Peter York On Ads: The new Fiat Grande Punto is a very nice Italian job, but it'll never match the Mini

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The Independent Online

You forget about Europe sometimes don't you? Most of us will have visited bits of it recently – Umbria, the Loire, the OK parts of Majorca – but the thumping whole, the nation-states of 'old' Europe and their collective conspiracy in Brussels, you just don't do you? So sometimes it surprises you.

At the time of US sub-prime meltdown, when financial engineering, the great triumphalist machine of the Anglosphere, seems to have gone into reverse, poisoning everything across the world, Europe looks surprisingly solid and attractive. They still make things there. Policy wonks here in the UK had practically forgotten it too. They're obsessed with the idea of the emerging Asian giant – Chindia – and with the unattractive turbulent countries of the Middle East.

So it's nice to be reminded by the new Fiat Grande Punto commercial that life goes on in rough old Turin. And to see the lovely Italian national colours. The red, white and green combo is a good taste classic, but still sharp and lively. In the Punto campaign, three Puntos are painted in these and they look very cheerful in old Italian streets (but have you ever seen a Punto in England?).

It's a tremendously syncopated ad, with lots of driving movements – click, push, turn – made to a clever remix of old Italian-American Louis Prima's 'Oh Marie'. And off those little cars race. I say race – that's when the film's not going back in time to the music in that very mannered 1998 way. So the cars are dancing around – down stone stairs, through shallow water, across what look like station platforms. But at one point we know exactly where they are. They're on that banked rooftop Silverstone-in-the-sky circuit on top of the old Fiat factory in Turin, featured in one of the most famous British TV commercials, late-70s, for CDPs "hand built by robots". For Fiat.

So it's all quite sub-texty enough, then they go and introduce another layer. They call it 'The Italian Job Remixed'. Some mistake here surely. 'The Italian Job' was a British film of 1969 that became central to our view of ourselves and the decade. It's all about small winsome cars that do tricks and drive around impossible places to music.

But those little cars were Minis. Austin or Morris Minis, much later revived successfully as the BMW Mini, a super-mini like the Fiat Grande Punto. Almost every Englishman over 20, and a fair few younger ones, will know all this and more. Some will even feel deeply about it. So it might just be a mistake to hit that nerve in Britain. And nice as it all looks, the Grande Punto design isn't nearly as distinctive as the old or the new Mini – it looks a bit like the Ford Focus.

But Fiat is apparently back from the brink, and the Grande Punto a great success in Europe; so we have to be pleased for them.