Stand up the following and come to the front of the class to meet your new rival: Volkswagen Polo, Hyundai Getz, Citroen C3, Peugeot 206. And you'd better watch out, 'cos the new boy on the block comes in big on features, and very competitive on pricing.
Yes, the Fiat Punto is one of the best products to come out of the Italian stable, with looks that are cute and modern, and with its prices starting at R109 000 it will prove a tough act to follow.
There are two body shape options, a sporty 3-door and family-oriented 5-door, and three engines - 1.2-litre petrol, 1.3-litre turbo-diesel, and 1.8-litre petrol - and all feature the latest technology.
The diesel in particular impresses as it's the first car in this segment to feature Multijet common rail technology, which means quieter running, better fuel economy, and good driveability.
In addition there are three specification levels - Active, Dynamic and HGT (the latter meaning "sporty") - with the first two applicable only to the 5-door versions and the latter to the single high performance 3-door.
Active models come standard with dual front airbags, remote central locking with rolling code immobiliser, electric front windows, air conditioning, electric power steering with CITY function (this makes the steering lighter for parking and town use), a built-in radio/tape with six speakers, height adjustment and adjustable lumbar support for the driver's seat, and 14 inch steel wheels with 165/70 R14 tyres.
The Dynamic specification moves the goal posts further, converting the radio/tape to a radio/front loader CD player, with satellite controls on the steering wheel, plus ABS braking with electronic brake force distribution, front fog lights, and 14 inch alloy wheels plus wider 185/60 R14 tyres.
There's also a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat (it's one-piece on Active models) plus
On the range-topping HGT we see an MP3 player with sub-woofer added to the audio system, a leather covered steering wheel rim and gear knob, cruise control, side airbags, electronic stability control (ESP), automatic climate control for the aircon, a tailgate spoiler, and 15 inch wheels shod with 185/55 R15 tyres.
Of particular interest is that Fiat has found space for a full-size spare wheel for all models, and all cars come with Fiat's "info centre" trip computer as well as remote opener for the tailgate.
The Punto - which sells around 500 000 a year worldwide - arrives in South Africa fresh from its latest European upgrade. The front is strong and stylish, with the rear dominated by the high-mounted tail, brake and reversing lamps.
The sporty HGT boasts a dynamic front end with three air intakes with honeycomb grilles on the bumpers, followed through by similar vents in the rear bumper.
Both three- and five-door models are dominated by a distinct crease line down the side of the Punto originating from the front wing and dissipating at the rear.
Inside the controls are well positioned for ease of use, and we see an instrument cluster with multifunction display, as well as speedo and revcounter, plus a digital clock.
The dashboard has no sharp edges to its modular design and is finished in black and grey on the Active versions and all black on Dynamic versions, with the HGT getting silver trim.
Plastics are mainly soft-touch, and standards of finish are high for this segment of the market.
As mentioned there are three engines. The smallest is a 1.2-litre 16-valve unit that gives amazing performance for its size. In fact, it feels as lively as some 1600s we have driven, even at the power-sapping Reef altitude, and we were very impressed by its performance.
The 1 242 cm3 power unit features 16 valves and double overhead camshafts, plus electronic multi-point sequential phased integrated electronic fuel injection.
It also has a drive-by-wire throttle driven by the ECU to regulate torque delivery in accordance with the driver's varying requirements. The engine produces 59 kW at 5 000 r/min and 114 Nm at 4 000 r/min.
Fiat says that at sea level the 0-100km/h sprint is dispatched in 11.4 seconds and that it has a top speed of 172 km/h. Fuel consumption figures are also among the best in the segment: 7.6 litres/100km for an urban cycle, 4.8 litres/100km for the out of town cycle and a combined cycle of 5.8 litres/100km.
The car rides very well, and handling is good, though compromised to some extent by the relatively high profile tyres on Active models, with some body roll in high speed cornering.
Talking point of the Punto range is the 1.3 JTD Multijet featuring Fiat's state-of-the-art 1.3-litre 16-valve Multijet engine.
Fiat says this engine is the smallest and most advanced second generation common rail direct injection diesel engine and features multi-point injection, 16 valves, an intercooler and a particularly efficient combustion chamber shape. When clad with all its accessories it weighs only 130 kg.
The Multijet system gives more precise injection of fuel, and also leads to much quieter running.
From the outside you can hardly tell the difference between the diesel and its petrol siblings, and it's DEFINITELY quieter than any of the opposition, particularly the noisy Polo TDI!
On the road it comes across as a VERY flexible and exciting unit, the turbo-charger compensating for high altitude power loss and giving better performance than is theoretically more powerful 1.2-litre brother.
Particularly impressive, again especially against the Polo, is that power delivery comes from really low down the rev range, resulting in virtually no turbo lag.
The 1.3-litre Multijet engine delivers 51 kW at 4 000 r/min and 180 Nm at just 1 750 r/min. It allows the Punto 1.3 JTD Multijet a top speed of 164 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 13.4 seconds. Fuel consumption figures are among the best in the segment with a combined cycle of 4.5 litres/100km.
The range-topping 1.8 HGT is a really sporty model. Its wider low profile tyres give a more sporty feel and very neutral handling, while the ESP traction control and stability control programme ensures safety at high speeds and in difficult situations.
I really enjoyed driving this one - even at the Reef it was quick off the mark, while overtaking ability is at the "point and squirt" level - pull out, overtake and return to the left-hand-side quickly and safely.
The high-tech petrol engine features twin overhead cams with variable valve timing and a variable length inlet manifold to combine high-end performance with low-range flexibility.
As a result, 90% of the torque peak is available between 1 800 and 6 500 r/min. That peak is 164 Nm available at 4 300 r/min and combined with 96 kW at 6 300 r/min, the Punto HGT accelerates to 100 km/h in 8.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 205 km/h.
Fuel consumption figures are as low as 6.4 litres/100km for the out of town cycle and 8.3 litres/100km on a combined cycle.
All models are fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox, although the Punto Speedgear CVT automatic gearbox is being considered for introduction later.
Managing director Giorgio Gorelli said the Punto - which is fully imported - adds another piece to the Fiat SA marketing plan, where it is a particularly important model as it gives the company the opportunity to operate in a segment where it is among the best-qualified in the world.
1.2 16V Active (five-door) - R109 000
1.2 16V Dynamic (five-door) - R127 000
1.3 JTD Active (five-door) - R116 000
1.3 JTD Dynamic (five-door) - R134 000
1.8 HGT (three-door) - R147 000