Review and photos by Dan Heyman

2013 Fiat Punto
2013 Fiat Punto
2013 Fiat Punto. Click image to enlarge

It could be a year from now, or a day, or maybe a decade, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling. The way the lights bounce off the cornucopia of reflective road signs, so bright and numerous that you don’t need streetlights; which is good, because there aren’t any. The way the road twists and turns ahead of you, and how you can see a ribbon of tarmac winding its way across a golden field miles ahead of you, and how you know that you’ll be getting there eventually, because there aren’t many other roads to choose from. And then, when you do eventually get there, it’s as good as you hoped it’d be.

The feeling of finally getting the chance to try something you’ve read about in car magazines for years, or seen on the telly, or maybe even dreamt about (cause and effect being what it is) is one that I was lucky to have on a recent trip to the wilds of northern Italy, with a start point in one iconic Italian landscape, across some legendary roads (some used in the Mille Miglia endurance race as recently as 1977) and an end-point in a motoring mecca of sorts: Maranello, home of Enzo and his flock of Ferrari supercars and race cars.

The car

2013 Fiat Punto2013 Fiat Punto
2013 Fiat Punto. Click image to enlarge

While it may not be the most exotic of rides with which to complete a trip like this, the 2013 Fiat Punto  (just think of it as a less gangly-looking 500L, with which it shares a platform) is a fun little car with sprightly steering, a proper driving position and styling that is oh-so-Italian (but modern rather than the retro 500s) with those flashy two-tone alloy wheels, vertical C-pillar-hugging taillamps and blacked-out mesh grille. Yes, its 1.3L diesel only makes 85 horsepower, but being a diesel means a healthy 147 lb-ft of torque, equaling that of a Mazda3 Skyactiv hatch.

It’s less than a Golf TDI makes, but when you go through less than half a 35L tank of fuel in a 328-km ride, you tend to get over that pretty quick.

2013 Fiat Punto2013 Fiat Punto2013 Fiat Punto2013 Fiat Punto
2013 Fiat Punto. Click image to enlarge

Harder to get over, however, is the plethora of sharp, scratchable plastics that grace the steering wheel and pretty much every surface repeatedly bumped into by errant knees and elbows, horrible cupholder placement and a shift lever whose action is so rubbery you’d think elastic bands had replaced the linkages. Brutale.

The piano-black finish on the centre console isn’t bad, though, and the display screen on it and between the gauges will look familiar to anyone who owns a Fiat 500, but that’s about the extent of any “flashiness” found in here.

Tuscany, Italy and the Ferrari Museum in a Fiat Punto
Tuscany, Italy and the Ferrari Museum in a Fiat Punto. Click image to enlarge

The verdict? Well, I’m a diesel fan so that aspect of the experience was a good one, even if the hp count is little to write home about. I also like a good, sporty hatchback and while the transmission left me wanting (wanting a better shift action, maybe a sixth ratio), the ride and handling are strong aspects of the experience. Finally, while I like the Fiat 500 available here, I’ve since sampled the 500L and I wonder if, in fact, Fiat would have been better off bringing the Punto over instead. It shares its underpinnings with the 500L, isn’t that much smaller inside but has proper – rather handsome, in fact – sporty hatchback looks, as opposed to the awkward half-Mini Countryman, half-Fiat 500 digs on display from the 500L.

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