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Fiat Punto Evo 1.4 MultiAir
7/10

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Road Test

Fiat Punto Evo 1.4 MultiAir

Driven November 2009

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Shallow it may be, but did the Punto really need facelifting? The sleek little Grande Punto has always been one of the finest-looking city cars and - though these things are subjective - I can't help thinking they've made this, the revised Punto Evo, just a bit uglier.

In an attempt, presumably, to bring the Punto in line with the cheeky-faced 500, the Fiat designers have treated the Evo to a gawping mouth and a pair of chrome whiskers, giving it the unsettling face of an Evil Kitten Clown. Though it's hardly a minger, it has certainly lost some of the old car's elegant mini-Maserati styling.

Thankfully there's plenty of goodness hiding beneath the new, scarier face. As well as a slightly stiffer chassis, improved sound deadening and more safety kit, the Punto Evo gets the same 133bhp MultiAir turbo petrol engine we drove last month in the Alfa Mito. MultiAir is a deeply complicated new take on variable valve technology, packed with things like ‘balancer poppets' and ‘throttle-independent intake valves' which allow more sophisticated, variable timing for improved performance, economy and emissions. The 133bhp MultiAir Punto - there's a 104bhp version, too - will hit 62mph in 8.5secs while returning 51mpg and 129g/km of CO2.

Those are impressive numbers, and the MultiAir engine is just as impressive on the road, with sharp throttle response and loads of torque even at low revs. Other bits of the Punto Evo aren't quite so great. Even before you engage the super-light ‘city' mode, the steering is over-light, and the five-speed box is woollier than a spin-dried ewe. Strangely, the 95bhp MultiJet diesel Punto we tested had a much cleaner six-speed box and sharper steering.

Neither petrol nor diesel Punto is as sharp in its responses as the Ford Fiesta, which turns in and grips much harder where the Punto reverts to understeer and anguished tyre squeal. But even on 17-inch wheels, it rides smoothly and absorbs bumps well, with road noise well suppressed.

The revised cabin is a huge step up, especially in higher-spec ‘Sport' versions, which get all sorts of soft-touch panels and even some stitchy leather, all with a level of luxury way above the Fiesta. Better still, Fiat says the Punto Evo won't cost any more than the current Grande Punto when it goes on sale in January, which is nice of them.

But here's the strange thing. For the next couple of years, Fiat will continue to sell the old Grande Punto - with the old Grande Punto engines - alongside the Punto Evo, likely in proper penny-pinching student spec. Which, if your heart is set on a Punto, makes for a tricky decision: the cleaner, faster, quieter, uglier Evo, or the dirtier, slower, noisier, prettier Grande? Is it wrong that we're torn?

Sam Philip

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