2007 Fiat Grande Punto Dynamic 1.4 litre petrol 8v from South Africa
Stylish, economical and very refined Italian hatch
I drove a 2006 Hyundai Azera 3.3 V6 A/T before and had to sell it for what I owed the bank after the gearbox failed at 160000 km (100000 miles). I used it for long-distance driving, but my usage pattern has changed, so now I looked for a small economical hatchback for mainly city use, so I bought a used 2007 Fiat Grande Punto 1.4 Dynamic (the 8-valve 5-speed model with 57 kW). I could get the Fiat with only 66000 km on the odo.
Having downgraded on power by 116 kW, I had to think long and hard before buying the Fiat. I had committed to not spend more than R70000 (about US$5600) and unfortunately, sound examples of the 6-speed 16-valve with 70 kW were just not available at this price point. However, what little power the 8v has is available from low down in the rev range, so it's the ideal little city car.
The biggest surprise was ride comfort, and I was shocked that the little Fiat dispatched potholes and speed bumps in a much more absorbent and composed way than my Azera. Chassis refinement has been the single biggest highlight with the car, which makes it perfect for South African conditions with our deteriorating roads. However, I have heard stories of wheel alignment issues on the Grande Punto and I had to set mine when I got it... hope this is not a recurring thing.
Fuel economy is very good - it uses half the fuel my Azera did - but the 16v with the 6-speed gearbox would probably be better. I average around 7.5 litres/100 km (37.7 MPG UK) in the city, without any motorway driving. However, there is little power and the 5th gear ratio is very short to compensate, so going fast on a hilly motorway (130 km/h - 80mph) with the A/C on, I get about the same, because the revs are then well past 4000 RPM. Slowing down to about 120 km/h (75 mph) without A/C, this easily improves to 6 litres/100 km (47 MPG UK). In a similar vein, driving very conservatively in the city has brought down my city consumption to 7 litres/100 km (40 MPG UK), which I think is very good. But then my last car gave 14 litres/100 km (20 MPG UK) in the city!
Handling is secure and fail-safe, but not much fun. It seems there is more of a focus on ride comfort, reflecting the influence of the GM team when the SCCS chassis was developed. There is plenty of grip, and thanks to 195/60R15 tyres and only 57 kW, the grip limits are seldom taxed.
Interior space is average and the boot is above average for the class. I had to get used to the Italian driving position with the long arms and short legs, and initially I could not find a comfortable driving position, until I realised this is how the Italians want me to sit and there must be something to it... Now I hardly notice it. Seat comfort is excellent for a small car, helped by electric lumbar support.
Standard specification is a mixed bag and the Grande Punto in South Africa has a very strange combination of features - is it like this everywhere? The car is equipped with items just not seen in small cars of this age, like 6 airbags, electric driver's lumbar support, front centre armrest and a superb, high-spec sound system. However, there are glaring omissions, like no light in the cubby and no external temperature display, despite the trip computer. Very odd.
I love the dashboard too, although this is very colour sensitive. The grey dash seems very bland, but mine has a blue band through the middle to match the paintwork and this jazzes it up no end. But my biggest criticism is the severe lack of storage spaces in the car. The door pockets are impossibly narrow, the cubby is so small the instruction manual does not even fit in it and there are no seatback pockets. The front cupholders are far forward and obscured by the gear lever, and the little nook ahead of them cannot even accommodate my cellphone.
Something that drives me mad is that there does not seem to be an ACC position on the ignition that powers windows and the radio. The radio switches off with the ignition. I eventually found a setting in the radio menu that keeps it on. However, you can set it to 20 minutes only and then it stays on when you leave and lock the car, so you have to switch it off manually. You have to switch it on manually also when returning to the car when on this setting. What were they thinking? Ah well.
I'm taking it easy on the electric power steering and I never use the "City" function so the electric motor does not have to work too hard, because I've heard of EPS failures on these cars. Mine is still fine though.
I hope the honeymoon continues and that I am not punished for falling for the GP's Italian charms and Maserati looks.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 9th July, 2015