Monday, 9 March 2015

REVIEW - Fiat Punto Jet Black II

The Fiat Punto is a car you don’t hear much about these days. The entire Fiat range seems to be based around the 500; they’ve recently added the 500X crossover to it as well. But a few year ago the old-shape Grande Punto was selling well. It was cheap to insure, cheap to buy and there were some decent engines on offer. It was a popular cam amongst young drivers. Well now Fiat have got a new-model Punto hoping to again appeal to the younger generation, Called the Jet Black II it aims to combine economy with style. So does it work? Well I got hold of one for a week to find out…

Looks – 7/10

The Grande Punto was a decent looking car, and the new Punto hasn’t changed all that much in terms of appearance. Being the Jet Black II edition you get some stylish features on the outside. The graphite 17-inch alloys are my favourite, but the Crossover Black metallic paint, privacy glass, darkened headlights and body-colouring are all nice too. Generally the lines are good, but there are a few issues. For starters the fog lights are in the wrong place. They just look odd. And the chrome tail pipe is the only interesting feature at the back too.

Inside the Punto is rather nice. The seats look supportive and stylish. The dashboard features curves, and is made of more high-quality looking plastics than in previous models. The steering wheel has a whiff of flat-bottomedness, and the trademark sporty perforation at either side. There’s even some ambient lighting found its way into the cabin, on the passenger side of the dashboard and in the interior door handles. The dials were a bit plain for my liking. Although Fiat have gone for a sporty red, there’s just not enough crispness to the colour, and they come off more like a dull orange. The gloss black radio surround is nice, but the simple orange text on the interior displays looks a bit cheap.

Handling/Performance – 3/10

I note that Fiat claim the Jet Black II combines style with economy, with no mention of performance. I now know why that is. The engine in the Punto is a 1.4-litre petrol engine, and it is one of the worst engines I’ve ever experienced in a modern car. You get 77PS. That’s it. Bear in mind that the TwinAir engines have 105PS, and they’re only 0.9-litres in capacity. Couple that to 115Nm and the resulting performance figures leave a lot to be desired. 0-62mph takes a glacial 13.2 seconds and the top speed is 103mph. You severely suffer on anything more than a ‘slight’ incline, and the engine is a noisy one too. What’s more, at 70mph in 5th gear you’re looking at 3,500rpm which is stupidly high. And it’s just unpleasant.

The handling does somewhat redeem the Punto. It corners well, with a decent turn in and reactive steering. It does lack feel- as do a lot of electric power steering systems- but this is a minor issue. The suspension setup is good; the Punto copes with bumpy roads well whilst avoiding becoming uncomfortable. The brakes are good too; very good in fact. But the problem is that after dealing with a corner rather well, you will be relying on the asthmatic engine to get you to the next one, so by the time you get there you’ll have given up and lost interest. It’s such a shame that Fiat didn’t put
the brilliant TwinAir engine in this car, or the 1.4-litre 16valve motor from the Grande Punto which came with a 6-speed gearbox.

Economy – 6/10

I’m a bit undecided on the economy side of things. There’s start/stop technology on the Punto Jet Black II which is in keeping with the image of efficiency. And when I tell you that the fuel consumption figures on a combined cycle are 49.6mpg, you will be impressed. And you’d be right to. But you see that only tells half the story. I struggle to understand why CO2 emissions are 132g/km even with the start/stop technology. Is the engine really that inefficient? And if so how does it achieve such reasonable fuel consumption? I still don’t understand it now. But I do know this. At 132g/km the Punto sits in VED band E. That’s £130 each year (including first year) and although that’s not the end of the world in terms of running costs, it’s also the same as our new Fiesta ST. And so is the fuel consumption, come to think of it…

Practicality – 7/10

The Punto is a decent sized car and although it’s only a 3-door it is rather good to live with. The boot is rather big, and is particularly deep. The cabin is spacious and with the tilt and slide front seats it’s easy to climb into the back. The seats are supportive and there’s plenty of tech to make life more pleasant. Fiat’s Blue&Me system is wonderful, and features hands-free Bluetooth and USB connectivity for iPod control. There’s dual-zone climate control and cruise control as standard too. But I’m afraid the Punto is spoilt by its engine. On the motorway the cruise control doesn’t help the noisy, over-revving lump, and means that the Jet Black II is rather tiresome on
a longer drive.

Fun – 5/10

I wanted to like the Punto Jet Black II. I learned to drive in a Grande Punto, and really wanted one as my first car. I very nearly bought a T-Jet model a couple of years back, but just couldn’t find one in the spec I wanted. I have a soft spot for this car, and appreciate what it has tried to do. And for me it only misses the mark from under the bonnet. If this had the T-Jet engine in it from the car I was going to buy, you’d be reading a very different review. As you would if it had the wonderful TwinAir. But instead I was left feeling that this car could have been much better. There’s some great kit in a rather stylish car, and lots of positives, but the negatives are hard to ignore. And after a long motorway drive I nearly resented it.

Concluding Remarks

So that sums up my week with the Fiat Punto Jet Black II. It has great equipment as standard, and is relatively cheap to run. The style is good too, and it should be cheap to insure. This will make is a great option for first time drivers who are looking for value and style. But it is let down by a poor engine which is inexcusable given the alternatives Fiat have in the parts department. If you’re less bothered about how it drives then you’ll probably find it a great car. And at £12,000 it’s certainly well-priced. What’s more, you don’t need any extras as the equipment list is comprehensive. But I’ll end on this. The Fiat Punto Jet Black II; it runs out of puff- literally- at the final hurdle to being a great car.

Total Score – 28/50

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