WHEN I was learning to drive, the first car I pootled around Worcestershire in was a Fiat Punto.
Frankly, at that time I had no real frame of reference to decide whether it was good or not. So I was intrigued to know what the Punto’s descendent, the Grande Punto, would be like.
I had high expectations, mainly due to the looks of the thing. From the front it looks uncannily like a Maserati thanks to its rectangular grille and elliptical headlights. Fiat isn’t rushing to disassociate itself from its fellow Italians, and why would it? The Maserati Coupe with which the Grande Punto shares a face is a stylish beast, and the prestige brand is owned by Fiat anyway.
The rest of the car does not have quite as much impact as the front, but it still looks good. Its shoulders rise along the sides towards the back, and the rear, while quite featureless, still looks smart in a minimalist kind of way.
Jump inside, however, and things aren’t as impressive. Fiat’s promotional material calls the interior ‘bright, inspiring surroundings’. I call it gaudy.
Our test car featured a large slab of blue plastic across the lower dash, while the designers eschewed modern soft-touch materials in favour of more scratchy plastic for the main dash and instrument binnacle, which feels brittle to the touch.
We tried the 1.4-litre petrol engine which musters 77bhp, putting it on a par with similar-sized engines from Ford and Peugeot.
As you’d expect, performance isn’t this car’s strong point and it needs a lot of revs to make decent progress on the open road. However, in its natural habitat around town it fares well, being peppy enough for nipping about in.
This is helped by the steering, which is really light and can be made even lighter by pressing the city button to provide even more assistance for parking manouevres. But the steering wheel has some ergonomic problems – the rim fattens far too much at the traditional ‘ten-to-two’ position and is uncomfortable to hold.
At least there’s plenty of room inside. Like the Peugeot 207 and Renault Clio, the Grande Punto lives up to its name by being much bigger than the car it replaces.
It matches the aforementioned models in all aspects of size, creating a decent cabin for four adults to sit comfortably in, and a boot which can cope with far more then just a few bags of shopping.
So the Grande Punto is a stylish, roomy supermini which is let down by an interior which simply doesn’t have the same feel as the Peugeot 207.
To challenge for victory, it needs to perform well in the running costs section.
P11D value: £9,057
CO2 emissions (g/km): 140
BIK % of P11D in 2006: 15%
Graduated VED rate: £100
Insurance group: 3
Combined mpg: 47.9
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £3,150/35%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k) £209
We don’t like
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
THE Grande Punto is the cheapest and holds its own in terms of power with the rest, which all have between 75 and 80bhp from their petrol engines. All have spartan levels of standard equipment, though. The Fiesta looks expensive at £700 more than the Fiat.
Grande Punto: £9,057
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
THE Grande Punto holds on to its early lead, with the cheapest benefit-in-kind tax bill, costing just £25 a month for a 22% taxpayer. The Clio is in the same band but costs £1 more a month due to its higher front-end price. The Ford and Peugeot will cost £29.
THE Peugeot shows its colours by being the cheapest to service, maintain and repair over three years, with a bill of less than £1,500. The Ford is second, costing almost £80 more over the same period, while the Fiat is nearly £90 behind that. The Renault will cost nearly £1,900.
207: 2.42 (ppm) £1,452 (60,000 miles total)
Fiesta: 2.55 £1,530
G/Punto: 2.69 £1,614
Clio: 3.15 £1,890
WITH claimed economy of 47.9mpg, the Fiat will cost just over £5,600 in petrol over 60,000 miles, exactly the same as the Renault Clio. The Fiesta will return 45.6mpg for a likely fuel bill of just under £5,900, and the Peugeot returns 44.8mpg, taking it over the £6,000 mark.
G/Punto: 9.36 (ppm) £5,616 (60,000 miles total)
Clio: 9.36 £5,616
Fiesta: 9.83 £5,898
207: 10.01 £6,006
THE Peugeot and Fiat each lose just short of £6,000, and both have the same RV prediction of 35% after three years/60,000 miles, according to CAP. However, the Fiat loses less cash due to its lower front-end price. The Clio retains a surprisingly low 32% and the ageing Fiesta 31%.
G/Punto: 9.84 (ppm) £5,904 (60,000 miles total)
207: 9.84 £5,904
Clio: 10.59 £6,354
Fiesta: 11.29 £6,774
THE Fiat is the cheapest to run with strong RVs, fuel costs and emissions, as well as costing the least in the first place. Expect it to cost £13,134 over three years/ 60,000 miles. The Peugeot is £200 more while the Renault is £500 further back. The Fiesta will cost over £14,000.
G/Punto: 21.89 (ppm) £13,134 (60,000 miles total)
207: 22.27 £13,362
Clio: 23.10 £13,860
Fiesta 23.67 £14,202
PICKING the winner here is difficult. From a wholelife cost point of view, the Fiat is the winner because it will cost a fleet the least to run and is also cheapest for drivers on company car tax. But from a driver’s point of view, good exterior looks can’t compensate for an interior which can’t match the best in the sector. The Peugeot 207 finishes hot on the heels of the Grande Punto financially, but is a much nicer car to drive and be in. For that reason, it’s the winner.