Fiat Punto II

Punto was a terrific car. Not only being the world’s best selling supermini, it once sank the mighty Golf into the second place of European selling chart for all cars. European Car of The Year 1995 is another title recognising its achievement. 5 years later, the Mk-II Punto is set to repeat the success. 

Given a budget of $709 million, the new car is of course more than a facelift but it is not an all-new car either. The first we have to ask is whether it is based on the old car’s platform. Depends on how we define a "platform", someone may insist that it is a new one because the most important rear suspensions have been shifted to the popular torsion-beam set-up from the old trailing arms. Some may argue that the front MacPherson struts are still there and all the positioning of hard points, which governs interior space, remains unchanged. Myself prefer to call it a 50% new platform. 

Why torsion beam suspension ? people having read my "Technical School" could easily point out that it is compact and cheap. The trailing arm is a rather old design which works reasonably well with long arms but this is not feasible in the space-conscious supermini. Short arms lead to more undesirable change of chamber and caster, thus explain why the old Punto was notorious about handling. The trailing arms could also be blamed for the old car’s harsh ride because the heavy trailing arms contribute to more unsprung weight than competitor’s torsion beam, and this could be a big headache to the very light supermini. The new Punto’s rear suspension is 6.5kg lighter. 

While the suspension is the most improved part, the evolutionary exterior styling is certainly not. To some people, the new Punto looks more conservative than the previous Giugiaro design, which is still pretty in today. However, the advance in build quality (that is, narrower assembly gap, fitter plastic molding and better painting) polishes the visual quality while some elegant features are added to enhance the classy feel. Sheet metals are shaped to more boxy and incorporates some aggressive edges. The center section of the "mouth" now becomes a black plastic molding sandwiched between the body-coloured left and right air dam, hence looking like a sport-utility vehicle. A pair of ventilation holes on each of the air dam deliver a sense of sophistication. At the rear, the distinctive vertical taillights remains there to enable a wide hatchback door. 

Fiat emphasis that the 3-door and 5-door are very different : the former has an eye-catching inclined edge running above the rear wheel arch towards the taillight, hence a more a sporty appearance. Moreover, the aforementioned SUV-inspired front bumper is only found in the 3-door. The 5-door has a safer styling, also an extra 35mm rear overhang to enhance cargo volume to nearly 300 litres. However, they are not as different as Brava / Bravo.  

Perhaps the biggest visual change is the deletion of our favourite 5-bar logo. It was originated in the Panda / Uno and since then spread to all other Fiat models, now gives way to the so-called "100 years anniversary logo", which is just a little circle with the word "FIAT" inside. 

Behind the badge is the familiar Super FIRE engine. No 1.1-litre anymore, leaving the 1242c.c. 8V (60hp) as the base engine. Next up, the all-alloy dohc 16V version passed the forthcoming emission regulation by dropping the rev and peak power from 86hp / 6,000 rpm to 80 hp / 5,000 rpm. Oddly, Brava’s 1.6-litre 16V is not found in the line-up, so further up is the top-of-the-range HGT which is powered by Barchetta’s 130hp 1.8-litre with VVT. In my old report I said Fiat should had been replaced the old 1.4 turbo with this one, now it comes true. 

However, the most exciting is that a "Tiptronic-style" CVT is added to the line-up consists of 5-speed and 6-speed manual. The 1.2 16V Sporting is the luckiest of all because it gets both the 6M and the CVT. Both transmission cannot cope with the extra torque of the 130hp HGT so that only 5-speed manual is offered for the flagship. In the 80hp Sporting, the 6-speed is as delightful as usual.  

The new CVT is supplied by Fuji. You probably haven’t heard about this company but in fact it is the mother company of Subaru (here in Hong Kong we call Fuji instead of Subaru). Inevitably it makes us believing that the transmission is a version of the one using by Subaru Pleo. Both are CVT with torque converter instead of electric clutch (thus allows smooth transition in traffic), both with a "Tiptronic" mode simulating a 7-speed manual gearbox. In the Punto Sporting, the auto mode works well to deliver smooth driving under non-stressed condition. At high speed it shows its limitation by making noise, not fast enough too. Like Tiptronic, push the shifter to the manual position and you can get a sequential shift by push and pull action. Response becomes far quicker yet very smooth, although needed a heavy hand. (to remind you that you are controlling the car !) In terms of performance, the 6-speeder is still the first choice. 

The 80hp engine is not as desirable as thought. Because of the peak power now occurs at 5,000rpm instead of 6,000rpm, the power band becomes narrower, although peak torque now occurs 500rpm lower at 4,000rpm. At below 2500 not too much power is available, so you have to shift frequently to keep the rev between 3,000 and 5,000rpm. Luckily the close-ratio gearbox help, no matter the 6-speed manual or the 7-speed CVT. Unlike other close-ratio transmissions, the extra ratios of Fiat’s pair still allow a relax and frugal cruising at the top gear.  

Benefited by the new suspension, handling and ride are both improved by a large margin. Sporting gets the same firmer set-up and the same lower ride height as the HGT. Also the same is the extra rear spoiler, side skirts and alloy wheels. With the optional 185 / 55 R15 rubber, grip is in no doubt. The new suspension, although without anti-roll bar, resists roll very well. The steering is quickened from 2.8-turns lock-to-lock to 2.5-turns, accompany with the new suspension, makes the new Punto more responsive to steering input. Basically the steering tendency is understeer, but it is easy to be flicked around. 

The electric power steering, supplied by GM’s subsidiary Delphi, makes its first European debut in Punto. Not only speed sensitive, it provides an extra "City" mode which lighten the steering effort a lot for parking. As shown in Cadillac Seville, steering feel is not corrupted or filtered. 

Ride comfort is greatly improved, suspension noise is also suppressed. Although it doesn’t damp as well as the best Peugeot, the good compromise between handling and ride could make Volkswagen, Renault etc. worry.  

The strength of Punto is still the cabin. Although having no more wheelbase and width, the new car adds a further 30mm in height to the already tall old car to enable a class-leading cabin space. As before, all occupants sit in an up-right position to free up leg room. The dashboard mirrors the design of Brava and is now made of higher quality plastic. Fit and finish is also improved. The only criticism is about the thicker C-pillars which reduce rear quarter vision. 

The above report was last updated on 24 Aug 99. All Rights Reserved.

FIRE engine and SUPER FIRE engine

FIRE is short write of "Fully-Integrated Robotised Engine", which is a series engine with simple design thus allowed robotised production. The first FIRE engine appeared in the mid-80's, displacing 999c.c. and used by Fiat Uno. Later, it differentiated into 0.9 litres, 1.1 litres and 1.25 litres which were extensively used by Panda, Uno, Cinquecento and Punto. It remains to be a low cost engine until upgraded as SUPER FIRE in 1995 followed the arrival of Brava / Bravo.  

SUPER FIRE differs in mainly the aluminium alloy multi-valves cylinder head. It became a very large family consists of members with different details and purpose. Capacity ranging from 1.25 litres to 2.4 litres, power ranging from 80hp to 220hp, 4 cylinders or 5 cylinders, turbo or non-turbo, sohc or dohc, 3 valves per cylinder or 4 valves per cylinder, with variable valve timing or not, with balance shafts or not. It powered nearly all Punto, Brava, Bravo, Marea, Barchetta and Coupe. Moreover, Alfa Romeo also modified the SUPER FIRE engine into their 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 litres twin-spark units. Totally the SUPER FIRE differentiated into 12 engines, not including the diesel !  

Being the most versatile engine family in the world, it saves the company considerable development and production cost. 

The above report was last updated in 1998. All Rights Reserved.

Punto facelift

4 years after launch, Fiat Punto and Fiat itself are in sales crisis. Punto used to be by far the best seller in Fiat’s lineup and has been the life-saver of the company. However, the mini car market has changed a lot during the last few years. Attack from strong Japanese rivals and new generation of high-quality European superminis suddenly made the Punto II outdated. While its interior room is still competitive, its lower-quality packaging, sub-standard ride and handling fail to match its competitors. The lack of a good diesel engine and a larger petrol engine also can’t help. It’s time to have a mid-life re-engineer. 

Unfortunately, the facelifted Punto is not the car we had been waiting for. Look at its new face ! I don’t know who did the styling, but this guy undoubtedly deserve an early retirement, because his taste lags behind the world by at least 20 years. The new grille and headlamps are so conservative and completely lack of character that even an owner of 1990 Ford Escort would not get excited. And this is a Fiat Punto ! a car used to be famous of cute styling ! 

Disappointingly, the place which needs improvement most desperately - the cockpit - is untouched in this facelift. That means Korean-car-like cheap plastic and the lack of visual appeal. Another weak link, the torsion-beam rear suspension, has been retuned to improve high-speed stability and low-speed ride, but just a little. You still won’t appreciate the handling and ride of Punto. 

More work has been done under the bonnet. A new 95hp 1.4-litre 16V engine has become the largest one in the FIRE engine family, bridging the wide gap between the 80hp 1.2 16V and the 130hp 1.7 16V. More important is the new small, 1.3-litre turbo diesel engine. Fiat claims it the most compact four-cylinder diesel engine in the world. Weighing just 130kg, it won’t make the Punto nose heavy. Better still is the adoption of Fiat’s Multijet common-rail injection system, which can inject up to 5 times during one cycle of combustion, including pre- and post-injections, to smoothen power delivery, to cut emission, noise and fuel consumption. The result is a very frugal and refined small diesel engine. While its 70hp output is not powerful, you can make use of its 133 lbft torque from just 1750rpm and enjoy a wide powerband from there to well over 4,000rpm. This is an impressive diesel engine. 

However, engine aside, the facelifted Punto has too little to be remembered. Well, with the exception of its ugly look. 

The above report was last updated on 5 July 2003. All Rights Reserved.

Punto: related models

The Punto Mk 1 of 1994 was derived from the Fiat Tipo, with the same suspension configuration - MacPherson struts at front, trailing arm at the rear. Then the Punto was derived into : 
  • Lancia Yipslon: basically it is a re-packaged Punto Mk 1 3-door. The underpinning and every essential mechanical components are the same.
  • Fiat Barchetta: without using the Punto floorpan, Fiat created the Barchetta roadster base on Punto’s component set, such as suspension, gearbox etc.
  • Fiat Punto Mk 2: the second generation replaces the trailing arms with torsion beam as rear suspension for better handling and refinement. Exterior and interior packaging are also completely new, but other mechanical parts are carried over from the first Punto.
The above report was last updated on 29 Dec 99. All Rights Reserved.


Punto 1.3 Multijet 5dr
Punto 1.2 5dr
Punto HGT
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
L / W / H / WB (mm)
3865 / 1660 / 1480 / 2460
3865 / 1660 / 1480 / 2460
3840 / 1660 / 1480 / 2460
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl.
diesel, CDI, turbo.
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl.
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT.
1251 cc
1242 cc
1747 cc
70 hp
80 hp
130 hp
133 lbft
84 lbft
121 lbft
Suspension (F/R)
strut / torsion-beam
strut / torsion-beam
strut / torsion-beam
Tyres (F/R)
All: 165/70 TR14
All: 165/70 TR14
185/55 VR15
980 kg
935 kg
1040 kg
Top speed
96 mph*
104 mph*
127 mph*
0-60 mph
13.2 sec*
11.2 sec*
8.4 sec*
0-100 mph
25.2 sec*
Figures tested by: * Autocar

Copyright© 1997-2009 by Mark Wan @ AutoZine