- We like...Willing engine, good economy
- We don't...Dsn't get Fiat's 5yr warranty
Classic Italian sporting name is reborn as a stand-alone brand. And the Grande Punto's the first to get a makeoverThe Abarth name is one from the annals of motor racing history. Fiat has attached it to the rump of sporting versions of its hatchbacks down the ages. But lately the company has done so half-heartedly. The last car to wear the badge was a Stilo – an unloved small hatchback that didn’t do well here for Fiat.
But that’s all set to change. Here’s the Grande Punto Abarth. It looks like a Fiat and or course it is one. But, in tune with the plan to re-launch Abarth as a distinct make, there’s no Fiat badge to be seen. Instead, Abarth badges are everywhere – on its snout, boot lid, to both sides just aft of the doors, on the steering wheel boss and even on the passenger’s side of the dash.
Should you stamp up at your local Fiat showroom to buy this car, prepare for disappointment. Abarth dealers will be, we’re promised, a breed apart. Just 10 are up and selling as we write and Abarth will hire only 20 for the UK. Most will sell Fiats, too, but Abarth will have a standalone showroom area and servicing set-up at each.
The Grande Punto here is the first new-age Abarth, but a version of the 500 will arrive early in 2009. The car remains recognisably a Fiat inside and out but Abarth has reworked it so that it feels every inch a sporting hatchback. Power from its 1.4-litre turbo petrol motor is set at 155bhp, although for a further £3500 Abarth will upgrade the car to ‘esseesse’ (as in SS, for ‘SuperSport’) which adds bigger alloys, firms the suspension and increases the power to 180bhp. And, unusually, this add-on comes in a wooden crate, the content of which your dealer fits when the car is new or during its first year or 12,500 miles.
To drive, the 155bhp car’s a little howler, quick from the blocks and easy to rev, egged on by a fruity blare from its twin tailpipes. The Punto’s ride and handling has had a thorough rework – the wheels are 6mm wider apart than on a ‘standard’ one – and that shows in a firm ride. However, Abarth’s techies have worked hard to ‘tune’ the seats and suspension to filter the biggest knocks and it works well. You’re aware of the springs and dampers working but you stay pretty comfy. It’s usefully quick but not a scorcher – it’s no match for Renault’s Clio Cup – but then this Abarth is a whack cheaper. And to add urge, thumb the ‘sport boost’ button and the turbo works markedly harder to push the car, while the steering firms up, too.
Its fuel economy at 40.9mpg best overall is decent, while CO2 emissions are fair at 162g/km. Leather it, though and you'll burn far more fuel than that.
Inside, it’s handsomely finished, its plush seating and high-tone dash materials an improvement on the cheap ‘n’ cheerful Puntos we’ve previously sampled.
Fiat has just made the Punto a sweeter buy by increasing the car’s warranty from three years to five. Will Abarth follow suit, as you might expect? No, we’re assured that the back-up for Abarths will remain at three years. And, what’s more, if you splash out on the performance packs, they’re warrantied for just two years.
We like the Abarth. But, given £13,500, would we take it over the Mini Cooper we could otherwise buy? No: not only is the Cooper the better all-rounder, it would lose far less of its value over its first three years.
That said, the Grande Punto’s a sound and likeable sporting hatch. If this is how Abarths are gonna be, we can’t wait to see how the 500 Abarth turns out.
- Engines1.4 turbo
- 0-60 mph8.2secs
- Insurance groups
Motors.co.uk value verdict: