Fiat Punto TwinAir
It's keen, clean and doubly green – but not for me
Engine capacity: 875cc turbo-charged petrol
Power output (bhp @ rpm): 83 @ 6,000-5,500
Top speed (mph): 107
0-62 mph (seconds): 12.7
Fuel economy (mpg): 67.3
C02 emissions (g/km): 98
This is the new Fiat Punto, which is odd because I'm pretty sure I learnt to drive in a "new" Fiat Punto 11 years ago and it was already pretty old then. Its latest incarnation doesn't really look much different. It's got a much brighter paint job than my first motor, but cosmetically you'd have to be a real Fiat buff (bore) to notice (or care) about the dozen or so headlight, interior, side panel and rear-bumper tweaks.
Not that I didn't like my old, dark-green Punto. It had a 1.2-litre engine and wasn't laden down with heavy extras like air conditioning or too many unnecessary safety features like, say, airbags or traction control. This meant it could shift it with ease and with petrol costing less than 60p per litre and climate change still up for debate, I didn't really worry about the environment.
Today I get nasty pangs of guilt every time I test another gas guzzler and petrol has more than doubled in price. Fiat's solution to this is the TwinAir. First fitted on the dinky Fiat 500 in 2010 the TwinAir (Engine of the Year in 2011) works by using just two cylinders with a reduced air flow entering the engine not by the usual throttle valve route, but by a special set of computer-controlled inlet valves. Lost you? Well, essentially Fiat has downsized its engine so it uses less fuel and emits under the magic number 100 grams of C02 per km to qualify for tax-free motoring.
The car magazines went wild for it (and its throaty engine note) and now Fiat has fitted it to the Punto to give it a bit of sparkle. The firm has also added a six-speed gearbox, a dual mass flywheel and a balancing countershaft. Lost you again? Well, these are components used to reduce vibration. You see, the TwinAir is rather a raspy, vibrating little chap. And while this is fun on a bendy B-Road, it rather encourages a heavy foot and became a little grating on the commute.
I run this new Punto back home for the weekend to canvas opinion among friends and family who remember me bashing around in my original green machine. My sister loves the bright-green colour but most people don't seem that bothered. Only its farty exhaust gets remarked upon with one friend likening it a malfunctioning lawn mower or hair dryer. He sort of has a point, but I soon discover the Punto has a bigger problem; it's awful to drive. I'm not sure if it was this bad 10 years ago, but the ride is mushy on the motorway yet unbearably firm at slow speeds. I'm not sure how this is even possible but I'm soon distracted again by the steering… or lack of it.
All of this would be fine if the engine delivered, but it doesn't. Yes, it offers better fuel economy than most small petrol cars, but the TwinAir never gets anywhere near its claimed mpg and I'm left feeling that Fiat has done a better marketing job on it than an engineering one.
Look deeper still and the firm is in real trouble with falling sales in Europe and its five biggest plants in Italy working at only 50 per cent of capacity. This should be a real shame because I loved my first Fiat, but the firm hasn't done enough to this one to really make it a contender. And I'm quickly realising what I knew deep down all along; I loved my green machine because it was my first car, not because it was any good.
It wasn't, and this isn't either.
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