The Punto has undergone a re-style inside and out, including the new Multijet common rail direct injection turbodiesel engine. A new front-end with larger headlamps and a deeper grille gives a more imposing front end, but is not as sleek as the previous model in my view.
On first impressions I wasn't keen but it has grown on me. The dashboard sports a two-tone dark and light grey plastic finish which lifts the interior. But the downside is the light plastic will probably show up the grime as the miles rack up.
However, the cabin feels roomy for a supermini – a long-standing strength of the Punto – and there's plenty of space in the boot for luggage.
For £10,345, specification is high. As standard there are electric heated door mirrors, ABS brakes with electronic brake distribution, a single CD player, air conditioning, split/folding rear seats and dual-drive electronic steering.
Our model has optional alloy wheels, front foglights and metallic paint, pushing the price up to £11,150. Options aside, spec-for-spec it is out about £1,000 cheaper than the equivalent Polo 1.4 TDI S with added trip computer and central locking (standard on the Fiat).
Behind the wheel, start-up engine noise is low but as speed increases so does the engine vibration, although with 113lb-ft of torque at 1,750rpm, you don't have to explore the upper reaches of the rev range. But at 70mph the rev counter is showing 2,800rpm so perhaps it isn't as good as some rivals for occasional long-haul work.
A 'city' button offers lighter steering to minimise effort, but I haven't used it as the steering already feels light enough.
Our early test fuel consumption of 61.3mpg is not far off Fiat's combined figure of 62.8mpg and with CO2 emissions of 119g/km it ensures company car drivers will be in the lowest benefit-in-kind band, as well as avoiding the 3% diesel penalty as this engine is Euro IV compliant.
The Punto is a competitive runabout: pricing is low and spec is high. But style-wise I think it falls behind cars like the Peugeot 206 and Nissan Micra. And when you compare its CAP predicted residual value of 29% after three years/60,000 with the Polo 1.4TDI's 42% it's no contest.
We hope the positive qualities of the Punto shine through over the next six months.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% taxpayer): £28 per month