BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Some facelifts work better than others. You've only got to look at the state of Michael Jackson's nose to figure that one out. The same goes for cars too. There are hits, misses and maybes. Into the latter category we can probably put Fiat's facelifted MK2 Punto, launched in 2003. The sharp styling of its predecessor was rounded off but there were a whole host of other changes that were far more agreeable. Buying a used Fiat isn't the gamble it used to be and the MK2 Punto has gained a reputation as one of the better built superminis, an impression the post-2003 cars bolstered.
Models Covered: Punto - 2003-to date, three and five-door hatchbacks (1.2 8v. 1.2 16v, 1.4, 1.8, petrol, 1.3, 1.9 diesel [Active, Active Sport, Dynamic, Sporting, HGT] )
Although this model is fundamentally the same as the Punto launched in early 2000, there are some noteworthy changes worth mentioning. A facelift, new Multijet diesel engines and new trim levels were brought in to improve the Punto's standing. Models from this period onward are branded Active Plus, Active Sport, Dynamic, Eleganza, Sporting and HGT. A special edition Punto 'Xbox' was launched in 2005 to coincide with the launch of the Forza driving game for the Microsoft Xbox console. This and another special 'Sole' version helped keep sales reasonable but when the longer wheelbase Grande Punto was announced in early 2006, it was clear that this Punto's days were numbered. The range was cut back for the run-out with only 1.2-litre engined models available.
What You Get
Most will notice the larger clear-lensed headlamps, the three-part under-bumper grille that received mixed reviews and the rather neater treatment to the rear end. Of more consequence are a trio of engines that merit closer investigation. First up is a 95bhp 16-valve 1.4-litre petrol powerplant offered with the Sporting model that plugged the yawning gap between the 80bhp and 130bhp petrol engines existing in the original post-2000 Punto line-up. Of more interest to British motorists were the 'Multijet' diesel engines of either 70bhp or 100bhp output. It's worth remembering at this point that it was Fiat who popularised the notion of common-rail diesel engines and here, the concept was taken a step further. Whereas conventional Fiat common-rail diesel engines fire two squirts of fuel into the combustion chamber for each cycle of the cylinder - a small 'pilot' shot followed by the full injection of fuel - Multijet adopts an altogether more sophisticated approach. Depending on variables such as engine temperature and throttle opening, Multijet can fire anything up to five injections per cycle. The amount of fuel entering the engine doesn't exceed first generation common-rail, but it can be tailored to burn more efficiently which in turn purports to decrease noise, vibration, carbon dioxide emissions and overall fuel economy. Impressive stuff. The interior benefits from Fiat's post-2003 drive to endow the Punto with a more upmarket look and feel. Two tone dashboards give the car an airier feel than its predecessor and dual-zone climate control will be fitted to many cars you'll find. A fascinating piece of electronics is the Connect OBN system, an optional off-board navigation system. Rather than rely on the more usual CD-ROM of information that invariably fails to mention a newly-built motorway or terminates as you cross a national border, Connect OBN instead uses information stored centrally. Users pay a nominal fee every time they download a route and it keeps costs down.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Though build quality was much improved in post-2003 Puntos, it still wasn't quite up to VW standards. Still, used values for this car are quite a way below Volkswagen's and in terms of value for money, it's tough to fault this Italian take on Supermini motoring. Later models never attracted lunatic drivers and the interior quality is significantly better than Puntos of yore. Diesel-engined variants are especially rugged mechanically.
(approx based on an 1.2 Active Sport inc VAT) An alternator is around £78, front brake pads are around £35 for a set, a rear exhaust section should be about £61 and a headlamp is around £82. Expect to pay around £7 for an air filter and about £15 for a fuel filter, about £6 for an oil filter and about £4 for spark plugs.
On the Road
Even the 70bhp 1.3-litre Multijet feels keen to rev whilst offering class competitive refinement at idle. It'll notch a sprint to 60mph off in just over 13 seconds and you won't need to furiously work the gearlever either, the powerband being wider than the modest output would lead you to believe. With an overall fuel consumption figure of 63mpg and miserly emissions of just 119g/km, it's proven popular, especially when you factor in Euro4 compliance which slashed another 3% off Benefit In Kind taxation for company car users. Those looking for a little more zip will prefer the HGT-badged 1.9-litre 100bhp car that features more torque than a 180bhp Audi TT. The Punto's ride and handling also came in for a little attention in the post-2003 improvements, Fiat's chassis engineers keen to improve the high-speed ride of the car without compromising its essential perkiness. Tweaks to the dampers and the torsion beam rear suspension can be felt over motorway expansion joints, this car swallowing up such intrusions with far more panache than its predecessor.
The post-2003 Punto is an intriguing proposition. Serious depreciation has eaten into its valuation and a used example can be had for less than you may think. Get over the fact that it is possibly not as pretty as the car it replaced and you'll end up with a supermini that's still got plenty of life left in it.