But with more than 500,000 units sold annually, the Punto is one of Fiat's success stories, providing the manufacturer with its largest grip on the fleet market. June 2003 saw 1,786 units sold to the UK fleet market, ranking the Punto as the 17th best-selling fleet model and with the new range costing from £6,995 on-the-road, it guarantees to undercut rival models such as the Ford Fiesta, Citroen C3 and the Peugeot 206.
The basic Active comes with all the extras too. Electric front windows, central locking, driver and passenger airbags, height-adjustable steering wheel and height-adjustable driver's seat are standard.
The Dynamic model adds air conditioning, single CD player, split/fold rear seats and fog lights as standard.
The top-of- the-range HGT comes with leather sports steering wheel and gear knob, 15-inch alloy wheels, body styling, five-disc CD multichanger and MP3 player and rear spoiler.
The revised Punto's 22 model line up has three new engines – two diesel units and one petrol, new transmissions and re-styled bodywork.
The 70bhp, 1.3 Multijet turbodiesel is the most likely contender for the fleet market. Complying with Euro IV emissions regulations, and offering combined fuel economy of 62.8mpg, it emits a low 119g/km of CO2 and is backed by a four-star Euro- NCAP crash safety rating.
Also on offer is a new 95bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine, also Euro IV compliant, and a sporty 110bhp 1.9-litre Multijet common rail direct injection turbodiesel. The new transmission line up now includes a six-speed and five-speed manual gearbox alongside Speedgear, an automatic transmission with selectable six-speed manual drive and Dualogic, a five-speed sequential transmission with manual change available.
As for cosmetics, Fiat has given the Punto a new front-end. Larger headlights, a deeper airdam and a modified front bumper to give it a more masculine look. Sporty models are differentiated by even deeper airdams, chrome inserts in the main grille, alloy wheels and metallic paint.
Inside it is pretty uninspirational but it is what you'd expect from a car costing from under £7,000 on-the-road.
On the entry-level version, plastic dominates the interior, with a two-tone colour effect on the dash complemented by cloth trim seats. The sportier models are a little better as they get a metallic effect finish on the upholstery. While only a mild reworking of the outgoing model, the revised Punto feels fresher, ensuring a longer model life.
Behind the wheel
Fiat aims to target public sector and daily rental fleets with the new Punto, offering a competitive base price, high specification and comfortable ride to make it a strong contender for these markets.
I drove four of the models from the new line up: the 1.3 Multijet Active, 1.9 JTD Eleganza, 1.4 Dynamic and the 1.2 Active Sport, all with the manual gearbox. The difference between the petrol and diesel models is distinct. Although they all come with a 'City' button to lighten the steering, the 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol models don't really need it, as feel through the steering wheel is already vague in normal driving.
The 1.3 and 1.9-litre diesels, possibly because of the greater weight of the engine, offer more feedback. Petrol models have minimal noise and vibration through the cabin, while the diesels fare slightly worse.
In all models the ride is comfortable with a direct gear change action and are easy to manoeuvre with a light clutch. Urban driving is smooth but motorway speeds provide a firmer ride. Inside the cabin, there's no shortage of space, the seating position is good and it feels at ease sitting in traffic jams.
The diesel models outshine their petrol cousins in terms of drive, fuel economy, CO2 emissions and performance. All models handle city driving well, making the Punto an ideal inner city fleet choice.
While rival superminis may be ahead in terms of driving dynamics and build quality, the revised Punto's lower front-end pricing makes it an attractive proposition.
|Punto fact file|
|Model||1.2 16v||1.3 diesel||1.4 16v||1.9 diesel|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||80/5,000||70/4,000||95/5,800||85/3,500|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||84/4,000||133/1,750||94/4,500||144/1,500|
|Max speed (mph):||107||102||111||108|
|Comb fuel consumption (mpg):||47.1||62.8||46.3||57.6|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||142||119||145||130|
|Transmission:||5-sp man||6-sp man||4-sp man||Dualogic semi-auto|
|On sale:||August 9|
|Prices (est):||£6,995 - £11,745|