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Minimum bulk; maximum interior space; distinctive personality; optimum aerodynamic performance; maximum fuel economy without sacrificing performance: these are all elements of Giugiaro’s design objectives for the Fiat Punto, possibly the marques most important new car since the Uno (of which three models continue on sale in the UK).

However you look at it, the Punto is an impressively distinctive little car; whether it will have quite the same impact as the Uno remains to be seen.

In size, it falls somewhere between Tipo and Uno, but greater attention to detail has endowed the Punto with more interior space than the latter.

Mechanically, Fiat’s aim was to improve the driver’s lot by flattening torque curves, increasing braking capacity and fine-tuning the handling via revised suspension.

Of the wide range of options, MOTOR SPORT recently tried the five-door TD and the three-door GT. The blunt rear end may not be to everyone’s taste but the attention to styling details (Giugiaro’s forte) is a delight. The GT was finished in ‘Exploit yellow’, a head-turning metallic confection that came straight from a 1970s Top of the Pops back drop. Effectively replacing the discontinued Uno Turbo, it promises to be a leading class contender. With 136 bhp/5750 rpm from its 1.4-litre turbocharged, intercooled fourcylinder motor, Fiat reckons that it will crack 124 mph and sprint from rest to 100 km/h in 7.9s quicker than a Renault Clio RSi or a Peugeot 106 XSi. More impressive is the 153 lb ft of torque available at just 3000 rpm. The trouble is that there’s precious little response south of 2700 rpm, which means that the engine has sharpish on-off characteristics redolent of previous generation turbos. Sensitivity is required if you want to avoid spinning the wheels in the lower gears; however, once you’ve gained momentum the little GT picks up with satisfying vim at the mere squeeze of the throttle.

To complement the GT’s mile-eating potential, power steering with good feedback and ABS are standard items. Mercifully, the centre pedal no longer needs to be buried into the carpet before the calipers have any effect. Gone too is the vague and rubbery gearchange that was one of the Uno’s less attractive points; consequently, the Punto GT is more fun to drive quickly than the Uno Turbo.

Body roll is still noticeable but the chassis is endowed with sharp turn-in and decent levels of grip, so understeer is minimal unless you resort to extreme violence in tighter bends.

Fiat has succeeded in obtaining a ride which is pleasantly supple, and the car’s overall refinement is generally good. Giugiaro’s sound design continues throughout the interior smooth, contoured lines and uncluttered dials make the facia most accessible, though the trim fabric could be described as ‘interesting’. Unfortunately, the driver’s seat is still too tall, and lacks support.

The GT certainly has more pros than cons, being flexible enough to satisfy your mood. It is also priced keenly enough to hold its own in this market sector.

In the case of the 1.7 Turbo Diesel, the story is much the same. Sure, it has more doors, less aggressive suspension and tyres and a lower equipment level, but as an overall package it is equipped to compete with the best in class. Its 72 bhp diesel motor is strong in terms of willingness, weak in terms of aural pollution. P R B

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