The Fiat Punto is dead. Today (7th August 2018) the top brass at Fiat HQ have pulled the plug on their small-but-not-as-small-as-the-500 hatchback. For 25 years the Fiat Punto has been a relative mainstay on our roads, but now it’s set to be consigned to the history books with the unfortunate legacy of being the one and only car to ever receive zero stars from professional car-crunchers, EuroNCAP.
So that’s it, the Punto is no more. Fiat will instead continue to focus on the 500, the 500L and the 500s (electric) and the 500 Giardinera, which is a small estate and is penned in for 2019. Bafflingly, the Tipo remains in production.
So is that it, then? Should we just walk on by the Punto and let it shuffle off its metallic coil? No, actually. Because despite the scaremongering and the poor crash-test ratings, the Punto wasn’t a bad car. It was getting a bit long in the tooth, yeah, but as a means to get about it really wasn’t all that offensive. We used to have one as a company car and we actually quite liked it.
The Punto was, like most other small hatchbacks, the product of years of refining and fettling. It was released in 1993 remember, and has been through three generations. Unlike other hatchbacks, however, that fettling stopped in 2005 and was instead replaced with the occasional change of alloy wheels, trim or engine, rather than presenting itself as a bold leap forward in the car’s development.
But that’s not the Punto’s fault, that’s Fiat’s fault. The Punto was, and still is, a trier. It knew it could never compete with the Fiesta or even the Corsa (which is ironic given the shared platform), but it still did its best to get your attention. The Punto has always been a bit left-field, a bit different from the norm without straying so far away from it that it’s an unreasonable proposition. We like that.
And that 2005 onward model is what we’re looking at here. The first-generation is a belter if you can find a Turbo. The second generation can get in the sea, however, due to having those stupid headlights that always dazzle oncoming traffic. Hateful. That just leaves the third-gen, ’05 onward model.
Unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2005, the Giugiaro-styled Grande Punto as it was known was a much softer car than the chiselled, angular second-generation car. Its curves and softer edges made it more approachable and more friendly, which may sound silly, but these things matter when you’re selling to families.
Underneath, the Grande Punto was nothing remarkable. It was pretty much ‘an car’ with nothing to get excited about. But that’s no bad thing, especially when you’re buying on a budget. You want your car to be trusty and reliable, not fancy and delicate. And the Punto was. Ignore people who tell you Fiats are unreliable. The Grande Punto seldom went awry, so long as it was serviced and looked after.
And not only that, the engines were good. The 1.2 65bhp four-pot petrol was no world beater, but the 1.4 was good and the 120bhp 1.4 turbo that arrived in 2007 was a little stormer. And if you wanted economy, the Grande Punto came in diesel flavour thanks to the tried and tested MultiJet range of engines. The only thing that let them down was the somewhat vague gearbox. Shame really, as a tighter ‘box could have really sharpened things up.
On the road, the Grand Punto (if you’re wondering about the name, it became the Punto again in 2012 – it’s the same car) was great, as we can attest. The chassis is keen and tight, the turn-in is sharp and direct and on the whole, the Punto can be pushed on with pleasure. It’s a fun, involving little car to drive. Especially if you pick one with a bit more power (looking at you, 1.4 turbo).
Inside, the Grande Punto was a nice place to be and it got better as the year progressed, even if the main architecture of the car didn’t. When it became the Punto again 2012, the interiors were smart, neat and hard-wearing, though for rear seat passengers things could be a little cramped.
So what about the elephant in this digital room, namely that crash-test result. Yes, it’s true, in 2017 the Punto was re-tested by EuroNCAP and it gave it zero stars. That’s bad. Very bad. But as with anything, there is a story here. We’ve read the report and there is no one sentence that condemns the Punto. It’s more a collection of things.
When EuroNCAP tested the Grande Punto back in ’05, which is still, nuts and bolts, the same car as tested last year, it awarded it the full five stars. So what happened? Well, the EuroNCAP goalposts moved, that’s what. As time and technology have advanced, so have the targets set by EuroNCAP. It’s evolution, new cars are being built with increasingly intelligent active safety systems, and as such, they have to be tested on those systems. The Punto – because Fiat spent £3 on its development in the last decade – has none of that clever tech. So, when it was re-tested, it failed. Spectacularly.
But it failed against its contemporaries. As a car, as metal and rubber, the Fiat Punto is still a tough little chap. If you hit a shrubbery you’re not going to be impaled by the steering rack. It will still protect you. It just doesn’t have the brains to help you avoid the crash in the first place, like every other new car.
So there you go. It’s not a deathtrap. It’s just a car that was ignored by its maker as it got old. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the Punto. It’s not a bad car, not by a long stretch.