08/07/2009 06:10

On test: Fiat Punto 1.9 JTD review (1999-2002 Model)

Fiat Punto JTD 115bhp


Bodystyle:HatchbackEngine:1.9 in-line 4-cylFuel type:DieselTransmission:5-speed manualDate of Test:June 2002

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What is it?

A European best-seller, the Punto is easily Fiat’s best-selling car. Churned out daily in their thousands, Puntos are superminis with character and typically-sharp Italian styling, currently displaying their second suit; the original was launched in 1993 to replace the ageing Uno, this brand-new model coming along in 1999.

Where does it fit?

The Punto JTD is Fiat’s most powerful Punto diesel - there’s also a cheaper version which lacks this model’s turbocharger and common-rail injection system. Puntos are spacious and practical small cars; as a largish five-door supermini, the JTD naturally competes with Peugeot’s 206, Ford’s Fiesta and Citroen’s C3, all of which offer diesel variants sharing a 1.4-litre engine. At the time of writing, other options inlcude Volkswagen's 1.4-litre TDI Polo, while there’s a 1.7-litre turbodiesel Vauxhall Corsa, and a less-powerful 1.9-litre SDI Skoda Fabia. Don’t forget Renault’s 1.5-litre dCi Clio or Rover’s 2.0-litre TD 25, either: this is a crowded market.

Is it for you?

If you’re looking for one of the most stylish superminis on sale, you’ll certainly be attracted to the Punto. Typically Italian, its sharp lines still cut a dash, despite ever-increasing competition from more modern rivals. It’s still admirably spacious too, Fiat’s packaging efficiency becoming, if anything, even more impressive as the years pass. The JTD diesel may only be offered in a limited range of upper-range models, but the benefit of this is particularly generous standard equipment levels.

What does it do well?

The turbodiesel engine gives the Punto a whole new character - one of heavy-hitting supermini able to mix it with the big boys. 85bhp is produced by the 1.9-litre unit, which is notably higher than most rivals, and endows the Punto with impressive pace and neck-bending ‘pull’ in all gears. The chassis handles this power well, and is quite fun for the keen driver. When parking, compact dimensions and the clever ‘city button’ (it lightens the steering) help you slot into most spaces. The Punto is fairly quiet at speed, and the roomy interior offers an excellent driving position.

What doesn't it do well?

There’s no denying the engine is noisier than petrol units, and is also less refined than newer, smaller-capacity, less-powerful rivals. The car isn’t as relaxing as it ought to be, with a firm ride and ‘jiggly’ feel at speed. Some of the trims inside are of questionable quality, and there’s that ‘tinny’ feel which other manufacturers have managed to engineered out of their small cars. Although it’s easy to drive, the gearchange lacks finesse, and keener drivers find the steering feels somewhat ‘artificial’.

What's it like to live with?

Fiat dealers are among the country’s worst for customer service, according to surveys, so although servicing a Punto should be inexpensive, don’t take great service for granted. Fortunately, fuel economy is very good from the punchy engine (actually one of the first of the clever new ‘common-rail’ diesels to hit the market) and insurance is also reasonable given its performance. Reliability could be an issue though, for although Fiats are hardy and durable, they sometimes suffer from niggles which, although not serious, are nevertheless irritating.

Would we buy it?

Given the Punto’s pace, economy and still-striking looks, we'd consider it a serious contender in the rapidly-expanding small diesel market. However, most buyers don’t seem to agree, preferring the 1.2-litre models instead, which means JTD sales are limited. Maybe the only average refinement puts them off, or maybe it’s the lack of choice within the range. We might be swayed by the greater refinement and feel of competitors like the Fiesta and Polo. Whatever, this is a good value diesel supermini that deserves to sell better than it does.

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