Advantages Cheap power, fun to drive
Disadvantages Brutal power delivery, Fiat servicing costs
My Fiesta XR2i was getting old – with 107k miles on the clock, its value was depreciating every day. At that age everything on a car starts to need replacing, and I was getting fed up with constantly putting my hand in my pocket every weekend. It was time for a change. The problem is that I’m a bit of a power freak………not that I drive around town scaring OAPs, but more that I like the option of power under my foot should I need it.You would think that it would be simple to find a replacement for my old car. However my requirements were that the car must be relatively new (didn’t want rattles or faults), be quicker than what I was currently driving, cheap to buy, look good and not have a ridiculous insurance group. This proved harder than it sounded! Most cars were either too old, or too expensive, or not powerful enough, or needed a mortgage to insure.
One day it came to me in a flash of inspiration – the Fiat Punto GT met all of my requirements. This car really is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and is heavily underestimated by many, and overlooked by most.Made from 1994 (L) until 1999 (V), the Punto GT came in three versions – all being very similar, save some cosmetic changes and minor engine modifications. Powered by a 1372cc SOHC 8v 1.3 bar (18.8 psi) turbocharged and intercooled engine, the Punto creates 136bhp at 5750rpm (the phase 3 model was reduced to 130bhp without performance loss) and 153lbs/ft torque at 3000rpm. In a car that weighs just under a tonne, it doesn’t take an expert to work out that it seriously shifts!!
***The exterior***From my experience people either love or hate the styling of Punto’s – and many other Italian cars for that matter. I have heard it described as fun, modern and sexy, and also, rather unceremoniously, as looking like a doorstop! Whatever your opinion of the shape, it is very carefully crafted and modern looking. You may or may not know that modern Fiats (and I’m assuming Alfa’s as well) are completely assembled by machine, and to that end, the panels align superbly. The Punto, unlike many other cars, doesn’t seem to have different panels around it – it appears as all one block, which is a feature I like – it creates a seamless transition around the car.
The visual differences between a basic model and a GT are not huge. Body coloured bumpers and wing mirrors look nice, although are a pre-requisite for most high spec models anyway. The GT is differentiated by a set of 5 spoke alloy wheels, which were anthracite (dark grey) on the GT3 version (1997 ‘P’ onwards). The only other real giveaway was the addition of body coloured side skirts, although I feel that these could have been extended over the wheel arches, as in many hot hatchbacks.***The interior***
The interior of the GT is neither impressive, nor poor. It is ergonomic and carefully laid out, although very plasticy. Fiat have made an attempt to provide sports seats, although in my opinion, they don’t match the power of the car, and fail to provide adequate side support. You never really feel as though you are being held into the seats effectively, which can make for an uncomfortable ride whilst cornering at speed. Although the seats are very comfortable, they are made of cloth, which can feel a little rough on bare skin. Overall I feel that given the high specification of the Punto GT, it could have benefited from some velour or leather Recaro sports seats.Inside the car you are provided with electric windows, electric sunroof, electric/heated mirrors, as well as seat and steering wheel height adjustment and power steering. The steering wheel and gear stick are covered with leather, which makes driving very comfortable. There is a 6 speaker stereo system as standard, as well as an alarm/immobiliser, which is Thatcham Category 2 insurance approved. Interior space is excellent and amongst the best in its class.
Safety is another area that Fiat haven’t overlooked. With a driver’s airbag as standard, disc brakes (front and rear), ABS and side impact protection.***The drive***
This is my favourite part of reviewing a car, and the Punto GT is hardly a disappointment. As previously mentioned, the car is 1.4, 8 valve, turbocharged and intercooled, producing nearly 140bhp at the flywheel. This results in the car having a 0-60 sprint of 7.6 seconds, and a top speed of 126mph – in fact the time of 7.6 seconds is even better than it sounds, in that you have to change to 3rd gear to hit 60mph… if the rev limiter was raised slightly, enabling 60mph in 2nd gear, the 0-60 time would be below 7 seconds. The in gear times are equally impressive due to the large turbocharger. The 0-100 time of just over 20 seconds is particularly impressive, and embarrasses cars such as the Citroen Saxo VTS and Peugeot 106 Gti, who are supposed to be in a similar league, but only return times of around 25 seconds. In fact, to put the 0-100 time into perspective, compare it to that of a Ford Escort RS Cosworth, which completes it in 16.5 seconds.So far, I’ve been very complimentary about the Punto GT. The time has arrived to balance this review slightly, because there are aspects about the car that are less than perfect! Continuing on the theme of performance, you may be forgiven for thinking that I couldn’t fault it. This is sadly not the case! Let me explain…
The GT has a very small engine (1372cc), but has the performance of 2.5 V6 cars (better than most in fact). In generates these huge power figures purely using a great big turbocharger. Most road going turbo cars have turbochargers running at a pressure of between 8-12psi (pounds per square inch), which gives a subtle “kick” to your acceleration. The Punto GT’s turbocharger runs at nearly 19psi. Great, you think!!! Well, not quite actually………couple this with the fact that the turbo starts to spool quite late (just over 3000rpm as opposed to 2000-2500rpm for many) and you’ve got a Jekyll and Hyde on your hands!! Before the boost picks up, you have a * very * sluggish car indeed – you would think that it was maybe a 1.0 litre. If you squeeze the accelerator a little harder, the car takes off like a rocket. Please don’t get me wrong – this kind of power feels lovely, but is highly impractical for town and city driving. It would be better if the turbo came in a little earlier so that you could get a little “pick up” around town!!Away from straight-line performance, the handling is good, but nothing special. I’ve driven cars that feel a lot better, but then again, I’ve driven cars that are worse. The chunky tyres create a lot of grip in the dry, but act as slicks in the wet. It does have anti-roll bars, but sadly this does not stop body roll entirely. That said, the car can take corners at astounding speeds, and the steering weights up nicely in corners to give you feedback as to what the front wheels are doing – a rarity in a car with power assisted steering! The ride is a pleasant one – the suspension is stiffened and lowered from the factory to give the car a raw feel to it. However it is dampened just enough to prevent it picking up every single pothole in the road.
Quickly to touch on fuel consumption…it isn’t particularly good. If you have a sympathetic right foot, you may see a return of about 33-35mpg. Normal driving realises a consumption of around 26mpg, and if you an enthusiastic (I could have said nutter!) driver you’ll be lucky to get 20mpg!***Price***
As previously mentioned, the Punto GT is no longer made by Fiat. They have replaced it with the Punto HGT, which is a 1.8 16 valve, non-turbo car. The price of the Punto GT when new was about £11,000. Nowadays (and this is the reason it attracted me) you can pick up 1996/7/8 models for between £4500 and £6000. If you go even older (not advisable on a turbocharged car), you can pick them up for £3000, and conversely the later 1999 models can be bought for around £7000. This is not very good news for people who bought them new, but makes the bargain of the century for people like me – especially as they have already lost the large proportion of their value, and the rate will slow down now.Insurance is always worth a mention when living in the UK! The Punto GT is placed in insurance group 14. Although it sounds pretty high, for the performance you are getting, it is probably placed in too low a group. Compare with the slower Escort RS Turbo which is a group 15/16, and it’s easy to see that it’s not as bad as you first thought.
***In summary***I’ve probably gone on far too much here – this would probably be better placed in Top Gear magazine – but I like to give all the facts, and don’t blame you if you’ve skipped most of it!!!
Who should buy a Punto GT? I’ll be completely honest and say that they are probably most suited to young men. They are not a practical shopping or commuting car due to the power delivery and high fuel consumption. They were made with power and performance in mind and that it how they are best driven. They reward the enthusiastic driver and don’t like hanging around. If you like sexy Italian beasts and the feeling of power, you won’t go far wrong with one of these. There is a large choice of colours, ranging from the exotic Broom Yellow, to the more subdued black and maroon – mine is a gorgeous Midnight Blue. They go quicker than they look (which not only surprises other drivers but also keeps car thieves at bay). Just beware of Italian reliability, which isn’t the best in the world, and can be very expensive – especially with turbocharged cars.
The Fiat Punto GT ceased production in 1999 and has been replaced with the slower, albeit more driveable Punto HGT, which is a 1.8 16v non-turbocharged. It is a fact of motoring life that the models that ooze character and panache, are suited to the minority and don’t make money for the manufacturers, hence discontinuing them. The GT is one of these cars in my opinion, and if you are like me, then you’ll love it… 9/10.
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