Fiat Punto Evo Abarth driven
Words: Ouseph Chacko
Photography: Gaurav S Thombre
Fiat fans rejoice. Infact, fans of all things small and fast rejoice because we’ve just driven the Punto Evo Abarth and can safely tell you it is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s bloody quick, it’s exciting to drive and, best of all, it should come in for around Rs 10 lakh.
But, before we start hooning around in it, I’d like to get two things out of the way first. One, the driving position is still not perfect. The steering doesn’t have enough rake adjust and there’s no reach adjust, and this has implications especially if you, like me, are of average height. When you adjust the seat for the correct distance from the pedals, the steering is too close to you. The other thing is, the gearshift is quite rubbery and now that I’ve got the bad bits out of the way, let’s get on to everything else that’s totally smile inducing.
Under the hood is a rumoured 145bhp version of Fiat’s 1.4-litre T-Jet engine with a five speed manual. The car also gets a 20mm drop in ride height, stiffer suspension and disc brakes on all four wheels. On the move, the turbo only wakes up when you’re past 2000rpm but there’s enough grunt for ambling duties below the boost threshold. The engine will spin to 6500rpm, but it’s best to keep it in its very strong and punch mid-range where it’s really quick and, on an impromptu 0-100kph run, the Punto Abarth crossed the mark in 9.3sec! But, it’s not the numbers that define this car. What you’ll find exciting is the way the boost surges in when you’ve got your foot down. The gearing feels short and close ratioed, so everytime you snap up the next gear, the revs drop to where the boost begins and it’s another rush to the redline. I don’t think it will have the top-speed capability of the Polo GT TSI because of its short gearing and lesser number of gears, but on a hill road, it’s an absolute hoot.
Puntos have always been good handling cars and this one is even better. The steering feels a bit tighter than the one in regular Punto’s and it likes quick changes of direction. As long as you’re not on full boost, the front tyres will find enough grip to take you around the corner at shocking speeds. If you do insist on leadfooting it through the corner, the car slips into progressive understeer and, in extreme cases, spin away power through the unloaded inside wheel (there’s no ESP or traction control). Drive it smoothly though and you won’t believe the staggering real world pace it has.
And, as always, the suspension has been tuned to straddle the fine line between great dynamics and comfort. Ride quality is very mature and you can confidently hammer over bad patches of road without upsetting the car’s composure. Oh, there is some torque steer on uneven surfaces – you can feel the steering tugging at your arms, but it’s not unmanageable and you soon learn to compensate for this when you’re going balls out. The brakes are great too – there’s strong bite and stopping power.
Also, the exhaust note is quite uninspiring, but I’m sure there’ll be aftermarket kits to rectify this in no time at all. What else? The interiors are a bit old school now and the dials could have been more exciting. It may not have the ultimate quality of the Polo GT TSI and it may not have the long equipment list of the i20, but when a car is this fun to drive, who cares? This is an enthusiasts car.
All in all, the Punto finally has an engine to take advantage of what is already a great chassis. Fiat has finally given us a worthy successor to the Palio 1.6 GTX.