Fiat Abarth Punto: Expert Review
Watch Expert Review of Fiat Abarth Punto
Every now and then, one figures out he's stuck in a rut. The 9 - 5 is just another chore he does through the week. The salary is just a number that makes him smile for a day every month and slog for the rest.The food doesn’t tickle the taste buds no more - it is just something he consumes to survive. It is exactly at times like these that he wants to break free from the mundane and live it up a bit. He seeks adrenaline, he seeks thrill. Something that makes him feel alive, something that tells him that there’s more to life than paying the bills and taking care of the kids.
A rut is exactly what Fiat India is stuck in. An absolute lack-lustre line-up comprising of three cars (well, two if you consider the Avventura to be a Punto on steroids), deserted dealerships and a not so great reputation for service. What they needed was something peppy and pocket friendly à la the Panda. But they’ve gone ahead and taken the wraps of something that is the absolute antithesis of logic - the Abarth Punto. But then, if logic dictated decisions all the time - the world would be a really boring place, wouldn’t it?
The Abarth moniker means the friendly ol’ Punto means serious business. Does the scorpion sting? Let's find out!
The styling on the Abarth won’t be to everyone's taste. The Abarth is based on the Punto Evo, which in my opinion - isn’t the best facelift the Punto could have received. The docile face of the Punto made way for an angry eyed, wide mouthed face that was given a generous helping of chrome. One look at the Punto Abarth sold internationally and you’d realize our version looks rather tame in comparison. To add some oomph, Fiat did what any other teenager would do. Took it to the sticker shop. So now, there are stripes running from the hood to the tail, stripes across the length of the car with some Abarth lettering too. Oh, and there’s a Scorpion on the roof too. Because, why not? To complement these red stickers, the Abarth gets a couple of red accents along the front foglamps and rear reflectors, the wing mirrors are red and so is the grille surround. The front, especially in the rear view mirror looks like The Joker. It really does have a ‘Why So Serious?’ face.
The most delectable piece of hardware though, have to be the Abarth Wheels. The 16 inchers look absolutely smashing and considering that the car sits a whopping 30mm lower than the standard Punto Evo, the Abarth's stance is almost spot on. A couple of inches lower still and it would’ve been perfect! The wheels and the stickers grab just enough attention to distract you from noticing the chrome handles. The chrome looks totally out of place, it’d look much nicer if it was red (just like the other accents) or even body colored for that matter!
The Punto’s ‘mid-squat’ stance is clearly visible when viewed from the rear. The rounded edges on the bumpers and those vertical tail-lamps are exactly the same as the Evo. The one bit that wasn’t too much to my taste was the low-hanging exhaust. It could have been integrated much better into the overall rear-profile.
Fiat wants us to believe that this car is a true, hot-blooded Abarth. It has gone the whole hog and replaced every single Fiat badge with some Abarth ones. Stickers, wheels and exhaust aside the Abarth isn’t too different than the standard fare. But hey, it atleast has some go power to backup the show.
Step inside and a you’d instantly realize that the cabin is a very familiar place. Save for the updated upholstery, revised speedometer, Abarth scuff plates and the optional aluminium pedals - the interior is exactly the same as a standard Punto Evo Sport.
While the interiors definitely look much better than what the Punto originally debuted with, the quality has definitely dwindled. There are quite a few rough edges that need ironing out and it is far from being a well-built place to be. The lower half of the dash, the lid on the central storage space and even the glovebox feels flimsy. The switches and knobs feel slightly plasticky too; especially the ones on the centre console.Inconsistent quality apart, the design is pleasing. The ambient lighting around the dash makes it look super classy. The lighting is orange that goes well with the orange backlight on the MID and the Infotainment System. It could’ve been red since there's a ton of red splattered all over the exterior.
The centre console is enveloped in Piano Black, and you guessed it - is a fingerprint and dust magnet. It houses the integrated music system with a USB, AUX and Bluetooth as well. Audio quality from the speakers is just about average, nothing to write home about. The slab sided climate control interface looks out of place amongst the otherwise flowy design of the dash; but it does do its job pretty well.
There’s black everywhere, including the headliner! The seats are upholstered in what might look like Alcantara at first glance, but is just fabric with a slightly fuzzy texture. The red and yellow double stitch on the seats complement the only other thing laced with the same colors - the instrument cluster. Although the shape and size is identical, the dials themselves see a redesign. There’s some Abarth lettering right at the centre above the MID and two large dials that house the speedo and the tacho.
The steering wheel too is exactly the same, with contours at ten and two. It’s a beautifully sculpted leather wrapped unit, something that you’d be holding with a wide grin on your face. The steering can be adjusted only for rake and not for reach, but, more on that later.
The front seats aren’t the most comfortable of the lot. They are slightly stiff. While lower back support is really good, underthigh support will be an issue if you are a tall bloke. And the Punto isn’t really known for driver-oriented ergonomics. I was hoping this would change with the Abarth, but it sadly isn’t the case. It will take fairly long to get into a comfortable position. When you do manage to get the seating just right, you’d realize the steering doesn’t have adjust for reach. The result is a driving position that is slightly compromised, more often than not with the steering wheel slightly closer to the chest than one would like. Also, the knees would be pointing upwards. Our friendly Assistant Editor Abhishek summed it up in one line ‘ You tend to sit on this seat; not snugly in it’. I believe that wraps it up quite well. I for one would’ve loved a more engaging driving position, this one tends to get slightly uncomfortable over long journeys.
The rear bench can house a couple of healthy adults. Legroom is strictly average and almost negligible if either in the front seat are six footers. The all-black theme might make you feel slightly claustrophobic too. Other than that, there are enough cubby holes for your knick-knacks and there’s a 280 litre boot too.
Fiat have done just enough to distinguish the Abarth from the run of the mill Punto on the inside. Yes, it could have done a few things better, but the complaints are just irritants and not deal breakers in anyway. The real reason you pay over a million rupees for this car sits comfortably under the hood anyway.
How’s it to drive?
Mouth-watering. That’s what it is. Indian motoring enthusiasts must have possibly wiped the floor with their drool when they had a good look at the Abarth’s spec sheet. If you do everything right, Fiat claims the mean little Punto can cover a kilometer in a shade over 30 seconds. If that isn’t fast, I don’t know what is.
Under the hood sits a 1.4 litre turbocharged motor. A motor whose sole purpose in life is to bald the tyres on the car it is plonked into. There is so much torque, the Abarth Punto will torque steer in the first couple of gears. One really has to wrestle the steering to get the car to behave and go in the direction he wants it too. Throttle inputs have to be judicious if you want a fast launch. However, if you are hell bent on shifting at the absolute redline, you’d get wheelspins in 3rd gear as well. The diesel like torque is mind-boggling to say the least.
Being a turbo-charged unit, turbo lag is inevitable. All of the 212 Nm of torque is generated at 2000 rpm; upto which there is noticeable laziness from the engine. Move past that however and the engine does not disappoint one bit. It pulls relatively cleanly all the way upto a 6500 rpm redline. The tacho is more than willing to do the dance once again when you swap cogs. The Abarth is really good at masking the speeds it is doing. Unless you pay attention to the speedo you won’t realize that you are possibly doing in excess of 120 km/h in 3rd gear.
This is where my two biggest grudges with the Abarth lie. Let’s start with the more irritating of the lot - the ‘rubbery’ gearshift. A couple of questions then. Does it dampen the overall experience? - Yes. A lot? - No. There’s that bit of rubbery resistance before the gear slots in. It tends to take away from the experience of being in charge. A slick shifting gearbox with shorter throws would have made the Abarth irresistible in my books. The second bit is the noise that the engine makes. There’s absolutely nothing there. If I were to buy the Abarth, an aftermarket exhaust would be on the top of my ‘To-Get’ lists. The exhaust is weirdly muted for something that packs so much power.
The steering feel and feedback more than makes up for it though. Being a hydraulic unit, it really does communicate to you when you show the Punto some twisties. The average joe who is now accustomed to over-assisted electric power steerings might find the steering a tad bit too heavy, but it really does have the right amount of weight for the corners. When you dive into a corner, there’s no fuss, no drama. The driver commands and the machine obeys. As simple as that.
Weirdly though, the steering felt slightly twitchy when the needle went well past 120 km/h. The suspension is dropped by a good 30mm compared to the standard Punto and ground clearance now stands at 155mm. However there still is a considerable gap between the wheel arch and the tyres themselves. While the lower ride height has managed to negate the plaguing body roll of the standard car, it does tend to be a bit too stiff for simply ambling about in the city. The ride quality is compromised for performance. As they say, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Stopping duties is taken care of by disc brakes all round. The brakes have the right amount of bite. Moreover, the pedal response is almost spot on. You know exactly how hard you’ve dropped the anchors and that really inspires a lot of confidence when you need to shed some speed going into a corner or come to a dead halt altogether. Under hard braking, it does squirm a little and gets out of line a tad bit as well.
On the safety front, you get ABS with EBD and a couple of airbags.We would've loved to see the Punto equipped with more safety tech like ESP and Traction Control. Purists will love the fact that there aren't any electronics interfering between the man and the machine, but not everyone might be as skilled a driver. For anyone wanting to buy this car and drive it like it is supposed to, one word of advice : Respect the car and it will reward you. Drive it like a lunatic and it will make sure it stings you back.
What is this car all about? Performance, performance and some more performance! With the Abarth Punto, Fiat hopes to regain some lost ground and establish itself again as a mainstream player. At 9.95 lakhs ex-showroom, the Abarth Punto is amongst the best weekend toys one can put their money on. I say weekend car only - purely because one wouldn't really be able to enjoy all the 145 horses while on a dreary office commute. It needs an open stretch of road to stretch it's legs, while you hold on to the steering for dear life. Credit where it's due - What Fiat have done, is bring performance to the masses! Hallelujah!