The Italian manufacturer is spending £18 million on an advertising campaign in the UK during 2006 to extol the virtues of its important new offering.
And it is also to spend a further £2 million on a customer service programme. It has appointed a senior manager to deal with customers, a new customer relations manager, increased resources for the department by 30%, reviewed its customer relations process and restructured the team, all to improve service levels.
Add to this a £2 million investment in dealer training and it’s clear Fiat is going all out to ensure the Grande Punto is a success.
Giulio Salomone, Fiat Auto UK’s managing director, is optimistic about the new model and wants to double Punto’s 17,000 sales for 2005. With sales in Europe already passing 130,000 units, he could be on his way.
Fiat isn’t promising the Grande Punto will be a huge fleet seller, with a 65%/ 35% retail/fleet split, but it is hoping to attract some new user-choosers.
And the investment in the network will be crucial to attracting these buyers by making dealers more aware of corporate business.
Grande Punto prices start at £1 less than the current Punto, with a £7,594 entry price.
The new model is more than 20cm longer than the outgoing model, which will remain on sale in limited variants.
It has already gained a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP – achieved by undergoing rigorous testing, including 15,000 hours of computer-aided design, 60 crash tests, 100 slide simulations and 200 tests on components. Fiat claims the car is top of its category for passive, active and preventive safety.
The Grande Punto has five trim levels – Active, Active Sport, Dynamic, Eleganza and Sporting, alongside six engines – four diesel and two petrol.
New engines include a 1.4-litre 77bhp petrol and a 1.3-litre 90bhp Multijet turbodiesel. There are plans to introduce a 1.4-litre 95bhp petrol later this year. The 1.3-litre Multijet only produces 122g/km CO2 and offers a healthy 61.4mpg on the combined cycle.
All versions come with ABS brakes, remote central locking, driver and passenger front airbags, electric front windows, CD player, power steering and follow-me-home headlamps as standard.
Fleets wanting more can choose from a lengthy list of options which includes parking sensors, glass sunroof and dual-zone climate control.
Behind the wheel
SIZE is not supposed to matter but the extra 20 centimetres in the wheelbase of the Grande Punto over the previous model makes a real difference.
It is a great looking car, sleeker yet meatier, and the extra space is apparent inside. It seems like you’re getting much more for your money despite the fact that the Grande Punto maintains the low entry price point of the old Punto.
Styling inside retains some of the characteristics of the old model, being simple yet effective, with decent quality materials and a simple-to-use feel.
As well as a new look, Fiat has improved chassis stiffness and altered the suspension. A new independent front suspension backed by a new torsion beam axle configuration at the back gives a planted feel.
On the road there’s plenty of feel through the steering wheel, although the petrol models’ steering feels lighter, perhaps due to the diesel-engined versions being around 50kg heavier.
Of the engines available to test, the 90bhp 1.3-litre Multijet diesel offers punchy performance which belies its small capacity.
The 77bhp 1.4-litre petrol is much slower off the mark than the diesel, mainly due to the reduction in torque. At the top end of the rev range it feels livelier but there’s no comparison with the 1.3-litre diesel in overall performance.
However, the diesel is £1,400 more expensive than the 1.4-litre petrol, which will put many buyers off.
The final engine available, a top-of-the-range 130bhp 1.9-litre Multijet in Sporting trim, is fast, nimble and as the label says – sporting.
The extra power makes all the difference and it turns the Punto into a worthy contender for those wanting both brawn and style. It comes at a price, though, starting at £11,895.
FIAT has improved its supermini offering in both style and driveability and if the advertising campaign and customer service programme is a successful as it hopes, the Grande Punto is set to be a success.
|Model:||1.2||1.4||1.3 MJet 75||1.3 MJet 90||1.9 MJet 120||1.9 MJet 130|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||65/5,500||77/6,000||75/4,000||90/4,000||120/4,000||130/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||75/3,000||85/3,000||140/1,750||148/1,750||206/2,000||206/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||96||103||103||109||118||124|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||46.3||46.3||60.1||61.4||50.4||48.7|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||145||145||123||122||149||150|