When talking cars, 'performance' and 'budget' are two words that you don't often mention in the same breath. Especially in our part of the world. There's always a compromise that you have to make, either in the name of family needs, practicality or fuel-economy. However, there's always an exception. And in this case, it's the hot hatch segment.
We got our very first taste of a hot hatchback almost a decade and a half back when Fiat introduced the famous Palio 1.6 GTX. Back then, the GTX was the Usain Bolt amongst the mundane point A to point B hatchbacks. And in the modern era too, it's Fiat who has decided to let its Italian performance brand, the Abarth, take the hot-hatch legacy forward in India.
That's exactly why we have this matte grey Punto Evo back on our website. When launched this festive season, it will be called the Abarth Punto Evo, and in this fiery avatar, it just looks smashing hot. Although the design stays largely unchanged from the Punto with Fiat logos, the special paintjob - tastefully garnished with orange decals - gives this Italian beauty its own identity. Plus, that famous scoprion logo on the hood does give you a hint of something powerful lurking underneath, and the Abarth designed 16-inch wheels look aggressive, adds to the sporty looks.
Apart from the sporty touches, Fiat India has also kept in mind Indian customer's love for chrome. There is enough chrome on the grille, the bumpers and door handles to keep the bling-loving audience happy. The sportier theme continues on the inside with an-all black colour theme for dashboard and seat fabrics. Plus, the seats and the instrument cluster get a yellow and red colour finish (colours from the Abarth logo), adding some flair to the otherwise largely unchanged design.
Now coming to the most important change in the Punto that makes it so special - the engine. The turbocharged 1386cc motor is the same that motivates the Linea T-jet, so you know the guys at Fiat in India had a strong base to work with. However, they didn't just plonk the T-jet motor from the Linea into the Punto without any modifications. The engineers decided the Abarth Punto needed more power and that's why, in its current state of tune, the engine makes around 145bhp and has 211Nm of pulling power.
After that visual treat inside out, and that impressive spec sheet, there's a bit of anticlimax once the motor is started. You would expect a loud roar or at least a deep rumble from the exhaust. But, what you greeted to is a quite, refined sounding engine. As we move out of the parking lot and make our way through city roads, the Punto sounds calm and composed. Nothing unusual again.
But sanity last only till we find an open highway and floor the pedal. As expected there was a bit of turbo-lag until the needle reached 2000rpm, but once past that, it feels like someone's hit the fast forward button. A sprint to 100kph from standstill comes in 9.41sec - making it the first of the mainstream hatchbacks to crack the 10second barrier. And if the right pedal is buried to the floor, the Abarth Punto will quickly cross 180kph.
In case you are wondering, the brakes have been worked on too. The Abarth Punto comes with disc brakes on all four wheels, with ABS and EBD as standard. Surely those numbers are impressive but straight-line top speed means nothing in the real world. Out on the road a lot depends on how the car behaves around corners.
Once we are done with those silly thrills of sudden bursts of speeds, we head out to some winding roads. Turning into a tight corner and there's a bit of understeer before the grippy tyres take total control and the Punto maintains its set course. The steering is not buzzing with feel like it used to in the earlier car but it is precise. There are some sideways movements around corners but not once did it lose it composure.
Speaking of composure, we were expecting the ride to be stiffer, especially with a 30mm drop in ground clearance. But we are happy to say that's not the case. Although spring ratings have been tighten a bit, the ride is supple while driving on straights or going over bumps. Though there's a drop in ground clearance it still high enough (155mm) for the underbelly to not leave its mark on the speed bumps.
The versatile trait of the Abarth Punto Evo is what makes this package so attractive. It's been developed in India, which means most components have been sourced from Fiat's existing parts bin. So expect this hot hatch to be priced aggressive and should sit somewhere under the Rs 10 lakh ex-showroom bracket.
Leaving performance aside what makes us fall in love with this car is\: if you remove the fancy badging this is an ordinary looking hatch. It can carry four adults in relative comfort along with luggage. It does 11kpl (city and highway combined) which means you don't need to own a petrol pump to pay for those fuel bills. Though it has 145 horses under the hood it is fairly easy to drive in the city. But when that light turns green, and traffic fades way in the rear-view mirror, you know the Abarth Punto Evo is something special.
SpecsIn-line, 4cyl, 1386cc, 145bhp, 211Nm, 0-100kph\: 9.41s, 30-50kph in 3rd\: 3.91s, 30-50kph in 4th\: 7.48s, 50-70kph in 5th\: 9.46s, top speed\: 180kph (approx.), fuel efficiency\: 11kpl (overall), Price\: Rs 10 lakh, ex-showroom (estimated).