In South Africa, as elsewhere, the Punto is a bread-and-butter model for Fiat, selling nearly half of its total passenger vehicles locally.
Yet despite that, the new Punto sees some distinctive firsts. Significantly, the new model was launched concurrently with its Euro introduction.
Besides that, tech features not commonly seen on vehicles in this class include daytime running lights (upspec models get adaptive “cornering” lights), multiple connectivity options (picture, below) and Stop-Start, though only from midrange models. Incidentally, versions with Stop-Start, which can be switched off, are fitted with a heavy-duty battery.
Pottering around the KwaZulu-Natal coast in the Punto, we enjoyed the refined ride and interior comfort. However, some dynamic aspects were less pleasing. For all its rated 77 kW output, the version equipped with the normally aspirated MultiAir engine seemed to lack oomph even down at the coast. It’s also odd that this derivative is paired with a 6-speed transmission; the 99 kW turbo model gets a 5-speed. I was also left a little disappointed by the electrically assisted steering’s lack of feel and feedback, though I must admit I was pleased by the ability to click in City mode for extra assistance while parking. The turbo more than makes up for its sibling’s lacklustre performance, with the minor irritation of a mild vibration, possibly a harmonic, between 2 000 and 3 000 r/min. There are three models: a 1,4 FIRE producing 57 kW, the 77 kW MultiAir, and the 99 kW MultiAir turbo. Pricing is impressively competitive, starting at R129 900 all the way up to R209 900.
Tech inside: MultiAir. Engines are like people: The harder they work, the more air they need to breathe. When an engine is revved high, like when accelerating on the highway, its valves must open wide and for long durations. Conversely, at idle, that engine requires just a trickle of air to operate. Variable valve timing and lift systems continuously alter the way a valve operates, depending on engine speed and load, to increase fuel efficiency and power. These systems are becoming more common, but Fiat’s MultiAir is the most novel. It operates the intake valves with a unique system: rather than using the cam lobe to press open the valve, the lobe pushes on the plunger of a tiny oil pump. The resultant pressure accumulates in a thimble-size chamber that feeds a computer-controlled solenoid (the valve “conductor”). When the solenoid is open, the oil pressure flows to the top of the valve, forcing it to open. The engine computer directs the solenoid and can vary the timing (when the valve opens in relation to the piston’s movement), duration, and lift (how far the valve opens). With MultiAir, a tiny 1,4- litre engine produces a gutsy 77 kW and a healthy amount of low-rev torque. Also, since the system is simple and compact, it’s not an expensive add-on. Additional material by Larry Webster.
Price starts at R129 900
1,4; 57 kW
1,4 MultiAir; 77 kW
1,4 MultiAir turbo; 99 kW
5-speed (turbo) and 6-speed
3 The number of lines, according to Jaguar design chief Ian Callum,
that defi ne a car’s shape. The three lines include the arc of the roof,
and one from the top of each fender as the lines curve into the car’s
fl ank. Callum should know; he penned the stunning Jaguar C-X16.
Solenoids (in red
on top of the valve)
control the fl ow of
pressurised oil to
cycle the intake