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When one car became too impractical for the two of us, my partner opted to buy her own. Her requirements were quite simple… it had to be: a) small, b) easy to park, and c) “funky” and young-looking.
With several cars in mind, eventually we settled, quite by accident, for some “Spirito Di Punto” (as the adverts promised us). We purchased a silver 1.2 3 door base model Punto, X registration (year 2000), for the princely sum of £3300 private sale, with 42,000 on the clock. As this was in 2003, the mileage was a little high, but as this was a second car; we knew we wouldn’t be driving anywhere near the 10-12k “average” so it would level itself out over time.
How’s she looking?
Well ours looks very sultry. A mark two model, she joined the ranks of the facelifted models with the redesigned body from 1999. The bonnet isn’t too long, slopes away nicely, with clear-lens lights and indicators at the front, high level lights at the back and clear lens indicators on the wings. The back end is a typical hatchback, with the added bonus that FIAT thought things through and sloped them sharply at the back. Thus, the view you get through the back window is exactly the back of your car. Parking’s a doddle. These cars are available in 3 and 5 door versions, and despite my initial misgivings, the 3 doors don’t suffer from long-door-syndrome, meaning that you can emerge gracefully from the car in tight spaces. Our particular car has body coloured bumpers and wing mirrors, which adds to an overall smartness, and in silver looks very tidy.
Old FIATs were notorious for rust and bodywork problems. I’m pleased to report that these problems have been eradicated this time around. OK, so our car is only four years old and shouldn’t rust, but the new mark two’s have galvanised bodies which helps matters. The bumpers are big plastic affairs, and the body-coloured ones are merely sprayed over, which makes for cheaper repairs following an accident.
What’s under the bonnet and how does it perform?
Tucked under the bonnet of ours is a 1242cc 8v lump which gives out 60bhp. You can look the full torque and specs up for yourself, I’m no tech-head, but what I will say is that pulling away in city traffic from roundabouts and T-junctions poses no problem. The car is comfortable reaching 70mph no problems, although overtaking on the motorway can be painful at times if attempting to achieve higher speeds (not that we should be!). At 70mph the engine does sound a little strained, although we’ve tested it on long journeys (150miles plus) with no immediate after-effects
My gripe with the car is the clutch. I have driven many cars, and the Punto’s clutch is by far the hardest to use. There’s no smooth travel in the pedal, just an ‘up-down’ manoeuvre which makes sitting in slow-moving traffic difficult. In addition, there’s a great deal of ‘judder’ in the clutch pedal, and the car hates crawling at low speeds – put it in 2nd, and it practically stalls; in first, it ‘kangaroos’ down the road. This isn’t unique to ours either, other reports and owner-reviews that I’ve read have said exactly the same.
Fuel economy is surprisingly good. A tank of fuel, around £35 @ 80p/l, returns – with urban city driving – approximately 450-500 miles. One of the pluses for having a small engine, I guess. The other being that our model comes under the old-style taxation bracket, and thus qualifies for the £110/yr road fund licence.
How does it feel when you’re on the road?
I have to admit, I was surprised. The seats are very comfortable, and in our model – one up from the base ‘Mia’ model, the driver is provided with lumbar support and the ability to raise and lower the seat. The doors give a nice solid clunk when closing, the whole car feels very solid and there’s very little wind noise even at higher speeds.
Braking is problem-free and the car performs well despite the lack of ABS. There’s been a few close-encounters which have been neatly avoided as the car is very receptive to requests to stop! One particular dislike of mine stems from driving down a fairly steep hill, and sometimes braking from 40mph upwards to a standstill: the handbrake warning light (which on our model also covers the brake fluid) flashes on, or appears on until the car is on a level surface again. We thought that this might be a problem, until we checked our handbook – FIAT (in their wisdom) say that this is ‘normal’ and should be expected! I loathe the day that the brake fluid is actually low, as we’ll mistake this for FIAT normality!
Power steering is included, I believe, on all models as standard. The power steering is electric and can be felt through the steering wheel. The City button, designed to make steering even easier, is light and can lead to oversteering. On our model, and others around the same age, the power steering motor can fail, leading to a loud buzz and a feel of ‘grinding’ as the steering wheel turns. Not only that, but when the car is reversing on full lock, a loud whine can be heard from the steering column.
The rear is problematic when going over speed-bumps; the suspension squeaks like anything and is audible both from the inside and out. Again, this is a ‘typical problem’ noted by Punto owners. This is either due to the handbrake cable requiring adjustment, or it’s a tad more expensive in (I think) a replacement of a major suspension part. Funnily enough, we left ours to squeak (as it wasn’t deemed ‘dangerous’).
So what’s it like inside?
This is where the Punto excels. It’s been incredibly well thought out by FIAT, and there are pockets, storage spaces and clever extras all around the place. The dashboard feels very solid and is equipped with two airbags, plus the option to turn off the passenger airbag (useful for when carrying babies). The centre console houses the stereo – mostly Blaupunkt radio cassette on the majority, but CD players on the higher-end models. On our radio-cassette model, we only have two front speakers, none in the rear. Vents as well as a row of buttons are included – the buttons cover the City steering, rear heated windscreen, fog light and Air Conditioning (if you’re lucky to have it). Underneath this is the electric window switches, which I wish were placed on the doors like all other cars – when driving, I don’t like reaching over to the centre of the car to operate the windows.
The ‘blowers’ (technical term!) are very effective and operate on a four-speed basis. Clearing the windscreen in winter is simple and fast.
The dashboard on the low-spec models is incredibly basic. On ours, we have a fuel gauge, a speedometer… and that’s it. No temperature gauge, just a warning light that ‘comes on’ when the temp’s too high (too late for my liking). Higher end models add a rev counter and a temperature gauge.
From the Punto’s we’ve witnessed, the interior fabric can come in a variety of colours. Ours was a bright blue colour, which is bright on the eye first thing, but adds to the snazzy designer look that most young drivers crave. My sister has a black ‘Active’ model which has a slightly-less snazzy creamy-grey interior cloth.
Space-wise, both front and back give plenty of room, and the car copes with 4 adults inside. The boot is large for a model this size, and the hatchback opening helps to fit larger items in. The back seats are a single piece, so you either fold down the whole lot or none at all. That said, they not only fold down, but the seat base flips up to give a truly flat surface, very useful when carrying large items
Any little extra features which you haven’t mentioned?
There’s a whole host of features that FIAT thought of, no doubt designed for the ‘new’ driver. If you leave your lights on, they go off when the key is removed. There’s a ‘follow me home’ option, which turns your lights on for a short period whilst you leave the car and get to your front door. Central locking is on all models from the 1.2 3 door upwards, although not on the Mia, and the same with electric windows.
There’s an internal boot release down by the driver’s seat which negates the fact that there’s no way of opening the boot from the outside without a key.
Yes, yes, but is it reliable?
Sadly this is where my glowing review stops. It’s a FIAT, it’s a stroppy Italian, and ours did not like us at all.
In the year that we’ve had her, the following has failed, or is failing:
Wiper motor – ‘common’ problem - noted by juddering wiper blades, and then an eventual failure. Not fixed under warranty - £150 replacement Head Gasket – ‘common’ problem, can go at 30k (a friend of my sisters reported hers going at 28k, fixed under warranty), ours went at 52k - £460 replacement Steering column – on it’s way out, £500 quotes for a replacement Interior fan ‘blowers’ – squeaking Rear suspension - squeaking Aerial thread knackered – aerial came off, won’t go back on (without Araldite!) Exhaust – can only be replaced as a whole unit – be wary of the cost. Ours has lasted until 52k (which is fair), but it's on its way out now.
On my sister’s car: Airbag warning light – more common on 02 plates onwards – the wiring is incorrectly placed, and the sensor lives beneath the driver’s seat. A sudden slam of the brakes can cause the sensor to be activated, and this deactivates the driver’s airbag. FIAT have had the car three times to reset the warning light, and finally have agreed to rewire the sensor.
As you’ll agree, these are problems that should not be occurring on a three/four year old car, and from my regular contributions to the Fiat Forum online, we’re not the only Punto owner suffering with these problems.
As I own a Honda, I’m used to ultra-reliability, and although the Punto has started every morning (despite sounding like a tractor and idling erratically when the head gasket was on its’ way out), it’s given us way too many problems to justify continually spending out on it.
Didn’t you have help from FIAT though?
Help? FIAT? The company wouldn’t know Customer Service if it hit them with a large wet kipper. I’d like to as well.
Firstly, when we got the car, it had 6mths remaining warranty left. We had to send FIAT our details along with a cheque for £30odd to change the warranty over. We never heard back from them. They cashed the cheque... we never got proof of the warranty name-change.
My sister has 2 years’ warranty remaining on hers, which FIAT have finally sent through, and she has a plethora of problems which they haven’t sorted. Punto owners on the Fiat Forum (sorry Ciao – www.fiatforum.com) frequently complain of ‘useless’ FIAT garages and customer service from the Head Office. ‘Technicians’ in the loosest sense of the word have frequently failed to diagnose problems with hers, and others’ Puntos.
Do I need to win the lottery to afford the insurance?
This was the main reason why we opted for a smaller car. Most small ‘superminis’ come in under low insurance groups these days, and the Punto is no different. Ours is a group 3, which for a new driver (aged 21, female) with 0 NCB was £450 to insure fully comprehensive, and was £400 to renew this year.
So, should I get one?
I’m afraid that my mentality is unchanged. The cars look lovely when they’re sat still, but as soon as you’re moving, that’s when the problems start.
FIAT = Fix It Again Tomorrow… and they’re not kidding.
I would highly advise against buying one, and put your money elsewhere. Whether it’s a few grand more for a Japanese motor, or opt for the Ford Ka, Vauxhall Corsa, Ford Fiesta, Citroen Saxo. They’re all notorious for their faults in one way or another, but we were left rueing our option to go Italian in this case.
If I’ve missed anything out, or you have any burning questions – let me know.
ive had mine now for ~7 months, and like you say. kangeroo say slow speeds!, ill keep an eye out for the wiper motor and head gasket going, cheers !!! .. to try and stop any engine probs a serive my cars my self every 5k whcih includes oil, filters , plugs, etc.etc. and so far so good. fingers crossed :) great review . thanks
fabfrog5 14.12.2005 12:10
ps! your review title is great and so true!
fabfrog5 14.12.2005 12:07
oh my god, your problems are spot on to mine!! ive got an Xreg 2000 1.2 black punto and have experienced all of your problem encounters and more including: exhaust fell off on motorway after 3 months of purchase, cut out while drving (lucky was on a 20mph limit road), and the crank sensor needs daily fidling with before any journey!! excellent review and i agree that if it wasn't for the problems its a lovely, funky car!! spot on butt!! :) x
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