Fiat Grande Punto 1.2 Active
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There was a lot of excitement and expectation around the launch of the Fiat Grande Punto as the car has been doing really well all over the w orld and been instrumental in reviving Fiat’s’ fortunes in many markets the world over. Fiat’s parent company has been very committed about its presence in the Indian car market and the first car launched to script its revival story has been the Fiat Linea which is doing good numbers.Fiat Grande Punto

Fiats have always been known to be driver’s cars. Petrolheads even today swear by their 1.6 lt 100 bhp engine which powered the Palio Sport. What an engine that was and the best petrol motor that the company has brought to India.

So when we got a  chance, we chased Fiat for the test drive of their 1.4 lt 90 bhp variant Grande Punto hoping to get a taste of that old magic. Sad, it was not to be. We could lay our hands on the much smaller 1.2 lt 68 bhp engine and that too in its most basic, Active avataar.

I collected the keys of the test drive vehicle from Fiat with a fair deal of apprehension. Almost a lack of expectation to be honest as I was drowned in the general impression that the car was just built for the budget customer and lacked any punch. People had kept writing the engine off!

I am in a way thankful that the car I tested was their most basic Active variant as that made me concentrate on the essentials of the car, the engine, drive, gearbox and suspension. Good or bad, this car had no distractions whatsoever.

Exterior:Fiat Grande Punto
How ever basic you make a Grande Punto, the looks still never fail to impress you all over again. That same low Maserati like nose. This car will always make heads turn and get at least one more look. It simply never goes unnoticed.
The rear light console is high mounted which can be very useful for cars following you or while changing lanes. The dual stage head lamps provide a great range for the light with beam adjust providing the necessary customization.

Interior:
As this was the basic the variant, an all black cabin welcomed me. In the pricier Emotion variants, a two tone grey black interior color scheme enhances the feel.
Thankfully the Active variant also comes with a steering height adjust and it was very easy for me to find a comfortable driving position.
The build quality of the interiors appeared very solid with a good fit and finish. Irregular panel gaps at some places were an eye sore but on the whole the interiors had a fairly solid feel to them.
The buttons, knobs are nice and chunky and door panels have a distinct sturdiness to them.
Glad that the basic variant has not done away with essentials like the tachometer which some competing models do. If you are a driver, you would look more at the tachometer than at the speedometer, if you know what I mean.

The air conditioner is quite impressive as well. There is not much noticable drop in the power with the ac on which you could expect from a motor this frugal.Fiat Grande Punto

The positioning of the A pillar is quiet good and through the couple of days of city driving did not come across a single situation where I was blinded and could not notice a vehicle approaching at an angle of 90 degrees which used to happen a lot in the Fiat Palio and also does happen in the Vista.

The rear windows roll down to about 75% which can be a bit of a soar.

The front seats offer very good support to the back and sides which will pay rich dividends on long drives. There is enough knee room for the driver and co-passenger as well. The rear seats are not quite the most roomie to the extent that they are a bit crammed. Having said that, it has a very large boot for most practical purposes.Fiat Grande Punto

The central console is slightly tilted towards the driver.

One you settle in the driver's seat you realize that this is a pure driver's car. The steering wheel is slightly on the larger side but is impressively designed. The thumb groves on the steering wheel are a nice touch and the horn pad is not of a stretch for your thumb. The instrument dash is quite conventional with an equally sized tachometer and speedo. So nice to see that Fiat has not gotten rid of the tachometer even for the active variant. I would have loved to see the dials in white just like in the Linea at least on the Emotion variants which would have given it a more sporty feel.

Engine and power-train:
The 1.2 motor belongs to the FIRE family of engines which have powered the Fiat Palio in the 1.2 and the more powerful 100bhp 1.6 ltr motors. This very engine does service in the Tata Indica Vista Saffire variant.

I powered up the engine and immediately noticed how silent it was. You can barely hear the engine under 2000 rpm. To see how noisy it can get, I revved it further up while I was on idle and I was charmed by the typical vroooooom of a thoroughbred Italian petrol engine.

Attempt to engage the gear and you suddenly notice that the clutch has a long motion. I do not mean here that the clutch is heavy. In fact it is quite light but long and takes a bit of getting used to. The gear throws are not long and slot easy but have an uncanny rubbery feel to them.

Slot the gear into first and set off. The car did surprise me very pleasantly with how effortless it was off the block. Unlike the other petrol engine, the 1.4 lt 90 bhp motor that needs to be revved, this one is comparatively a low rev high torque nature engine and it shows.
It is so drivable that you can amble around in the city bumper to bumper and over the ever so frequent speed bumps without too many gear shifts.Fiat Grande Punto

As I drove around in the city I began to appreciate the value of the maximum torque of 96 Nm being delivered at as low as 2500 rpm which is such a boon in the city as against most competing 1.2 lt engines that provide peak torque at as high as 4000 rpm!

I need to draw you attention to this incident. In a typical Mumbai stop-and-go traffic scenario, there was some unruly lane change which caused me to slow down to almost a stand still and then move on. I did not undertake a gear change and just powered on and the engine did not growl or knock even a little bit. Noticing this I thought to myself, I must have been in the second. To my astonishment, I was in the third! Thats how drivable this engine is in the city!

Unlike its big brother, it need not be constantly revved to convince it to perform and that makes it one of the most silent cabins amongst all the Grande Punto engines in India.

Fiat Grande PuntoThe same story continues when you move to the highways. The engine is indeed quite refined. May not be the most refined of the ones available but is quite refined much the same. The car has enough grunt for a routine highway drive. I agree that it is not war horse but sufficiently adequate power. It has much lesser grunt at the higher rev range than the more powerful sibling but it is also considerably more frugal owing to its smaller capacity and low rev torque. We could drive it to 130 kmph without too much fuss and if you insist further, does reach 140-ish kmph speed where it will peak out.

Now you might say that these are no great figures. True. But they are not bad either. Also, what needs a mention here is that how many cars in its price range and similar performance figures stay so composed at such high speed. I opine... NONE!

Fiat claims that the 1.2 variant will return 15.5 kmpl overall which are under ARAI certified figures under standard test conditions which are impressive for a car that is so solidly built and does not boast of a very high power to weight ratio but still has a decent performance.

The gears slot well and throws are not long as well which was the issue with the Palio but they have a distinct rubbery feel to them. The first gear is short. The second and third gears have a long range keeping city drivability in mind. The pull in the third is quite impressive as well with the overdrive ideal for a refined cruise.

Ride and handling:
The handling, steering and highway habits of the Grande Punto are in a league of its own and the best in our side of affordability range. The car is so planted that no corner feels a challenge. It inspires confidence when you drive it to the extent that it makes you feel like a much better driver.
The steering is splendid as well. It gives just the right amount of feedback at high speeds and the car goes exactly where you point the steering wheel. Its in a league of its own!

Talking about the suspension. There is always a trade off between a softness of the suspension and the cornering characteristics of a car and the Grande Punto treads the middle path almost perfectly. It does have minimal body roll but feels quite splendid on the whole.Fiat Grande Punto

Overall evaluation:
Overall, a very practical-without-compromise offering from Fiat which has remained in the shadows of its more powerful siblings. Introduction of the more feature-rich variants now should help it get more attention and should be instrumental in boosting the numbers for the company at the bottom range. If you have done your mathematics and have decided in favour of a petrol and have major driving to do in the city with occasional venture on the highway, this 1.2 GP is worth more than a serious look at.