Fuel-saving sporty drive
Posted on: 19th Sep 2012
With oil prices remaining stubbornly high, car manufacturers have directed their energies to eking out more miles per gallon.
Few have been as successful in this manner with the traditional internal combustion as Fiat with the revolutionary TwinAir engine, which debuted in the little Fiat 500.
But can a two-cylinder engine pull along a larger car and passengers whilst at the same time delivering the required fuel economies? Yes, it can: enter the Punto TwinAir.
Design and Build
Let’s start with the looks and design; this is an Italian car after all, and that’s what they’re known for.
The Punto is an accomplished feat of design – certainly a contender, along with Citroen’s DS3, for the most stylish car in the supermini class. It’s not openly funky like the DS3; more understated, with flowing lines and a well-planted stance.
It’s inside the TwinAir’s cabin, though, that things really click.
The sculpted dashboard and well-designed instrument binnacle flow across and around the driver and passenger and hint at a much higher class of vehicle.
It's more like a compact executive than a supermini.
The three-door model I drove had space galore for the driver and passenger, although the rear bench is more restricted.
Extensive use of soft-touch fabric and quality materials add to the superior feelin.
There’s an absence of hard plastic and cheap chrome-effect that deadens the interior of many cars. Build quality is very good.
The refreshed new Punto range has been sympathetically treated, with looks toned down somewhat from its predecessors.
Vibrant new colour schemes include Tango Red and Brit Pop Blue.
The bumpers are now body-coloured across the range. The 275-litre boot is decent enough, holding a golf bag and weekend luggage with ease.
But what about that downsized engine? Can it cope? Yes, it can. The TwinAir engine generates an extra 16PS over the Punto entry level 1.2-litre model. The TwinAir engine – it generates highly efficient combustion by managing and controlling air intake – has enough vitality to make driving interesting whilst banking those fuel efficiency savings. The official combined figure is 67 mpg, but I don’t think that is achievable anywhere outside of a test track. Drive carefully and you’ll be rewarded with anywhere somewhere between 55 and 60 mpg.
Here’s the rub, though: you need to drive it with efficiency in mind. If you rake the car about, you’ll neuter the engine’s fuel efficiency. To help you check your natural tendencies, the TwinAir features an ‘eco’ button that steps down the fizz.
This is obviously not a fast car, but it’s not a total slouch either: the sprint from 0 – 60 takes 12 seconds, and top speed is 107mph. It’s lively, fun to drive about town and Fiat has engineered the exhaust system to give it a satisfyingly throaty note.
It’s not much fun lugging five grown-ups up steep hills, but the trade-off is in the costs - great efficiency and free road licence.
Market and Cost of Ownership
At barely over £12,000 for the three-door and £12.7k for the five-door, the Punto is a good value proposition in this segment. It’s spacious, very well designed and is a large car for its class. It’s not the car in its class that boasts the most equipment, but at this price it doesn’t have to. For the record, modern media compatability, special 15-inch alloys, privacy glass and power steering are amongst the standard features. There’s a handy detachable sat nav on the options list.
Residual values should be good, and with no road tax to pay (C02 emissions are just 98g/km) and a low insurance group cost of ownership should be low.
The Punto TwinAir is a stylish alternative in the supermini class – and one that represents very good value. It will put position a young driver away from the boy racer or everyday shopper classes and into sophisticated Italian design territory; and that’s a very nice place to be. It’s never going to a fast car, but what it lacks in that department it more than makes up for in understated coolness and real character.
Add that to low running costs and, driven correctly, very promising fuel efficiency, and you surely have a recipe for success.