What is it?
A proper hot hatch in its truest sense has long eluded power-starved enthusiasts in India. So when the Abarth Punto Evo was officially showcased at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) on August 4th there was widespread euphoria and with good reason.
Let's take a look at the engine specs to understand the cause for celebration. When we first broke the news of the Punto getting the Linea 1.4 T-Jet’s 113bhp engine, it created some excitement. Then, Fiat decided to bring the Punto in the Abarth fold, and to make it befitting of the Scorpion badge there was talk of power rising to a soul-stirring 135bhp. But the story didn’t end there. When the final specs were released, power was up to an unbelievable 143bhp. It was like getting the Diwali bonus you didn’t expect.
Fiat wanted to give its die-hard fans a genuine successor to the Palio 1.6, the best hot hatch of the day. So the engineers pushed for as much power as possible and somehow managed to achieve a higher output on the dyno than expected. Thankfully, they didn’t dial it back for something silly like fuel efficiency!
Standing in the BIC pit lane you can see that the Abarth Punto Evo has all the ingredients to make traditional driving enthusiasts rejoice. The strong engine apart, you have a conventional five-speed manual and an old-school hydraulically assisted steering.There are disc brakes at the rear for improved stopping power, which complement an extremely stiff, but heavy chassis, which is at the core of the Punto’s brilliant ride and handling. And let’s not forget those Italian looks.
Five years on, the Punto has aged gracefully and still oozes flair. In the Abarth trim, it’s even more evocative with lots of chrome bits on the grille, fog and rear light housing, door handles and exhaust tip. The alloy wheels shod with lower profile 195/55 R16 tyres look just stunning but what spoils the stance of the car is the massive gap in the wheel arches. Fiat says it’s already dropped the ride height by a massive 30mm to 155mm and reducing it further would make the underbody vulnerable on our roads. That’s a real shame because there’s still too much blank space above the tyres that’s very un-hot hatch like. It begs for a set of low-riding springs and dampers.
Spend a few minutes with the Abarth Punto and you’ll find it has more scorpions than sub-Saharan Africa. The front and rear decals, the aluminum pedals, the alloys, steering wheel are all stamped with the brand’s logo. We drove a prototype but the final production versions may even have a massive scorpion sticker on the bonnet and roof! The cabin is typically Punto, which means it’s dated and not as well built as its German rivals. The awkward driving position, thanks to a steering wheel that’s too close to you and doesn’t adjust for reach, is was one of the flaws. The dashboard design, which got refreshed with the Punto Evo still looks good and the Abarth version gets a bespoke black seat trim with yellow contrast stitching.
What is it like to drive?
These gripes become irrelevant the instant you engage the clutch to experience a different level of performance. Let’s talk numbers first. With the front wheels scrabbling to put all the power and torque down, the Abarth rockets to 100kph in 9.54 seconds making it the first mainstream hatchback to crack the 10-second barrier. With the turbo spinning strongly, there’s no let up in power especially in the short, lower gears. The 6,500rpm rev limit comes up in no time and each upshift puts you smack in the meat of the powerband. Because you don’t need to rev the guts out of this engine, the Abarth, riding on a massive wave of torque, feels deceptively quick.
Below, 1,800rpm there’s a bit of turbo lag but it’s far from sluggish. Even off-boost, the bigger capacity engine will demolish other hatchbacks and you’ll rarely find yourself starved for more power. It’s the amazing real- world performance and ease with which the Abarth Punto gathers speed that sets it a world apart from the naturally aspirated 1.2-litre hatch pack. Put your foot down and there’s a strong surge in any gear. You don’t need to constantly shift which is just as well because the gearshift is the weak link in the powertrain. It doesn’t feel very precise and the long throw doesn’t encourage you to flick from one cog to another. Another disappointment here is the ordinary engine sound. A bit of crackle and burble or even a mildly throaty exhaust note would have been in keeping with the character of the car. A good aftermarket exhaust kit can fix this.
The Abarth’s suspension set-up is stiffer than the standard Punto’s to better cope with the increase in power and this is quite obvious in the way it rides. The reworked spring and damper ratings give it a firm edge over uneven surfaces but it doesn’t feel harsh in the least. So good is the original Punto’s long-travel suspension that even the sportier Abarth with its low-profile tyres cope well over sharp edges and potholes.
The best bit of the about the Punto remains the steering. It’s accurate, full of feel and delightfully quick off the straight ahead position. Despite its high kerb weight, the Abarth Punto changes direction with far more eagerness than lighter hatchbacks and, with strong turbo power to back it, it would be an absolutely blast on a mountain road. With so much torque it’s easy to break traction when you mash the throttle wide open in a lower gear. The tyres do struggle for grip so its best to back of mid-corner to quell the understeer. The brakes are absolutely brilliant which gives you a lot of confidence when driving hard but a bit more bite from the long-travel pedal would have been welcome.
Should I buy one?
The cost of the Abarth hasn't been announced yet, but Fiat is hinting at a sub-Rs 10 lakh price when it goes on sale this Diwali. Smiles per mile or bang for your buck, whichever way you look at it, Fiat fans and enthusiasts haven’t got it better.