Fiat has (again) revised its Grande Punto range, which sees the stylish hatchback gain a hot new turbocharged powerplant.
I was a bit panicked when I saw that Fiat was punting its new flagship T-Jet Grande Punto as a performance car in the sub-R180 000 segment. It makes only 88 kW, after all, I thought.
Until it dawned on me; this is the same engine as the one used in the Bravo. That motor, although in a different state of tune, thoroughly impressive the Wheels24 team, so in the Grande Punto it couldn't be too bad then.
But the new engine is really the cherry on top of a revised Grande Punto range. Although Grande Punto received a mid-life tweaking at the end of 2007, the two turbodiesels - the five-door 1.3 M-Jet and the three-door 1.9 M-Jet - now fall away to be replaced by three new petrol models.
The 1.4 T-Jet motor (available in Dynamic and Sport trim levels) powers the flagship models, while the three-door 1.2 Active, also a new addition, becomes the base model.
The new generation turbocharged 1.4-litre used in the range-toppers produces 88 kW at 5 000 r/min and peak torque of 206 Nm of which practically all is available from 1 700 r/min.
On the drive through the generally oxygen-poor Highveld, the little engine proved most entertaining. Power delivery is smooth and almost effortless and it really does perform like a little pocket rocket.
And even though the Grande Punto's suspension and chassis have been left unchecked, it handles so convincingly that, even though it was raining or drizzling along most of the launch route, the little car's composure remained rock-solid.
A useful five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and while not the slickest around, is more than ample for pottering about the suburbs or in town.
Fiat claims a top speed of 195 km/h and acceleration to 100 km/h is reportedly achieved in 8.9 seconds. Fuel consumption on a combined cycle is quoted as 6.6 l/100 km, while CO2 emissions are 155 g/km.
But as well as being kinder to the environment, the engine is also apparently designed to be more efficient and only requires its first check-up after 30 000 km. According to Fiat, no intermediate servicing is required, which should hopefully reduce the time required checking your beloved wheels into the shop…
New entry-level mark, too
Turning our attention to the new entry-level seems a bit anti-climactic, what with it producing a mere 49 kW at 5 000 r/min and 102 Nm at 3 000 r/min. The entry-level model was not available to drive on the launch, however, in the "current economic climate," Fiat sees good reason to re-introduce its eight-valve 1.2-litre engine.
In the Grande Punto, this engine consumes 5.9 l/100 km on a combined cycle.
Interestingly, while the Grande Punto range was facelifted in 2007, this year sees the car's interior gain new upholstery and colours, different surfaces for the facia and a new instrument panel with chrome rings.
And while it may the be entry-level model, the three-door 1.2 Active comes stocked with dual front airbags, ABS with EBD, remote central locking, power steering, (front) electric windows and mirrors, and a trip computer.
The 1.4 T-Jet Dynamic's kit adds air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system with steering controls, height-adjustable driver’s seat, rear headrests, six airbags, ESP (which is permanently engaged) with traction control and Hill Holder, colour-coded door handles and mirrors, and 15-inch alloys.
To top that, the three-door 1.4 T-Jet Sport gets Dynamic spec but adds a centre armrest, front fog lamps, auto-locking doors, side skirts, a rear spoiler, leather steering wheel and gear knob, and 17-inch alloys.
The range of options is exhaustive.
In SA, Fiat offers a three-year/100 000 km warranty and a standard five-year/90 000 km service plan. All new models are covered by AA Fleetcare roadside assistance for 12 months.
1.2 3-dr Active – R118 000
1.4 5-dr Active – R132 800
1.4 5-dr Dynamic 16v – R162 900
1.4 T-Jet 5-dr Dynamic – R183 600
1.4 T-Jet 3-dr Sport – R191 900