Tested: Fiat Grande Punto 1.4 T-Jet Dynamic

The eager runabout

What a relief! The first time I tested a Fiat didn’t turn out to be a boring experience, but a refreshing impression of this small Italian car. Models like the Uno and Palio had me thinking that I was about to commence a week of zipping around in a cheeky economical cookie jar, and while the Grande Punto is surely not a massive automobile it does have reasonably space for driver and passengers. The interior and exterior is on Polo level, much like its 1.4 liter engine and big boot.

Walk around the Grande Punto Dynamique a few times and you won’t find much to report on. I didn’t. The Fiat looks reserved and normal, with a silver grill and big lights that push far back into its front fenders. Its backside is also nothing too daring; a clean and uncluttered look was obviously in the design brief.

Jump in behind the steering wheel and things become reasonably more interesting. The seats and doors are treated with a shiny blue material, and the steering wheel looks and feels modern. The Grande Punto has also got (among many others) a button on its dashboard displaying a picture of a steering wheel. Press it and a green “CITY” light makes its appearance, and the steering wheel becomes notably lighter to operate.

The power steering becomes a bit too light and removes a lot of feedback, but it is a definite plus point in parking areas and slow suburban cornering. Press the button again and the “normal” feeling returns, which also feels better on national roads at higher speeds.

Other knoppies and toys include an RDS radio with CD player, air-conditioning, trip computer with digital information screen, sound system controls on the steering wheel, height-adjustable steering wheel and headlights, and electric windows and mirrors. The central locking locks all doors automatically above a certain speed, and the big Punto also boasts with airbags and an immobilizer.

Traction control, ABS brakes and EBD also make up parts of the Fiat’s safety arsenal; the relatively skinny tires completing a test emergency stop on wet roads surprisingly well. But theee most impressive part of this Grande Punto remains its 1.4 liter 4 cylinder petrol engine.

The little 16-valve T-Jet gets force-fed by a turbocharger and offers any owner plenty of driving pleasure. Just shy of 1500rpm it starts waking up and announces its services with a somewhat harsh but enjoyable noise accompanied by a soft turbo whistle.

Although there wasn’t a redline on the rev counter the 1.4 T-Jet will develop almost 90kW at 5000rpm and run into its limiter near 6500rpm. Performance and acceleration is almost breathtaking when the little 1400 and its turbo move the small Italian motor to 100km/h in a whisper under 9 seconds. Keep your foot in the carpet and the Grande Punto will apparently reach 200km/h in its fifth gear.

In more lawful circumstances the turbocharged Bambino will showcase another pleasant attribute… its excellent torque figure of 200-and-a-bit Nm. This means that (with anything above 1500 on the rev counter) the Fiat will easily accelerate and doesn’t shy back from hills, heavy baggage, or overtaking other cars on main road.

This makes everyday driving an absolute pleasure because you don’t need to (unlike Fiats of old) thrash the poor little engine to extract its potential. And with an average consumption of just 6.5 liters per 100km this car will empty its 45 liter fuel tank in about 700km.

However; I am convinced that most owners will not achieve these numbers because the frisky engine and its noisy antics will surely tempt them to give it the spurs! The somewhat sedate bodywork of the Grande Punto 1.4 T-Jet hides an eager engine which makes every press of the accelerator an exciting event.

If any readers long for an even sportier car, then the 3-door Grande Punto Sport from Fiat will probably be a better choice. Its engine is identical but the shorter (and more cheeky) Sport model will reach 100km/h slightly quicker with a higher top speed.

But the greatest appeal of the Grande Punto (5 door) is its simple appearance which makes it a bit of a wolf in lamb’s clothing. The suspension setup also adheres to the aforementioned simplicity and is tuned more for comfort than for performance. The Fiat gives good feedback to the driver but with its thin tires it isn’t very fond of enthusiast cornering.

That doesn’t make the Fiat Grande Punto 1.4 T-Jet Dynamique a bad car – it’s just a modern, economical Italian runabout that has a wonderful, wonderful engine. I’m still pleasantly surprised. Also with the car’s price of N$183 600, which includes a 3 year 100 000km warranty and a 5 year 100 000km service plan.

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