By on January 16, 2008

the-snout-of-a-maser.jpgGM Global Product Maven Maximum Bob Lutz claims that satisfying new U.S. federal fuel economy regulations will cost the consumer an additional $6k per car, on average. That seems a bit of a strange statement, as there are already plenty of cars capable of besting the freshly-minted mandate. From Japan to Jerusalem, from Mumbai to Milan, the world is filled, and filling, with suitably fuel efficient passenger cars. The real question is whether or not America is ready– make that “willing”– to buy the same sort of frugal machines that the rest of the world has been driving for years. Take the Fiat Grande Punto. Please.

Despite the word “Grande,” the Punto is 158 inches long– a little longer than the ten foot pole with which most American Camry drivers wouldn’t touch an Italian car. Thanks to oversized details like swept back headlights and chunky door handles, the Punto doesn’t look especially small. The gorgeous front end evokes the, gulp, Maserati Coupe GT. The sides are sporty without the usual cheese wedge demeanor. The back end is wonderfully chunky and perfectly tidy.

In short, literally, after the MINI Cooper, the Punto is proof positive that manufacturers needn’t beat small, inexpensive cars with the fugly stick (I’m almost looking at you, Toyota Yaris).

111.jpgThe Grande Punto’s interior is its weakest link: a totally unremarkable design with materials appropriate for an American car that cost about $13k. Mercifully, Fiat has blessed the car's rock hard plastics with a pleasant matte finish. And the panels line-up with such precision you’d think the Italians drafted in some anal-retentive Swiss or Germans workers to screw the Punto’s interior together. (It’s the robots, stupid.) While bland, the cabin creates the impression that the Punto is well-assembled– a notion that no Italian car should be without.

Despite the Punto’s largely urban remit, the seats are built for the long haul. And you can forget the Italian astronaut driving position (if you like); the helmsman’s throne has manual adjustments out the wazoo. Space is also well managed; there’s plenty of room in the back for two adults or three Gumbys. Drop the second row, and the hatchback accommodates all your Euro-commodities.

fiat_grande_punto_004.jpgThe driving experience reveals the Fiat Grande Punto as a mini (no caps) masterpiece. We begin with the fizzy, crackling engine. Don’t let its 77 horsepower output fool you. Scientists from the Research Institute of Research have released a study that proves it is impossible to drive the Grande Punto without a shit-eating grin. Wind it all the way up, dump the clutch, wind it up again, and continue. For an engine with about half the displacement of a pair of galoshes, it sounds magnificent. Two valves per cylinder? Who gives a damn when it sounds like you’ve got a micro Ferrari.

The optional Duodrive semi-automatic transmission is like the one bar in Times Square that’s worth visiting. It’s a computer controlled five-speed manual transmission (like the high-performance transmissions in Maseratis, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis) with a clutch under the hood. Leave it in pure automatic mode and the computer will do everything for you. Or drive it in sequential mode and you may as well be driving a stick– without the clutch pedal.

fiat_grande_punto_003.jpgThe upshot to this system: it’s absolutely the closest any automatic transmission can come to feeling like you’re driving a manual. Gear changes are nearly instant. Volkswagen’s DSG is faster and smoother, but the Fiat feels every bit like the real deal. You’ll roll backwards on hills, neutral has a real use, and you can even feel light vibrations when accelerating from a standstill. The average American would no doubt bitch about an automatic with feedback, but Europeans have different tastes.

Again, the Fiat Grande Punto was designed for European cities. To wit: its over-light electronic speed sensitive steering. At velocities below 30mph, it’s like a videogame– which makes the Punto a breeze to drive around the average continental avenue’s absurd 135 degree turns. When you get up to speed, the steering tightens-up to give sporting drivers some of the weight they need for speed.

fiat_grande_punto_002.jpgUnderstandably enough, the Punto’s suspension is more about comfort than sport. That’s what higher performance Puntos are for (with a whopping 100 horsepower). For a city car, the base model absorbs the abuses of urban roads extremely well– while preserving the fun factor. Cars with tiny powder keg engines beg to be flogged; the Punto’s suspension places the “S” over the “M.” There’s some body roll through the corners, but it’s less dramatic than you’ll find in a regular Civic or Mazda3.

The Fiat Grande Punto is a small, easy to maneuver car with a hoot of an engine, a ripping good transmission, great handling, an outrageous price and fantastic fuel economy. It's just not for Americans. So, uh, what is?

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97 Comments on “2008 Fiat Grande Punto Review...”


  • avatar
    shaker

    I really miss outrageously cool little cars like this, though it might be a bit tight for a 77″ tall goon like myself.
    It actually looks like what Ford should have done with the new Focus, instead of launching the hard-disk-drive on wheels that they did.
    What a shame… but keep the reviews coming; maybe somebody will “get it”.

    Edit: I owned a ’72 Fiat 128 — and while it was a “rusting tin can”, it had qualities that endeared it in my memory (I got laid in the car, thanks to the “fold-flat” front seat backs) ;-)

  • avatar
    timoted

    I’m sure this version will keep up the Fiat tradition of mechanical reliability and quality. With bland styling and a lame interior to match I’m sure these will be selling like hotcakes.

  • avatar

    “an additional $6k per car”!
    I have great respect for Bob but it’s hard to work out the logic, or mathematics, behind such a statement.
    GM must understand that the fuel prices are likely to keep going up.
    So with or without the regulations more people are likely to look for better fuel economy.
    All the Japanese manufacturers understand this; why are the US manufacturers fighting it?
    You’d think they’d have learned the lesson in the late 70s early 80s…

  • avatar
    AKM

    Aaaaaah Fiat. I traveled all over Europe in my 89 Fiat uno, and have unforgettable memories.
    Very reliable engines, but it’s the small pieces (door locks, window cranks,…) that usually fell apart. Fun to drive too.
    I for one is very happy that Fiat is doing well now, and the Grande Punto is a beautiful car, although it’s a shame the interior is crappy (having spent seat time in one, I can confirm that, a comparable Peugeot 307, not to mention a Golf, have much better interiors).

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    The real question is how much would it cost to get this car to meet federal safety and emissions requirements. And after all of that extra safety equipment and reinforcements are met how much light, airy, zippiness will remain.

  • avatar
    danms6

    Wow, what a sharp looking little car.

  • avatar
    AKM

    GM must understand that the fuel prices are likely to keep going up.
    So with or without the regulations more people are likely to look for better fuel economy.
    All the Japanese manufacturers understand this; why are the US manufacturers fighting it?
    You’d think they’d have learned the lesson in the late 70s early 80s…

    I think the real problem is that most Americans hate to compromise. As long as fuel was not expensive, driving a 10mpg vehicle was not seen as a problem, but now, many people want fuel-efficient large vehicles, where they sit 12 feet off the ground (but with a great aerodynamic coefficient).
    The number of people who told me “nah, I can’t drive a car like your golf, I’m too big for that”. Well, I’m 6’2 and I fit in like in a glove!

    The real question is how much would it cost to get this car to meet federal safety and emissions requirements. And after all of that extra safety equipment and reinforcements are met how much light, airy, zippiness will remain.

    Erm, European safety and emissions requirements are no less stringent than American.

  • avatar
    compy386

    “All the Japanese manufacturers understand this; why are the US manufacturers fighting it?”

    Not really when you consider Toyota spent billions on a new Tundra and Honda’s first hybrids were mostly geared towards performance. The fact is reviewers will always praise HP and that idea trickles down to the masses. When the Ford Five Hundred first came out, the biggest complaint was lack of HP. When people compaired Fusion and Malibu to the Camry again people complained that the V6 in the Fusion and Malibu don’t have as much HP as the Camry. Now the domestics have a long way to go to improve engine efficiency and the like, but they still have to compete on the merits of HP. Until people start saying that 0-60 times mean nothing, this problem will never be fixed.

  • avatar
    Jeff in Canada

    I would love to see more of these on NA shores. Dodge: Please build the Hornet concept (but not in China!) GM: Build one of your compact concepts, was it the Beat that won? Ford: You already have a great car, I’ll have the Fiesta please!

    I understand it’s just not that easy to bring vehicles from Europe and make a profit (Astra anyone?) but even to have a cheaped out version build here on the same platforms, there must be something they can do!

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    GM sells a pretty successful, if less pretty, version of this car in Europe: The Opel/Vauxhall Corsa.

  • avatar
    virages

    It is funny how this small car segment has actually ballooned. Euros aren’t immune to cars porking out either. What I find strange is that the Fiat Grande Punto gained 20cm in length compared to the old model… but also at the same time the new Peugeot 207 and Renault Clio III also gained the same amount to arrive at the same length +/- a cm or two.

    Is it new regulations, or are they all trying to stuff more things into cars that used to be small? Do they have a gentleman’s agreement on the size and weight? This is too bad because if they made things independently we would have a larger diversity of cars, and could choose the one that is “just right”. But I think they would rather be pretty much all the same so as not to risk being the odd duck out.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Drove the little Punto a year ago in Germany and loved the styling. Granted, the 1.4 wasn’t going to win any races, but with traffic being what it is, so what? Europeans have grown accustomed to high fuel prices and have adjusted their driving style to match. Little, fuel-efficient cars are the norm, and many manufacturers learned long ago that small need not be dull. As a matter of fact, small can be immensely fun. Americans, taken as a whole, are much more inclined to believe that cheap fuel is a birthrite and that bigger must be better, because…well because it MUST be better. Every day as I drive my little Tercel to work I mentally count how many large cars are on the road (usually with one passenger) and wonder if Americans will ever get it. Unfortunately, Americans aren’t wired the same way when it comes to driving, and I’m not sure they ever will come to terms with the concept of “limited resources.” I’d love to see more cars like this make it over to the US and be successful, but in the land of “perceived” plenty, they will continue to struggle in the valley of the shadow of the SUV.

  • avatar

    I’m always amazed when Americans say that these kinds of cars are too small for Americans and that they don’t fit in them. I live in The Netherlands and the Dutch are the tallest people on earth, but cars like the Punto are the best selling cars in the country (In 2007 the best selling car was the Peugeot 207).

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    I’m a little puzzled. How can FIAT the same car in Mexico but not across the Rio Grande. (that question is for Ford as well which sells the euro focus in mexico.

    and bigger is (mostly) better so why not the 130hp 1.9 turbo diesel.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    @HEATHROI:

    I think the star engine is the turbocharged 1.4 – 120 horsepower.

  • avatar
    danms6

    Fuego:

    Americans are the second fattest people on earth (Saudi Arabia has highest obesity rate I believe) and the gas prices here aren’t nearly as high as they are in The Netherlands. If they were to approach that level, I’m sure many would accept a smaller vehicle.

    HEATHROI:

    Emissions standards.

  • avatar
    ash78

    The “I would’t fit in it” comments I always hear are just ridiculous. Of all the cars I’ve ever driven, my ’95 VW Golf had the most driver room and sense of space. I drove an ’03 Vauxhall Corsa a couple years ago…also very comfortable in the front seats, even over long distances.

    I think it’s just that people like to have a lot of “air space” over their heads (typical with large SUVs or trucks). Must be psychological. But weight and drag typically pay the price for excessively tall vehicles with a bunch of unused space. As mentioned, there are lots of very tall Northern Europeans who don’t have this hang-up and gladly drive small cars.

  • avatar
    Brendon from Canada

    Perhaps part of the problem in North America is also our bloody dull road system. The most fun I’ve ever had is pushing a 1.2L Clio through some switchbacks in France… Not too many roads in NA where you may actually have to do a 3 point turn to get to the next uphill segment!

  • avatar
    Juniper

    As an american family we have always had a small car and a large car (mini van etc.) BUT we also made an effort to have a short commute. It is about lifestyle choices as much as the car you drive. Again automobiles are easy targets.
    I will admit I have a negative bias toward FIAT from their not so good history here in the US. It appears they now have some great cars. But I’m having trouble finding my local dealer. If these cars are that great, come on over, join the party. Now is your big opportunity.
    Also, I like my peanut butter chunky. I’m not sure about my cars. Plus it’s 12,000 EUROs

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    There are strong, compelling reasons why Fiat (and Alfa Romeo, and Citroen, and Renault, and Peugeot) will not even attempt to sell their case in America: They know better.

    Cars from these makers, in every category that counts, are absolute garbage compared to Toyondas, or even American iron. I just spent about a month in New Zealand, and all those car lines are sold there.

    “The real question is how much would it cost to get this car to meet federal safety and emissions requirements.” Um, about $6,000 per car.

    “And after all of that extra safety equipment and reinforcements are met how much light, airy, zippiness will remain.” Um, none.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Larry P2

    Au (slight) contraire:

    The Renault Versa is selling reasonably well in the US. They just had to foist it onto Nissan to make it work ;)

  • avatar
    Dave Ruddell

    Ah, the Research Institute of Research. I applied for a fellowship there once but I didn’t get it. I hear it’s a great place to work though.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    He was just laying the ground work for their $6k price increase across the board.

  • avatar
    Mud

    Pretty cool car, looks like some flair back in the saddle. The interior plastics should match what the domestics put out now, so no biggie.

    I suspect the additional $6K mentioned by Clutz is intended to shore up/subsidize lagging sales from almost all other corners of GM’s market and has little to do with fuel economy regs. It’s a ridiculous statement to make and only underscores my belief that GM has given up on the US market.

  • avatar
    AKM

    I’m always amazed when Americans say that these kinds of cars are too small for Americans and that they don’t fit in them. I live in The Netherlands and the Dutch are the tallest people on earth, but cars like the Punto are the best selling cars in the country (In 2007 the best selling car was the Peugeot 207).

    I sometimes think it’s because cup holders in European cars, if present at all, cannot contain Big Gulps! My friends always make fun of the cupholders in my golf (which are indeed very flimsy), and don’t believe me when I tell them that Europeans drive. They don’t use their cellphones, drink, shave, or watch movies, they drive (although bad habits are emerging too). And they drive with 2 hands on the wheel, since so many cars still have manual shifters.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    The Renault Versa is selling reasonably well in the US. They just had to foist it onto Nissan to make it work ;)

    And how light, airy, and fun to drive is that car?

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    @quasimondo:

    The Versa is airy, at least. Plenty of headroom. Pity about the engine, steering, transmission, tires, and suspension.

  • avatar
    Zarba

    I’d settle for an Alfa Romeo 147

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    1) I imagine Bob Lutz is referring to the cost of making all of the cars full on hybrids, as that probably would cost an average of $6,000.

    2) European emissions and safety standards are not the same as American emissions and safety standards. Just because a car meets their standards doesn’t mean it will meet ours.

    3) Isn’t 12,000 Euros about US$21,000? How many people would be willing to pay that kind of money for a small underpowered Fiat when they could get a Honda Fit, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, etc. for less (much less) with little gas mileage penalty? Very few I’m guessing.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    @Lumbergh21:

    Re: price – we can’t just convert Euros to dollars and call it a day. Consider that the BMW 328i costs 34,600 Euros in Germany. That translates to $51,000. But the 328i isn’t $50,000.

    If the Fiat Punto was sold in the U.S. (and don’t worry, it never would be), it would probably cost about $14,000.

  • avatar
    Queensmet

    @AKM – you are so right no big gulps, no burger joints, despite the fact that everyone has a cell phone and the service is better than in the US (Nationwide), The seldom use them in the car. But as you said, It is hard to shift gears with a big gulo in one hand and a cell phone to your ear.

    They also don’t spend hours in their cars in traffic jams, or driving 1,000 miles in a straight line across the plains. They don’t have plains, and they use trains.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    Who knew a big gulp made people fat? And when did it become so wrong to enjoy a tasty beverage while on the road?

  • avatar
    AKM

    Who knew a big gulp made people fat?
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A30903-2004Dec28.html

    When you consider that an appropriately sized meal is anywhere from 400 to 700 calories, and one 44-ounce Super Big Gulp is 800 calories, you understand the scope of the problem. A 16-ounce Starbucks blended coffee Frappuccino is 470 calories. A single mixed drink can set you back 300 calories or more.

    ‘Nuff said.

  • avatar
    carguy

    “All the Japanese manufacturers understand this; why are the US manufacturers fighting it?”

    GM and Ford make and sell small fuel efficient vehicles in Europe and elsewhere just like Toyota makes gas guzzlers for the American market. The problem is not the carmakers – they just make what people want. The issue is the expectation of the consumer and in the US small cars are seen as unsafe automotive penalty boxes. The US consumer wants larger and softer sprung vehicles which are not called hatchbacks (small wagons, CUVs but never call it a hatchback – it spooks the US consumer).

    It is ironic that the majority of Americans want the government to “do someting” about our energy situation in the hope that a new energy policy will make everything alright and that everyone can carry on driving land barges. The truth of the matter is that it’s not the car makers that are fighting against smaller cars – it’s the consumer – and that is something no energy policy can fix. That’s what Maximum Bob meant by his $6,000 comment – he knows that American car buyers will continue to demand large cars no matter what and that GM will have to come up with technology to make them more fuel efficient.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    And I thought the $6k price increase was to make up for the dollar’s rapidly approaching parity with the peso:-).

    Silly me….

  • avatar
    NeonCat93

    @ AKM

    I’ve always wondered about that claim; do they simple count the calories in 44 oz of High Fructose Corn Syrupy soda or do they take into account the fact that most people add a significant amount of calorie-free water in the form of ice?

    The FIAT is a nice enough car, I guess, although I think it looks too much like a Golf.

  • avatar
    Theodore

    These cars might not be too small for the driver and one passenger, but they’re often too small for a driver and two passengers. Case in point – my 6’3″ brother-in-law fits just fine into his VW GTI, but nobody can sit behind him. It’s even tough for me at 6′ to sit behind my 5’5″ sister when she’s riding shotgun. Mini car ≠ family car.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    Southern Europe is brim full of those new Punto’s. Fiat has a real smash hit in their hands. They actually look very sleek in real life too! A very good design combined with modern technology and low consumption – it looks like those $2 billions from GM were put to good use! :)

  • avatar
    ZCline

    It looks like a nice little car. I don’t think i’d mind the interior too much, it seems basic and workable, if the car were cheap enough.

    Justin, did you fly to Mexico or Italy to drive one? England? TTAC must be rolling in the dough!

  • avatar
    threeer

    I’ll say it again…Americans are stuck on the notion that we are due inexpensive fuel and were born with the right to drive huge vehicles (it must be somewhere in the Bill of Rights). There is a certain arrogance that we maintain when it comes to this. Our vehicles have transformed into rolling living rooms, whereas the Europeans still maintain that driving is driving. I once thought that pushing $3/gallon would result in a shift in driving habits, but as I look out on I-26 today, I don’t see it. The “it’s too small” argument borders on lazy on our part, largely due to the fact that we are, well…so large! We publicly decry our reliance on foreign oil, yet get in our 20 MPG vehicles and blissfully drive ourselves to and from work alone in these behemoths. Until the American culture towards cars change, neat, fuel-efficient small cars will remain on the fringe of our automotive market. And it truly is a shame…

  • avatar
    BEAT

    The 4 star is very true for this car.

    Funny the Fiat is faster than my old 1999 Mitsubishi Mirage. Mine was 98hp without the performance parts in it.

    This car interior is fabulous and the price,
    I drop my jaw. WOW!!!

    Mini Cooper watch out or be square.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I think the single biggest problem facing acceptance of small cars is, first, the availability and acceptance of small NICE cars.

    To a degree, MINI, Mazda3, and GTI accomplish this…but those are all heavily GenY and GenX marketed.

    I’m talking about cars like the Audi A3–something that will appeal to boomers with real money, which in turn will help them influence other decision-makers, spouses, children, etc. Acura sells a car in Canada which is based on the Civic, as well as Merc B-class…but somehow Americans are SOOO fundamentally different than Canadians, we just couldn’t handle it. This seems insane to me, since the car has to be shipped all the way to North America, only to be offered to less than 1/10 of the continent’s people. Failure in marketing, IMO.

  • avatar
    durailer

    Justin,

    If the Fiat Punto were sold here for $14,000 I’d be first in line. I know they never would be… imagine Ferrari dealers setting-up Fiat-flogging trailers next to their showrooms. Hey, rich or poor, at least all the customers could relate as drivers.

  • avatar
    thetopdog

    As a Canadian I can say that the Acura CSX (Acura’s version of the Civic) and the Mercedes B class are both grossly overpriced for what they offer. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side

  • avatar
    NoSubstitute

    “there are already plenty of cars capable of besting the freshly-minted [mileage] mandate… Take the Fiat Grande Punto. Please.”

    So, how many liters per 100 klicks?

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    @zcline:
    I was on a personal vacation when I arranged too spend a day in this car (not a rental). I was in Israel.

    @durailer:
    me too!

  • avatar
    threeer

    the 1,4 T-jet shows a combined mileage of 42,8 MPG…”highway” mileage is 52,3, while “urban” is around 32,5.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    http://www.auto-power-girl.com/pics/photo-gallery/fiat_grande_punto_abarth_ss-28086

    Just imagine that you put performance parts on Punto and this what it looks like (sorry the page addess is too long)

    well it sells for $27,500 in Australia I really dropped my Jaw on the price. Top Speed of 195 kmh
    8.9 seconds 0-60

  • avatar

    seems like the real thing standing in the way of our having fun fuel-efficient little cars is all those dang safety and emissions regulations.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I don’t understand all the negative comments about Americans and their desires. The average American is quite capable of determining how much income he has, and how much of it he’d like to use to purchase gasoline.

    You can bet if Europeans could buy four litres of gas for one and a half Euros (I couldn’t be bothered to work out precise exchange rates) then they’d be driving larger cars too.

    When the time comes that Americans can only afford to drive something the size of a Punto, they will.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    Queensmet

    Americans don’t drive 1000s of miles either – they fly.

    Funny somebody mentioned flogged Fiats from Ferrari dealerships – Fiat Mexico sells a Stilo Schumacher

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Dynamic88:

    I agree that people should be allowed to decide what they can afford and how to spend their money. Unfortunately, a serious lack of real world consequences for bad decisions and no time for teaching even basic home economics in highschool (least of all more broad micro- and macroeconomics) has led to a majority of Americans that are unable to spend money wisely and live within their means. I’ve paid cash for all but one car that I’ve owned in my life and never carry a balance on my credit cards. The bill comes; I pay it. The only reason I use credit cards is for ease of payment. But, I think that I am the exception. So, in theory, I think that you are right; unfortunately, in reality, everybody expects somebody else to take care of them and make their decisions for them.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    No, you are not the exception. There are plenty of Americans who know how to live within their means, it’s just the bad apples that get all of the attention.

  • avatar
    50merc

    It is just inexplicable that Americans don’t flock to Punto-like cars. It would meet two-thirds of their transportation objectives. Good enough! And another strange thing: Americans like spacious houses with two-car garages and expansive lawns. That’s crazy! For the life of me, I can’t figure out how we ever got this way. I wish the Europeans would explain to us how we can improve our standard of living and be just like them.

    (BTW: I was buying gas-savers back when gas-savers weren’t cool–and gas was fifty cents a gallon. Like Yamaha used to advertise, “Different strokes for different folks.”)

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Lumbergh21

    We can certainly do a better job teaching personal finance. But that issue aside, Americans can afford bigger cars because gas, for us, is still very cheap by worldwide standards.

    Europeans don’t drive Puntos and Clios because they are smarter than us, or more environmentally concerned, they drive those small cars because gas is outrageously expensive for them.

    We may be driving small cars too, in the not too distant future. But the shift won’t come overnight. It will be a gradual process – unless gas goes up steeply and quickly.

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    I rented a 1.4l Fiat Bravo coupe in Norway about 10 years ago. Sure it wasn’t a great car but even then the little engine would scream like a banshee hurtling up the switchbacks. Exhilirating sound, acceptable quality, sporty ride — straight from Avis!

    As much fun as mashing the throttle is in a high-horsepower car, I’m firmly of the “going fast in a small/slow car” mindset. Cars like the Punto make it that mcuh easier to enjoy.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    I wish the Europeans would explain to us how we can improve our standard of living and be just like them.

    Pfft! Why would we want to be like them?

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    quasimondo :
    January 16th, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    I wish the Europeans would explain to us how we can improve our standard of living and be just like them.

    Pfft! Why would we want to be like them?

    Ditto. I agree that we should be able to have whatever we want and can afford. Enough with the social engineering to ensure we do the “right” thing in the eyes of the government. I prefer to trust myself to decide what is best for me not some government official, whether I elected him/her or not. Of course, if I make a bad decision, which I have done in the past and will probably make more of in the future, I expect to pay for my decision.

  • avatar
    picard234

    One comment on the fuel economy rating. It’s not clear, but it’s possible (since the car is European) that the 40 MPG figure is based upon “UK gallons”. 1 UK gallon = 1.2 USA gallons so the 40 MPG might actually mean 33.3 MPG here in America.

    That sounds more realistic especially if the test drive included revving the engine and dropping it into gear as Berkowitz implies ;)

    As for big cars, I’m leasing a big ole car now, knowing that it will be my last. I’m a relatively young guy so I figured I’d get one more fast, big car while gas is still relatively cheap before sentencing myself to a lifetime of Smarts and Yaris’s (Yarii?) like Dynamic88 said.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    the 1,4 T-jet shows a combined mileage of 42,8 MPG…”highway” mileage is 52,3, while “urban” is around 32,5.

    The US gallon is smaller than an Imperial gallon, plus the testing cycle used in Europe is different. So if anything, the new US EPA measuring method is probably more reliable than the European test cycles, while the European measure overstates fuel economy. The end result of this is that the 32.5/ 52.3 mpg in Imperial gallons translates into 27/36 in the US, and might turn out to be something less than that if tested using US standards.

    Still, Europeans tend to use less fuel per mile driven than do Americans because they drive smaller cars with less powerful motors. They choose these cars not just because of the high fuel taxes, but also because registration costs and taxes are often based upon engine displacement and because parking is more difficult.

    For example, the base model Grand Punto is equipped with a 65 hp, 1.2 liter gas engine. It needs 14.5 seconds to hit 60 mph, which is quite slow by US standards. It also weighs only 2,200 pounds, which allows it to do more with less, because there is less car for the motor to haul around. As a result, its European fuel economy rating equates to 31/48 in US gallons, which even if reduced by the new US testing regime would probably still be pretty good.

    These kinds of cars sell in relatively low quantities in the US because Americans were raised with cheap fuel and bigger-is-better mentality that makes such cars seem like kids toys to the typical American consumer.

    Americans also grew up with more low-end torque, which is difficult to wring out of a small-engined car when equipped with the power-sucking automatic transmissions that Americans demand. Take a car like this and mate it to an automatic transmission, and it will be even slower than it is here, unable to keep up with traffic. And the lack of low-end torque will become more obvious to the driver, which in turn will make the car even less appealing. As a result, they end winning over mostly college kids and retirees who are more concerned about their budgets than glamor.

  • avatar
    NickR

    It comes with a free net you can hang out the back to catch the parts as you go.

  • avatar

    …parts of the fat rusting Chevy Tahoe you just ran circles around?

  • avatar
    threeer

    PCH: Hence the popularity of diesel engines. One for the increased fuel economy and two for the extra thrust of torque they provide. Which again brings me to the question of why we don’t sell more diesels here. We don’t (legally) drive 100MPH and the added torque in diesels provides good seat of the pants thrust when taking off from a dead-start. But as long as we have the mentality that we deserve bigger and better (regardless of the impact to our environment or economy), we’ll still gravitate towards larger cars.

  • avatar
    AKM

    Lumbergh:Of course, if I make a bad decision, which I have done in the past and will probably make more of in the future, I expect to pay for my decision.

    In itself, I agree (and I think that should hold true for Europeans as well), but few people are like this.
    Not to mention that many, many people have this irritating tendency to be extremely selfish and not worry about the consequences of their actions not just on themselves, but on others as well. Multiply this line of reasoning by 300 million people and you’ve got a big problem.
    The subprime mortgage crisis is a prime example, rising pollution is another, and China hasn’t even starting unloading the trillions of $$ of U.S. debt it holds…

    Believe it or not, I was actually opposed to the CAFE increases, preferring a fuel tax. That way, people still have the choice of which vehicle to drive, they’ll just have to pay for that choice.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Justin.

    thanks for noticing that the king has no clothes. I travel to eruope regularly, and an occasionally driving or a passanger in one or another of these little cars. I agree. they are fantastic to drive! Yes there are the dowdy sedans too, but i like the little cars. And the Italians have the best engines, hands down. I love to take a little fiat and make it scream! wow! And all this fun at 40 mph. Add your friends and luggage too. Amazing.

    This has been the case for years. I have always been amazed on my trips to europe that these cars are all over the place, and we in the states get nothing but complaints from our auto industry about how they are unable to make cars like this. Perhaps they should start reading TTAC for ideas!

  • avatar
    chuckR

    I owned a late 60′s 124 Sport Coupe and a mid 70′s Spider. Loved the way they drove, hated the lack of reliability. I’d take a chance on a Punto for a commutomobile – sounds like it is more massive than either of the above cars. I drive suburban and backroads to work – average speed per the car computer display is under 30mph.

    ps – I miss the 124 Sport Coupe – where else at that time could you get a twin cam engine, 5 speed MT and 4 wheel disk brakes at that price? The Spider I miss not so much – the 70′s regulations had their way with it.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    Europeans drive small cars because They have smaller roads And a lot Europeans live in the Cities if you live in the Province your either rich (palace or mansion) or a farmer.

    Gas prices is always been high in Europe before the OPEC oil embargo in the 70′s.

    We pay lesser gas prices because We buy the bulk of barrels from OPEC. if buy wholesale of course the prices are discounted and majority of Oil Companies are American.

  • avatar
    DaPope

    I just happened upon the ‘Linea’, which seems to be the sedan model and I think I’m in love. At least deep like…

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    The usual company line on this webpage is that American car companies turned out some pretty excrable junk in the 70′s and 80′s, therefore they will never get another chance.

    Never.

    Compared to Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Renault etc – which pulled up stakes in the middle of the night with the Sheriff trying to serve them – the conduct of the American companies during the same time period was exemplary.

    And yet, when Fiat makes something halfway decent now, it gets a four-star rating.

    Incredible.

    Remember, as bad as the Vega and Pinto were, the Fiats were made with biodegradeable steel and the rust issues prompted a safety recall. They would break in half going down the road. New cars!

    And yet Fiat gets a pass and a gushing review with a very ordinary car that could never compete with Toyotas or Hondas.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Larry P2 is right about Fiat in the 70′s…

    As much as I loved my 128, it was such a rust bucket that a control arm came off (unibody frame ripped) when driving over a bump at 45mph; only my quick wits (back then) kept me out of the cemetary.

    I have a feeling that those issues have been addressed in recent times.

  • avatar
    geeber

    When I visited Italy in 2004, the prior generation of this car was everywhere. They are extremely popular…this new version is also very good looking. The Fiat Stilo (Fiat’s Ford Focus competitor) was also very attractive.

    The biggest hurdle I can see is that many Americans remember Fiat as the car with a reliability record that made Japanese cars a viable alternative. Couple that factor with appalling dealer service and parts availability at that time, and it’s highly unlikely that Americans will rush to embrace anything with a Fiat badge within my lifetime. Even if Fiat has improved its quality (and its vehicles don’t tend to do too well in the quality surveys published regularly in Top Gear), it still has to set up a dealer network and ensure parts availability.

    Realistically…given the choice between a Honda Fit, or even the new Ford Verve (or whatever Ford calls it), and this Fiat, virtually all Americans are going to go with either the Ford or the Honda.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    @LarryP2:

    I do not, and never have, judged a car on the basis of what a manufacturer did 30 years ago. I don’t care if the 1975 Fiat was a piece of junk (they were), or if GM made great cars or bad cars then either. And I certainly would never give GM or Ford or any other manufacturer a bad review of a car because something they made in the past was bad.

    Why does this car deserve a bad review because Fiat left the American market suddenly 30 years ago? What does that have to do with anything about a car being made today – which isn’t even on sale in the U.S.? Should I be judging it because if it suddenly went on sale here the warranty would be unreliable since Fiat has a proclivity to exit the market without warning? This is ludicrous.

    I don’t mean any insult, but I generally find that the same people who claim to see anti-American-car bias in publications are themselves heavily biased in favor of American cars. Why are you assuming a Fiat is a piece of junk just because you think TTAC doesn’t like American cars?

    Finally, to discuss your comparison directly: this is a remarkable car for its price in Europe relative to the rest of the market there. Have you actually driven this car? Or seen it in person? I’m perplexed that you can arrive at sweeping conclusions about the car’s merit if not.

    “American” cars that are good DO get good ratings here. Consider my 3-star review of the Saturn Astra, the 4-star Saturn Vue, When I reviewed the Cadillac CTS, it got 4-stars. Same when Sajeev Mehta reviewed it the first time. That’s the same number of stars I rated the Mercedes C300 and more than the Mercedes C350.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Justin,

    It may be a remarkable car (I don’t doubt your view), and it certainly is an attractive one.

    But the bottom line is that the Fiat badge WILL be a handicap for the people who don’t frequent sites such as this (i.e., about 99 percent of all car buyers), just as the Ford or Chevy nameplates scare off a fairly large percentage of buyers.

    People don’t just hold grudges against the domestics.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Hence the popularity of diesel engines. One for the increased fuel economy and two for the extra thrust of torque they provide.

    Diesels have been popular in Europe largely because the fuel was, until recently, much cheaper due to lower taxes.

    And yet Fiat gets a pass and a gushing review with a very ordinary car that could never compete with Toyotas or Hondas.

    The advantage of the Fiat is that they are a lot more fun to drive. Which is fine, if you don’t have to live with it everyday.

    Be that as it may, they are still not necessarily very reliable. The 2007 JD Power survey in the UK gave the Punto a “poor” ranking for mechanical reliability, placing it 29th in a field of 31 superminis and 106th out of a field of 113 cars overall. It also gets low ratings for owner appeal, with “below average” ratings for performance and interior. (In contrast, the Panda gets “above average” marks for mechanical reliabiity, equal to the Honda Jazz, sold in the US as the Fit, and the Toyota Yaris.)

    The fact that a fun small car can place so miserably on the JD Power survey tells you something about how good smaller cars in Europe can be — even many of the losers are pretty fun to drive — and how dull most of our offerings are in comparison. The competition there in this segment is so stiff that it raises the bar very high for everyone. Competition is good for the breed.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    Mazda was piece of sh_t in the 80′s and 90′s

    I don’t even remember the names of the cars that they built in the 90s. Except for 1 the Mazda 626.

    Do you remember?

    And C’mon do you think the Mazda 3 looks sexy.

    Now every person who reads TTAC are admiring the Mazdas and majority of readers here I think drives Mazdas and there is nothing wrong with that just like nothings wrong giving a Punto a 4 star.

    For me I respect a company that built not only cars but also planes or should I say Jet planes.

    Just look at the front end of a Punto?

    It looks like a Maserati…

    But I warned the American Consumers that there will be more Mini Cars to be introduce in the good old USA but not the Punto but the Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi will be introducing them soon in a dealer near you.

  • avatar
    AKM

    BEAT, would you mind reviewing your posts for spelling/punctuation?

    They’re very difficult to read as they are now.

    And regarding gas in Europe, it’s more expensive because it’s taxed more heavily, not because of bulk buying from OPEC or gas companies being American (think Shell, BP, Total…)

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    And C’mon do you think the Mazda 3 looks sexy.

    Actualy, my wife and I both think the Mazda3 hatch looks nice in the right color (some colors just don’t go well with it for whatever reasons). I also drove dozens of cars back in 2004 when I was looking for a new car. While I didn’t buy it, the Mazda3 was comfortable and a blast to drive in its price segment. Way better than a Chevy Cobalt, for instance. That may also color my opinion of the car’s appearance.

  • avatar
    andrewr

    Unlike most on this site, I have more than enough experience of Fiats.

    Fiats are in most cases terrible cars, with appalling quality control and subsequent poor reliability, and let’s not forget the dealers!!!

    They are also notorious for using large incentives for persuading buyers to purchase their cars.

    They have a lot in common with the US firms as a large percentage of them end up on car rental fleets – so I would doubt the so-called sales figures.

    The new 500 is interesting, but nothing would get me behind the wheel of one. This probably explains why I have just bought my third MINI last week and second Cooper S.

    Regards,
    Andrew

  • avatar

    There is a good reason why Fiat is not sold in America, they fail to understand that driving quality is not enough, you also need to make sure the car will hold itself from coming apart, I owned 2 fiat cars, the 131 and 127.
    I also used to work for an Alfa Romeo dealer, my job was to deliver the cars to customers houses, it was so much fun driving these cars,the problem was when I bought one, after 2 years, the car felt like 5 years old, same built quality as Fiat, what a shame.

  • avatar
    shiney

    Say Lumbergh21 & quasimondo -

    Regarding this quote: “Enough with the social engineering to ensure we do the “right” thing in the eyes of the government. I prefer to trust myself to decide what is best for me not some government official, whether I elected him/her or not”

    Why do you think the US has subsidized energy prices and an insanely complex tax code that rewards big houses and encourages consumer spending? Its called social engineering…now say that slowly “social engineering”, and our government engages in in on behalf of big corporations and wall street banks to influence what you want and are willing to spend money on. I’m all for free markets, but its delusional to think our market is not rigged to give certain results. And I for one would prefer it was socially engineered for the long term good of the country rather than the short term good of a few influential industries.

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    I just had to pipe in,

    Fiats are great cars. No doubt, they sucked in the 60s and 70s (most other cars did too), but since the 80s they’ve just been getting better and better.

    Of the 10 cars I’ve had in my life 6 have been Fiats. They’ve NEVER left me stranded. They’re a hoot to drive, stay together remarkably long, are frugal, are enormous inside (I’m tall and fat, in fact, when I’m in the US people assume I’m American). And the little bits don’t fall off anymore. Trust me. All they need is regular maintenance and they go on forever.

    Fiat has been the leader in Brazil for 6 years. Are people in Brazil more stupid than in other countries? The Punto has been on sale here for, oh, 6 months and it is already the segment leader and are just all over the place (in fact, my city, where Fiat has its plant, mercifully for people with asthetic sense, Fiat has around 45% of the market! F.. incredible)In the past it was said (in Brazil) that having a VW was like having money in your hands. The same is now said about many Fiat models.

    A friend of mine changed his Fiat Marea for a Toyota Corolla, which believe it or not is the car of choice for executives here. He couldn’t stand it, after a year he got rid of it and hopped back into the much more fun Fiat Stilo. “I need to feel alive in a car”, is what he said.

    As others have said: ’nuff said.

    PS Justin could you get your hands on a new Fiat Bravo? Wow, it’s possibly the most beautiful car out there in the Golf-size segment. Jeremy Clarkson recommended it over a Golf. We still don’t get this car in Brazil.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    ” Why are you assuming a Fiat is a piece of junk just because you think TTAC doesn’t like American cars?”

    Because I own a Fiat, Justin. And it is my second one. And just because I think they are a pile of junk doesn’t mean I wouldn’t buy another one.

    But I am also prepared to work on it for two hours for every hour I drive it. That type of suffering is what gives aging Fiats their charisma.

    My point is that Fiats were inferior to American cars in their warranty, reliability, dependability, dealerships and overall quality.

    But let them come out with a decent car years later – which the Punto obviously is – and their wicked past is instantly forgiven. No matter how strenuously American Companies work to atone for their past sins, by comparison ……..

  • avatar
    HighlyEvolved

    Great car! I love small revvy cars like this one. I myself drive a SEAT ibiza. Most americans will have no idea what I’m talking about but european members will know what a great car it is. It’s a lot like the Punto style wise but IMO the ibiza looks a bit better.
    Glad to see small cars slowly making their way to the american market. Let’s hope Renault, Peugeot, Citroen, SEAT and all the others start bringing them to America.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    If people couldn’t be bothered to pick up an Insight over a Prius because it lacked space, why would they be bothered to pick up this car over a Corolla?

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    Hope this is not considered flaming, but here goes anyhow

    Highly Evolved:

    There’s a Seat Ibiza sitting in the garage of my building. Ummmm, nope, the Punto looks better, sorry!

    Quasimondo:

    The reason to choose this car (or rather its sedan version, the Linea) over the Corolla is that for almost as good reliability, you get a much better looking car inside and out that not only pleases the eyes, but also satisfies any car driver, be it a car nut or not.

  • avatar

    Very nice review! Fun and informative to read, without the least feeling that the writer is trying to show off. But–RF–couldn’t TTAC reviews include a few specs at the end? I’d love to know the cost and the weight of this car.

  • avatar

    One reason Americans don’t drive little cars like this is because they are afraid to, what with all the hulking SUVs and pickups on the road. Really, given their propensity to kill people in cars they hit, SUVs and pickups should have much stiffer insurance bills, or maybe a “mayhem tax” based on their statistics. I would think twice before getting, say, a Miata (~2400 lbs).

  • avatar

    It’s actually the Research Institute FOR Research. They publish The Book of Known Facts.

  • avatar
    threeer

    FromBrazil/HighlyEvolved,

    What year Ibiza? Just got back from Germany and picked up two 2008 Automotive Model review mags, and the upcoming Ibiza looks wicked. I keep pulling for clever, small cars to make in-roads here in the States, but am not holding my breath. Even with fuel prices hovering at $3/gallon, we still aren’t seeing an influx of small cars. Sure, the Suzuki SX4 is a start, and there is the first coming of the smart (dang, I’m rhyming!)…but just about everywhere else you look, models are getting bigger and bigger. Just look at the Accord and Civic. The Accord is getting large and bloated, while the Civic is now easily the size of Accords of yore. Man, do I miss my little Plymouth Arrow (okay, so it was a Mitsubishi…)…

  • avatar
    BEAT

    Sorry AKM I’m not writing an Essay nor a College thesis. If people with common sense can read it why can’t you?

    Being Critique is not good.
    If you don’t want to be judge don’t judge other people.

    Even a kindergarden student can read my writings. if you don’t like my comments don’t read it.

    Taxes in Europe are always been high especially after WW2. OPEC dictates the prices of oil not taxes.

    Old school compared to modern school is completely different. I am college student doesn’t mean I’m naive about the world.

    And I know who is the Vice President of the United States of America.

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    I didn’t read all nine pages of comments, but I wanted to add that you have to wonder how much of GM’s money from buying its way out of its Fiat partnership went into developing this car.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Why do you think the US has subsidized energy prices and an insanely complex tax code that rewards big houses and encourages consumer spending? Its called social engineering…now say that slowly “social engineering”, and our government engages in in on behalf of big corporations and wall street banks to influence what you want and are willing to spend money on. I’m all for free markets, but its delusional to think our market is not rigged to give certain results. And I for one would prefer it was socially engineered for the long term good of the country rather than the short term good of a few influential industries.

    I am fully aware that the government uses the tax code to influence our decisions; that’s why a flat tax or national sales tax will never happen under the current system. I also seriously doubt that the government has a clue as to what is good for the country and its people in the long term. They’ve never done anything to demonstrate this special ability.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Beat:

    I’m sure you’ll take this as an attack, but try not to. As I was told many years ago, if you want to effectively communicate your ideas and have people listen to them, you need to learn to write. That starts with punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure. I’m not saying that you are bad person or an idiot, just that it is very hard to follow your writing. If you want people to listen to what you have to say, you can’t make it a challenge for them to read your comments.

    The reason gas prices are higher in Europe is most definitely due to high taxes both at the pump and on the refineries producing the gasoline and other products from the crude oil. Crude oil costs the same in Europe as it does in the US as it does in the rest of the world. Oil is a world market.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    Lumbergh21 and AKM are you guys naive?

    You think taxes makes the world round. please Ask the people of New Hampshire.

    I know that because I’m a College student. I have a good communication skills. it’s not Very hard to read my comments. Have you check other comments on TTAC that has grammatical error? Because people implies purposeful disparagement and I hope you are not one of them.

    Why do YOU always assume that Taxes makes oil price higher?

    Everyone in my class knows that taxes are high in Europe but Taxes doesn’t make gas prices high my friend. if you studied Macro Economics in College here’s some reasons.

    1. Increasing Demand for Oil

    2. Gas Prices affected by Geopolitics and Supply problems. for example The Iraq War

    3. Devaluation of the Almighty Dollar

    4. China is demanding more oil for their factories

    The Federal Government is planning to increase Gas Tax not because of the High cost of oil per barrel but the NEED of money to fix our Freeways and Bridges all over the US that are badly needed of repair.

    TAX is not the main reason. Arguement close

    By the way did you know that we are in Recession?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    BEAT, you are confusing the trend in oil prices with the current differential in retail gasoline prices among nations.

    The US has substantially lower fuel taxes than most other developed countries. For example, the UK’s tax on gasoline is 50.35 pence per liter, plus a VAT of 17.5% is levied against both the fuel and the tax. Convert this into US gallons and US dollars, and you end up with a fuel tax of about $3.71 per gallon, plus a tax on the tax of an additional $0.65 per gallon, plus the VAT charged for the fuel itself.

    In contrast, the US has a federal gasoline tax of a relatively paltry $0.184 per gallon. Every state adds an additional tax which results in a total combined tax at a national average of $0.47 per gallon. So it’s no wonder that the average price of fuel in the US during December was $3.053 per gallon, while the average price in the UK, based upon the current exchange rate, equated to $7.688 per US gallon.

  • avatar
    SAAB95JD

    The Grande Punto and the Opel Corsa are actually the same platform, correct?


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