Maddy is sort of right on both counts. If you talk to garage owners as much as I do, you hear recurring stories about blowing head-gaskets on older Puntos and electrical niggles, and there was also a problem filling up with petrol. However, I do think that a properly sorted Punto is a good, spacious and great-value small hatch. Indeed, we have mentioned it before as a used buy, but as a new buy the Punto finds itself in the most competitive market sector of all. And there's an all-new "Grande Punto" coming soon (it will be road-tested in The Independent Motoring next week).
The Punto was revamped back in 2004, when it actually lost some character because it was given anonymous big headlamps. However, it remained spacious, did OK in the NCAP crash tests and seemed much better built. The Sporting model is quite a hoot, with a 1.8-litre engine and six-speed gearbox. Go for the 1.3 JTD diesel, and you'll get a truly impressive 62.8mpg overall. But I reckon Maddy could buy something better than what amounts to an ageing hatchback.
A CAR FOR THE HEAD
OK, I won't mention the Nissan Micra, so let's surprise Maddy by giving an overdue nod to the Ford Fiesta. The latest model is a huge improvement, and Ford has definitely taken a stride upmarket. Compared to her old Punto, Maddy should certainly be able to tell the difference when it comes to the interior and general fit and finish.
The Fiesta is certainly a safe car, with the Intelligent Protection System that has featured in the Mondeo. ABS brakes and EBD (electronic brake distribution) are standard. And if Maddy enjoys driving, the Fiesta is the place to be. It handles like a hot hatch, whichever engine she goes for. Overall, the engines are quite refined and reasonably responsible, and the diesel 1.4 TDCi returns an impressive 62.8mpg, which matches the latest Punto.
Admittedly, the Fiesta is not the cheapest option brand new, but being a Ford, the numbers on sale are huge. If Maddy waits a bit, there will be plenty available at car supermarkets, and even Ford dealers, at decent savings over new. Indeed, one 1.4 Zetec LX five-door with just 7,000 miles on the clock cost just £6,699 at a specialist.
A CAR FOR THE HEART
If I can't mention the Honda Jazz again, I'll go for the Mitsubishi Colt. As Maddy appreciated the amount of interior space in the Punto, she should like this a lot. The Colt is a practical five-door hatch that pretty much does everything within a small area.
Interior space is generous, and the rear seats do clever things. They split 60/40 in the usual way, can fold, slide, recline and tumble, and can be removed. There's a good range of engines, and the petrol options - 1.1, 1.3 and 1.5- litre - are all pretty good.
All round, the 1.5 would be best; it pulls strongly and can handle motorway journeys with ease. The 1.5 DiD diesel isn't cheap, but it returns 58.9mpg. It's a strong engine that does all the work and allows drivers to stay in a high gear when they are tackling a variety of road conditions. The Colt certainly seems to ride well over most surfaces, although it does tend to lean a bit in corners.
Overall, the Colt feels like a quality product. Mitsubishi have a great reputation for building utterly reliable vehicles, which also contributes hugely to low overall running costs.
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