive and may make up for this. The Punto Evo's packaging and finish may not be the most impressive in its segment, but the engines compensate for it.