Fiat Punto TwinAir review

3 July 2012

3-door Fiat Punto TwinAir front view

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Good: Cheap to buy with a frugal and peppy engine
Bad: Noisy, with soggy suspension and getting on a bit
Price: from £12,100
Theodore Roosevelt’s famous advice was to talk softly but carry a big stick if you aim to go far in life. Clearly this tip has been ignored by Fiat’s engineers, because the new Punto TwinAir does exactly the opposite. Under the bonnet, the weapon of choice is a pocket-sized two-cylinder turbo petrol engine of just 875cc displacement. But it doesn’t half make a racket.

All I’m doing is backing out of a parking slot at the start of my test, and the raspy, farty noise emerging from the Punto’s exhaust sounds as if I might be lining up for a banger race, or perhaps heading to a garage to get a missing silencer replaced.

If you enjoy being noticed, you may well find the noise appealing. In which case you will also want to specify the hyperactive metallic green of the Punto pictured, which is exclusively offered on the two-cylinder car.

2012 Fiat Punto TwinAir on the road

Once properly on the move, the noise recedes a little, but never dips below a persistent, throaty growl. I imagine fondness for the sound might start to wane after an hour or two of motorway, but when taken for a quick spin it does seem to add to the fun.

One thing that strikes immediately is that the two-cylinder engine note requires some mental adjustment beyond blocking out the decibels. Used to changing up to the tune of a four-cylinder motor, I misjudge the first half-dozen gear changes and wind up bouncing the engine off its rev limiter by accident, initially mistaking the sensation of lost power for the world’s most abrupt flat spot.

2012 Fiat Punto TwinAir dashboard

Had I bothered to look for the tacho rather than trusting my ears, I might also have noticed the prominent shift indicator that pops up in the centre of the instrument panel, glowing orangely and suggesting when to swap cogs in aid of better fuel consumption.

There are six gears to choose from, and they feel well spaced and natural once I’ve adjust to the engine.

According to Fiat’s stopwatch the Punto TwinAir takes 12.7 seconds to hit 62mph, which is not going to blister any tyres. From behind the wheel, the car feels perhaps a couple of seconds quicker than it actually is.

2012 Fiat Punto TwinAir rear view

Despite all the enthusiastic noises and some decently supportive seats, the Punto doesn’t strike me as the best hatchback for barrelling along B-roads, unfortunately. Body control feels at the looser end of the spectrum, with the tall Punto swaying like a storm-tossed yacht in response to camber changes, or pitching and shimmying over lumps and bumps like a dinghy in distress.

The soft setup does have its advantages. At slower speeds, on rutted urban roads, the Punto is unusually comfortable by modern standards.

Not that the Punto is really a modern car. Having arrived in roughly its present form in 2005 the Punto is not far away from arthritic senility in automotive years. An entirely new Punto will arrive before the end of 2014 and for now we have the car's second facelift, which is better than the previous one but still not sufficient to disguise the wrinkles, to my eye at least.

2012 Fiat Punto interior

Age does have its benefits, of course, and while a car can’t become wiser it can at least become cheaper.

TwinAir is a trim level as well as an engine, costing from £12,100 in three-door form – rear doors add £600. The car comes reasonably equipped, but it may be worth spending an additional £1,000 or so on the Brio upgrade pack, which adds leather to the wheel and gearknob, climate control, cruise control, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth and music-player compatibility. To try to drum up further interest, Fiat is knocking £1,000 off the price and throwing in the Brio pack for free on orders placed before the end of September 2012, at which price the Punto seems like a distinct bargain.

Running costs should be modest. Despite the shouty paint and burbling exhaust, the Punto TwinAir is actually a model citizen when it comes to fuel consumption – or at least the official combined-cycle version of consumption. It scores a remarkable 67.3mpg and just 98g/km of CO2, bringing sub-100g/km benefits such as exemption from the London congestion charge.

2012 Fiat Punto TwinAir five-door from the side

The Punto TwinAir is the most spacious non-hybrid petrol car to achieve this feat so far – other cars in the same class duck under 100g/km only by virtue of a dirty diesel engine or a complex, expensive smattering of motors and batteries.

Most sub-100g/km rivals such as Ford’s Fiesta Econetic or Vauxhall’s Corsa EcoFlex cost substantially more, the wrong side of £14,000, but tougher competition will come from the likes of Kia’s Rio EcoDynamics or Chevrolet’s Aveo Eco. Both snap at the heels of Fiat’s competitive list price, but are newer designs with generally nicer interiors.

2012 Fiat Punto TwinAir boot badge

On my test the trip computer reported miles per gallon in the mid-40s, but then I did start out driving it rather badly.

All told, the Punto is showing its age in a way that a youthful new engine can’t disguise. I suspect Fiat dealers will warmly embrace anyone showing an interest, so if a lime green TwinAir sounds tempting, you should be able to strike a very favourable bargain.

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