In the hot hatchback segment, Fiat Punto Evo despite its stylish design, high speed dynamics and wonderful ride quality, has lagged behind the Marutis and Hyundais. Reason? In this part of the world, average buyers especially in the budget segment, prioritise practicality and fuel economy to style and sportiness. Fiat forayed into the compact SUV segment by customising the Punto as Avventura – it competes with Maruti S Cross.
The latest offering from the Italian car maker has been planned again to impress the enthusiasts. Launched in the festive season of 2015, the Abarth Punto has been tuned to churn out 145 bhp (at 5500 rpm) with its 1.4 litre turbo petrol engine. It is mated to 5 speed manual transmission and has a torque of 21.6 kgm at 2000-4000 rpm. While in terms of engine specs (and also the price, the Abarth Punto comes quite close to Fiat Avventura, the former has some of its exclusive points to.
Ecardlr gets behind the wheel to get a feel of its performance on Indian roads. Here’s the complete report
The Outside Impression
Externally the newest version of Abarth Punto does not differ much from its regular avatar but it does get a wacky colour theme. There are two options available – Hip Hop Black and Pearl White. Both have red highlights and stickers. And on the hood you will find a big scorpion logo.
For those who may not know, the Scorpion stands for the zodiac symbol of Karl Abarth (the founder of this brand), and it also symbolises power & speed. The green, white and red shades above the scorpion symbolise the Italian flag. The emblem's shape actually looks like a shield that represents strength. And the two colours of the main badge - red and yellow - represent the affiliation of the brand with motorsports.
On the subtler side, the chrome treatment has left the front. Instead, this car has black grille and red fog lamp housing. The red decals all around the car may not be to everyone’s liking and Fiat could have made them optional. Wipers don’t have the rain sensing feature and outside rear view mirrors (ORVMs) are not electrically foldable but they do have integrated side turn indicators.
The length, width and wheelbase are same as for the Punto Evo but the Abarth Punto has a ground clearance of only 155 mm. It stands on H-O-T 16 inch Scorpion alloy wheels and the wheel well gap is small. Even the flap-type door handles of the car represent its shape. The side skirts are sporty and the Abarth sticker there does not bad either. There is a massive logo on the rooftop too.
Rear wheels get disc brakes. While the Apollo Alnac tyres are nice, the level of power that this car has, the 195 section rubber does not seem adequate for on-the-limit driving. Some may like to upgrade to 205 mm.
At the back, the long LED lights look good particularly when they are lit. There are several elements comprising the set up. The Scorpion logo as on the bonnet, sits on the boot too. Abarth does not use the Evo suffix for nomenclature of this car and therefore it just reads PUNTO. On the bumper there is just one reversing light (on the left side) and the one at the other end is a fog light.
The Inside Story
Like the 90HP version of Punto Evo, the Abarth also has all-black cabin but there are some subtle variations. The steering has a chunky grip and its buttons have click-y feel. On the instrument panel there are yellow rings and red needles. There is a digital MID between the speedo and tachometer. It has a clock, tells the outside temperature, the total distance travelled and the average fuel efficiency. A small storage drawer has been provided below the controls for the MID, headlamp levelling and fog lamps.
As has been the case with the Fiat cars, the ignition slot is located at an odd angle on the steering wheel column. Down below, the dead paddle is angled way too high and if you rest your left foot there, it may make your knee uncomfortable. The foot well feels rather restricted.
The seats are shared with Punto Evo with extra mesh for finer lumbar and under-thigh support. While these provide good lateral support, the driving position is not very ergonomic.
With the infotainment system, you get Bluetooth Voice Connect setup that lets you stream audio from your phone. The voice command system is easy to get used to and can read out the messages from your phone. Both the aircon vents in the centre of the dashboard can be shut-off individually. The piano black finish around them looks nice. There is a cup holder and slots for Aux and USB connectivity on the centre console – ahead of the gear lever stick.
The entire switch gear as also the audio and ACC controls stay backlit even while driving in daytime. You can also regulate the intensity of the dashboard backlight from the MID. It is only the ambient light that turns on when the headlamp is activated in dark. You will find an extra concealed compartment inside the glove-box and there is a light in this section. Seatbelts are height adjustable and grab handles are spring loaded.
On the rear seat, the legroom is limited but the bench offers adequate back and thigh support. Seatback pockets are given behind both the front seats. The glass on the rear windows cannot be rolled down fully and this may make some passengers feel claustrophobic.
Fiat Abarth Punto has 280 litres boot. The loading lip is high and lip area is well carpeted to avoid any scratches on the body while loading and unloading heavy things. The regular wheels are 16 inchers and the spare one is 195/60 15 inch unit.
Engine, Gearbox and Performance
This Fiat has the same 1368 cc turbo petrol engine that powers the Linea T-Jet but there are changes to boost the performance. So Abarth has larger VL38 turbo (as against the VL37 of Linea). What’s the outcome? 145 bhp at 5500 rpm and 21.6 kgm torque at 2000-4000 rpm. The company claims 0-100 km/hr acceleration time of 8.8 seconds. One thing is for sure – the Abarth is a fast car in its price bracket.
Crank up the engine – the throaty rumble or aural effect that you would normally expect from the exhaust is missing. The motor is really hushed and with that there is minimal (engine/ exhaust) sound in the cabin. There is mild vibration felt on the steering and seat base.
There is some turbo lag in the city – although the Abarth does not feel numb below 2000 rpm and has adequate pep to drive through the traffic, it is not as sharp as it is meant to be. The driveability in the city is fine but not unusual. It will be better to keep the engine above 1500 rpm because once it drops below that you will either need to have patience or downshift. Once you understand the behaviour, it will be easier to work around the turbo lag. The good part is that once the tachometer needle goes over the 1600 rpm, the turbo spools up and the Abarth Punto gets energetic. Beyond 1900 rpm, the motor begins to demonstrate its performance oriented nature. At 2300 rpm, it takes some effort to keep the car in line as there is much torque steer particularly in 1st and 2nd gears. To control this and to get better acceleration times, it is recommended to upgrade to 205 mm tyres.
The pushback in the seat action comes if you keep the accelerator pressed and there is plenty of zest on open roads. The power to weight ratio is 121 bhp to a ton. Abarth could have been even faster in the 0-100 km/hr dash if the second gear did not max out at 92 km/hr. On an ordinary cruise, the 100 km/hr comes at 2300 rpm in 5th gear and the hatch is in turbo zone at that point.
Overtaking is an effortless job. On the highways, the performance feels too sporty in 3rd and 4th gears. One will actually need to drive this car sedately. In the turbo zone, it goes past other vehicles on the road easily. The power tapers off near 6000 rpm. The engine that is silent at low revs gets audible in higher rev zone. But there is no sound from the exhaust as you would expect in a sport car.
Let’s talk about the transmission next. And there is nothing really good about it. The shifts are rubbery and the throws are on the longer side. It is not the sure slotting gearbox of Polo. This is what steals the experience of using a fast engine with manual gearbox. Considering its performance, the Abarth Punto should have had a slicker gearbox.
The clutch is also cumbersome. It is light – true but has a long throw. Most people will stall it as it does not offer feedback midway. The weird position of the dead pedal also makes the matter more complicated. It will be better to simply rest your foot on the floor.
Ride and Handling
The driving dynamics of Punto have always been admired, thanks to its wonderful chassis and suspension tuning. The quality of this engine only adds to the capability of Abarth. Fiat has also claimed to tweak the suspension a little.
It is a firm ride quality at city speeds and you get more feel of the road than in the Punto that rides on 15 inch wheels. But it is sufficiently compliant and normal potholes will not cause disturbance in the cabin. It is the sharp ones that result in some jerks. And then at higher speeds the Abarth impresses. You get flat ride quality and road irregularities do not disturb the car. With increase in speed it gets only better and bumps are discarded. There is hardly any vertical movement that is experienced in vehicles with softer suspension.
There is lesser body roll than in the regular Punto. For cornering, including hard cornering, its composure is appreciable. In this category, Abarth is like a more expensive car. It does not even give up on the intended line on the road and understeers strictly on the limit. So, is there anything bad about the ride quality? Yes – the tyres are not impressive and reach the limits of their ability earlier than the car does. Upgrading to 205 mm is highly recommended.
There are also some concerns on the 155 mm ground clearance – it is lower than most other hatchbacks have. The owners of regular Punto (and also Linea) often complain of underbelly scraping and this can be the case with the Abarth too.
Fiat Punto Abarth uses a hydraulic steering and it is a pleasure to use. For city driving it is on the heavier side and may not be to the liking of those who prefer a lighter, effortless EPS unit – the weight is felt even when you are parking the car or taking a U-turn. But then, this is a performance oriented car and once you get into a zesty driving mood, the heavy steering will give you all the feedback that you could have asked for. It is sharp and precise. The turning radius is 5 meters.
Brake quality again is good. Fiat gives disc brakes on all 4 wheels and they do inspire confidence to slow down the car and put it to a halt when it is needed.
With its turbo, the Abarth Punto has a fuel economy of 16.3 km/litre as certified by ARAI. But this is not practically achievable as not many owners will drive this car in a sedate fashion. Even the naturally aspirated versions of Punto have ARAI rating of 15.8 km/litre (1.2 litre engine) and 14.4 km/litre (1.4 litre engine). So in the fuel efficiency category, you cannot have high expectations from the Abarth Punto.
The Abarth Punto is a sporty hatch for which you don’t need to go on the wrong side of 15 lakhs. The crazy performance of 145 bhp engine and its amazing dynamics and stability make this car very interesting to drive. Braking ability also gets a thumbs up. The design with garish decals is not to everyone’s liking but those are some marks that indicate its sporty image.
If you don’t mind the rubbery gearshift and are interested in a high performance car instead of a regular hatch for daily commute, this one is custom built.
Price starts at Rs. 9.95 lakhs (ex showroom, Delhi)
Value for Money: 3.5/5