The two cylinder Fiat Punto TwinAir aims to demonstrate that downsizing to this extent works - and works well. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The latest Fiat Punto might have smartened its act up a bit on the aesthetic front, but the most interesting addition is the tiny 875cc TwinAir engine that's on offer. With 85PS on tap, there's enough about it to impress.
Fiat likes to keep us on our toes. Take the Punto for example. We were always fine with the Punto badge. It worked. Then Fiat decided to call the devilishly handsome thing it launched in 2005 the 'Grande Punto' and we shrugged, figured that it was OK to call it that because it was bigger and got on with it. Then, in 2009, it decided that it was going to be called the 'Punto Evo'. But just three years later, we've come full circle and returned to just 'Punto' with the latest model. So far, so Italian. Thankfully Fiat has been doing something other than sitting around in focus groups navel-gazing over names. It has plumbed the technically brilliant two-cylinder TwinAir engine, previously found in the 500, into the Punto. Can such a small engine power such a generously cut car? It's a valid question.
Downsizing engines is one of the most effective ways to improve a car's efficiency, on paper at least. There comes a tipping point where the engine is just too feeble to haul the car about with any verve, which means that economy then suffers as drivers are forced to leather the thing about at all times. I once drove a 1.8-litre petrol Freelander on a fast run to the south of France and returned worse fuel economy than the 3.9-litre V8 Range Rover that accompanied us, so I've seen this first hand. So does the 875cc engine in the Punto make any sense at all? It would appear to. Fiat's entry level 1.2-litre engine fronts up with just 69PS, so the additional 16PS of the TwinAir lends it a little in reserve and the fact that it generates a fairly meaty 103lb ft of torque at just 2000rpm will allow it to step off the line briskly enough. The baby twin has an in-built balancer shaft but, to finesse refinement further for the Punto, it gets a dual-mass flywheel, sits on a new design of engine mount and is surrounded by extra engine bay sound proofing. It's a really clever piece of technology, with an electro-hydraulic valve propulsion system which cuts pumping losses and improves efficiency by around 10 percent. While it's no ball of fire, the Punto TwinAir is capable of hitting 60mph in 12.3 seconds and run onto a top speed of 107mph.
Design and Build
The Punto is already one of the most handsome small cars on sale and the latest developments pare back a few of the excesses of the previous Evo model. The bumpers have been re-profiled and are now body coloured across the entire range. The colour palette has been adjusted too, with Brit Pop Blue, Tango Red and Underground Grey now offered. New designs of alloy wheel are also available. The interior looked quite good to begin with, so radical surgery hasn't been required. Instead Fiat has concentrated on improving materials quality with what they call 'sportier' seat fabric and 'refreshed' dashboard trim inserts. The sculpted dash and sparingly applied chrome details continue to hint at up-market aspirations, too. The quality of the plastics and fabrics used in the cabin are now agreeably impressive and the dashboard flows intricately around its consoles and air vents, chrome and gloss black inserts adding to the upmarket ambience. The control systems are easy to fathom and particular mention should go to the elegantly sculpted three-spoke steering wheel. The Punto is one of the larger cars in the supermini sector and with its lengthy wheelbase comes a spacious interior. The 275-litre boot isn't outstanding for the class but rear leg and headroom is very good indeed.
Market and Model
At just over £12,000 for the three-door model and a £600 premium for the five-door car, it's hard to argue with the Punto TwinAir's value proposition and Fiat dealers may well be able to knock a few quid off that if you ask nicely. For the price of many tiny city cars, you're getting a spacious and good looking supermini that offers a level of sophistication that's some way removed from your usual shopping hatch. In order to meet that price, the TwinAir's not the most lavishly equipped supermini, but you do get air conditioning, remote central locking, an MP3 compatible CD stereo, Dualdrive power steering, privacy glass, special 15-inch TwinAir alloy wheels and twin front and window airbags. You'll need to pay extra for side airbags, ESP stability control and sat nav.
Cost of Ownership
There's been some controversy over the smaller Fiat 500 TwinAir's published fuel economy figures, with many owners struggling to get anywhere near the claimed consumption numbers, so until we see some independent testing, I'd be inclined to take the reputed 67.3mpg figure put forward for this Punto TwinAir with something of a pinch of salt. Average around 55mpg and I think you'd be doing very well indeed. That's still extremely good for a sizeable supermini with a petrol engine and it's not that far shy of the Punto 1.3 Multijet diesel and a good deal quicker too. Emissions figures of just 98g/km are bound to put a smile on your face. Given that the Punto is not long out of a facelift, residual values look set to hold firm, especially with an engine as clean, efficient as characterful as the MultiAir. Group 13 insurance is hardly going to break the bank either. Fiat has also worked at reducing the cost of normal service items, the TwinAir featuring both hydraulic tappets and long-life spark plugs.
The Fiat Punto TwinAir is one of those cars that had to happen. The best looking car in Fiat's range is fitted with its cleverest and most efficient engine. What's not to like? Aside from the caveat about not getting too hung up on Fiat's optimistic-looking fuel economy figures, the TwinAir is a very appealing proposition. With 85PS on tap, it's never going to be a hugely quick car but the broad spread of torque belies the tiny swept volume of that two cylinder engine. The key quality this car boasts is simple likeability. It's good looking, the TwinAir engine sounds characterful and the pricing is competitive. The Punto might have evolved in a seeming haphazard manner, but the stars have aligned in a very positive way for the birth of the Punto TwinAir.