I was skeptical while I watched my beloved Maruti Ritz drive away. The Fiat Abarth Punto that was to replace my Maruti would arrive within the next two days, thanks to an amazing exchange offer from Fiat CAI, Coimbatore. The Punto Abarth, being the car that it is, is not available at all Fiat outlets.
Moving to flashback mode:
Rewinding to one week back: Hailing from Trichy, Tamilnadu, India, I watched out for the Punto Abarth at Fiat showrooms for three successive months, then visited ashowroom personally, only to be told that it might not arrive in Trichy. The next step? A call to Coimbatore from one of the Fiat representatives in Trichy, helped me to take the next step to book the car from 200 plus kilometers away. For all those who do not know what ‘Abarth’ is, it is the same for Fiat, as ‘AMG’ is, for ‘Mercedes’. In other words, ‘Abarth’ is the performance division of Fiat. The test drive vehicle soon arrived – it was white, with red stripes, not my favourite combo of colours, but all that took a backseat when I drove it – the result of which, made me finalize my decision to part with my Ritz.
Fast – forward to present time: though I continue to harbour fond memories of my smooth Maruti Ritz, the Fiat Abarth Punto has now definitely taken the main rank.
In shining black armor, with red stripes, with scorpion logos on the roof, alloy wheels and abarth badges, the car exudes Italian taste and design, which is literally mouth – watering for car enthusiasts who spend a huge chunk of their wallets modifying their cars to look this way, after getting bored of their stock versions.
The alloy wheels sport 195/55 R16 tyres, which may be disappointing for enthusiasts who like wider tyres. Research and feedback from the staff at Fiat reveal safe exchange for 205 section tyres, for the same alloys. So, if you own an Abarth or a plain Punto, you now know what is safe for these alloys to work. What may spoil the ‘race – car – appeal’ is the massive gap in the wheel arches. Though the ride height has been dropped by a huge 30mm to 155mm its’ a real shame because there’s still too much blank space above the tyres. Its’ better in a way though, because reducing it further would make the underbody vulnerable on Indian roads.
The lights on the bumpers, with surrounding red stripes look elegant and pronounces the presence of the already sporty car. The exhaust pipe, sticks out a little bit, and may be a negative for some, though I really don’t care much for it.
Brands such as Fiat, Ford and Volkswagen celebrate the solidity of their cars, and the Abarth Punto lives up to the reputation. After being used to Marutis, the doors feel as heavy as a battle tank’s. The reassuring thud on closing the doors, and the warning when not closing them properly, further ensure you have a safe drive.
The 4 cylinder, twin-cam 1.4-litre engine has a turbo mashed into it to elevate… the ummm… glamour. With a peak power of 145 PS and 212Nm of peak torque, it is definitely engines like these that shows us what the ‘Fiat’ legacy is truly capable of producing.
The inside of the beast, is very much that of the humble 90 bhp Punto Evo, except for a few tweaks. The clocks in yellow, lightweight racing pedals, the Abarth logo on the steering wheel are good additions. It would have been awesome to have slightly sportier seats with a more prominent stitch and an embroidered Abarth logo to make this cabin look complete. You get similar creature comfort levels as the Punto Evo. You get air bags for both driver and for those riding shotgun.
The stereo system from Fiat is pretty good, with Bluetooth and USB functionality. Reverse parking sensors are available from Fiat, and can be installed safely. But if you are looking for rear – view cameras and electronically adjustable wing mirrors, you are out of luck.
The seating is a bit awkward, with a steering that doesn’t adjust for reach, and shifting the seat forward to get better accessibility to the pedals, may end up getting the steering in your face. It takes a few days to get the seating position in an ideal manner for long – term comfort, which may be irksome for few.
The dash is pretty cool, with regular info on distance covered, average fuel consumed per 100 kmph, etc. Steering has audio controls and features for Bluetooth connectivity to attend phone calls via the car’s audio system.
The rear seats are decent with adequate leg room, but could have done superbly with airbags.
The boot sports a capacity of 280 L, which is higher than the Maruti Ritz’s capacity of 236 L and the Maruti Swift’s hilarious 204 L. This car also comes with foldable rear seats to accommodate more luggage, just as with the Marutis.
Maruti, Honda and Hyundai users may be disappointed with the lesser no. of cubbyholes and practical utilities in the cockpit. But then, bear in mind, if you are thinking of buying this car, you have to get rid of the ‘practical mindset’. This car is purely for the enthusiast, and not for people who like driving fancy cars with gadgets at a budget rate.
But forget all that. We all know why you are reading this article. How does the beast ride? How does it fare on the road? Does it perform like a budget sports car, or just like a fast peppy car that ‘economical’ brands build?
The key, offers facilities for central locking, unlocking and also for opening the boot. For someone who had a humble Ritz, the key looks pretty stylish to me, especially with the cute Abarth logo on it.
I start the engine, and am surprised, though not totally disappointed with the refined note, rather than the expected roar from a 145 bhp beast. Most racers would complain sorely about this, but I personally prefer riding in a car that will surprise others with its performance, rather than the noise from the engine. You know the proverb – “Empty vessels, make more..” – you get the drift.
The transmission, is thankfully manual, and responds well, but feels a bit rubbery with longer throws, to which one can get adapted with time.
The car moves forward pretty quickly in first gear, and for those who are used to slower hatchbacks, this may be a disadvantage when driving in traffic. Exercise caution – keep your foot readily hovering near the brake pedal. Slot the car into second gear, and you can sense mild turbo lag up to 1800 rpm, after which it rockets forward, putting all other hatchbacks within the 10 lakh range to shame.
Though Fiat claims an 8.8 second climb to 100 kmph from 0, my drives so far have best produced a decent 9.45 second ascent, to the peak, which is the best among all the budget hatchbacks at present. The Apollo Alnac tyres hold surprisingly well, with front wheels scrabbling to put all the power and torque down. If you are going to be drag racing, do not be overwhelmed when you hear the tyres screeching for grip, when you take off from a standstill on the runway!
The short, lower gears offer no let – up in power, thanks to the well spinning turbo. The 6,500rpm rev limit comes up in no time and each upshift placed correctly, takes you to powerband nirvana. The car easily touches 170 kmph on highways with relatively less traffic.
The steering is nothing short of amazing. From the moment you grip the wheel, you know you are in safe hands – as long as you keep your presence of mind, and concentrate on driving! The absence of traction control, puts the car entirely at the driver’s hands – this is not at all worrying, since the car grips the road well, and takes each turn with grace and precision, without giving any feel of insecurity. Though there is a bit of under – steer due to the massive amount of torque, this can be avoided by braking early, lowering the power while approaching the turn, then accelerating through it, while gripping the corner. Following the above tip, will give you excellent results, especially in winding ghat roads.
The brakes are absolutely smashing, and even bring the car to a safe standstill from speeds as high as 140 kmph.
MILEAGE: If you are thinking of buying any hot hatch, you should probably ignore this factor. BUT, the Abarth performs surprisingly well, delivering as much as 11 to 13 kmpL. This is possible, because the car can potter around at 40 kmph even in fourth gear, and shifting to fifth gear for extended 50 kmph drives gives even better results.
PRICING & SPECS:
The car costs RS. 10 lakhs plus, on road and is available only as a singular model with petrol version.
||4-cyl, in-line, 1368cc DOHC turbo-petrol
||143bhp at 5500 rpm
||21.57kgm at 2000-4000rpm
Chassis & Body
||Four door hatchback, monocoque
||Independent, coil springs, stabilizer bar
||torsion beam, stabilizer bar
CONCLUSION: This car is definitely a sportscar, well within the budget range. Those who say that its’ too expensive for a hatchback, probably have not driven it.
WHO IS THIS CAR FOR?
- THE DRIVING ENTHUSIAST
- Those who want to compete with the likes of BMWs and Audis, but are cut off by a budget of 20 lakhs
- Those who earn enough money to pay for petrol three or four times a month, without needing to own a fuel bunk.
- Those who are interested more in driving than additional car gadgets and accessories.
- Those who look for adrenaline rather than practicality.