Fiat somehow manages to strike an emotional chord in many people's hearts, I guess that's because it is a brand they have been familiar with for a longer time than all the European, Japanese, Korean and American companies that have set up shop in India in recent times. Everyone drives a Padmini down the memory lane, but not many of Fiat's other cars. For me, it's simple: a company tastes success, but falls on hard times and then makes a comeback. In 2009, the Grande Punto was launched, and though it swept everyone off the feet with its good looks, it suffered from quality issues. In addition, it stuttered greatly because of its limited service centre network. As a result, dealerships were quick to migrate to other badges. It's 2014 now, and Fiat dares to dream again - it is on the cusp of launching the facelifted version of the Punto.
Looks are a personal thing. I like Maria Sharapova, you like Serena Williams. Whatever works for you does not hurt me. But in the case of the new Punto Evo, if you say it does not take your breath away, you would be lying, blind or simply lack taste! Evo, by the way, stands for 'evolution'. And the evolution is complete. The front nose is changed, and the mix of Italian flair and Indian masala is evident. The grille has a chrome strip running across to complement the new, bigger, swept-back headlamps. The bumper too has been redesigned, and the fog lamp area has a chrome surrounding. The bonnet has got a prominent ridge at the centre. This aggressive front fascia is exclusively for Indian Puntos. All these changes make it hard to believe that this is just a tweaked Punto, and not a new-generation relaunch. But take a glance at the side profile, and all doubts are put at rest: the Punto Evo mirrors the Punto Grande. At the rear, the bumper has been given a chrome strip around the fog lamps area, while LEDs replace the regular tail lights.
With dark, threatening clouds overhead in Pune, we got inside the car, to be welcomed by the solidly built centre console with its integrated music system. The Evo comes with Fiat's Blue&Me infotainment system that can be commanded by voice. You can control your smartphone with it as well as pick your favourite track without having to take your eyes off the road. The dashboard layout is the same as in the Linea, but the piano black inserts make it look premium. The cabin comes in dual colours except in the diesel 90hp variant, which has a sporty all-black interior. The top variant Evo also comes with a soothing ambient light above the glove compartment. The steering wheel is identical to the outgoing Grande's. This is a good thing because the design provides a perfect grip and its weight makes it comfortable to drive in tight spots.
The new Punto retains the same power plants for the variants - a 1.2-litre and 1.4-litre petrol and a 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engines. The top diesel model pumps out 90 hp of power but continues to suffer from turbo lag. It tests your patience as the engine comes to life only after the needle passes the 2000 rpm mark. Because the power momentum only builds up at high speeds, you end up arm wrestling with the gearbox during urban driving.
The 1.4-litre petrol engine remains fairly refined at low speeds, but the power remains indifferent. The 91 hp heart performs best in the mid-range -when you step on the gas, the engine starts to get noisy. In terms of refinement and power response, Fiat really needs to tweak things up because the Evo does not stand up to the competition.
All is not doom and gloom, however. The Evo remained quite planted on the twisted roads leading to Lonavla. The body roll was minimum, and even in the heavy downpour the front ventilated disc brakes and rear drums remained very effective. The ride quality was good and the Evo continued to carpet most of the puddle-filled potholes and bumps with ease.
The Punto Evo has one of the highest ground clearances in its segment, an advantage over other hatchbacks that almost always scrape the bottom on speed breakers. The cabin is airy and offers adequate shoulder space for three people. The seats are big, comfortable and provide decent back and thigh support. The car is, no doubt, a looker, but the interior quality can still be improved. Now, it all depends on what sort of a buzz Fiat is able to create around it. And Fiat, can you please improve the quality and network of your service centres?