Tuesday 6 December 2016

Hot hatch project stalls

Abarth Punto Evo 1.4 litre

Published 05/03/2011 | 05:00

I'm letting off some energy this week with a bit of a blast in a hot hatch. And would you blame me after all the electoral electricity we've experienced? So let me invite you to join me as I shed the shackles of economic woes and political pneumatics for just a little while.

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I don't expect too many will bother with the Abarth Punto Evo, so that takes the weight off my shoulders, and I hope yours, in a weird sort of way. Consider it a kind of escape.

But you know what? In a weird sort of way it echoes the times we're in. It's a kind of coalition too.

Let me explain. With the word Punto in the middle, it is, of course, based on a Fiat -- but Abarth is a standalone brand.

Basically, Abarth takes the bare basics of a car and revolutionises it; it tweaks it and tunes and builds and adds until the package fizzes. It puts in more power and verve and makes a roaring hot-hatch that you can zip around in on the road.

Just like any coalition, it is a blend of the old guard and the new boys on the block who are straining at the leashes.

You can only buy an Abarth through an authorised dealer -- and you'll have to go to England to do so. There are none here at the moment but there almost certainly will be before the year is out.

By the way, any Fiat dealer here can service and repair any Abarth model using original equipment.

It surely is a mad looking piece of work. It gave me the impression it was designed to look wild and windy.

Ouch! The sports seat (driver and front passenger) nearly squeezed the bum off me, initially. I thought I had become accustomed to it but a few people asked, shortly after I had parked it, if I was walking with a limp.

It has a new 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine that reacts to demands with alacrity but mostly has the effect of cutting emissions.

It is a cracker when it comes to power output -- but I daren't look at my fuel consumption because of the way I drove it (low gears, high revs). I strongly suspect it was enough to make a Green (remember them?) see red.

You can select a Normal and Sport mode when you get in behind the wheel. I preferred the Sport because it gave a lot more steering feel and a quicker response to the right foot. The other felt too remote.

This has a taut, sporty chassis. Abarth has given the suspension a serious workover. Too much I think. By golly when I hit a divet or a bump on the road with this I bloody well knew it. Not for the faint-hearted, I can assure you.

On a practical level, there are two 'seats' in the back for the few bits of shopping and a small, small boot. It is tight enough in the front too, but despite that, all the clever knobbies and pushies and decor made it feel smart and modern and . . . different.

I buzzed around in it feeling at times like an oversized occupant in a tiny little cockpit -- like one of the Jetsons in that futuristic cartoon.

If you are a hot hatch fan this will tweak your interest. There are big, broad bumpers with vents, all sorts of air diffusers and splitters, bigger twin exhaust tailpipes and rear spoiler.

And while the engine fairly pelts out the power -- up 10bhp to 106bhp -- the ability to stop is increased as well with big, powerful brakes.

It was all kind of breathless, dashing here and there, having young men looking from it to me and back again wondering what in the name of God was that ould fella doing in a young person's car.

There is no questioning the improved performance of this successor to the Abarth Grande Punto and its ability to squirt away from a standing start or to overtake with real zest.

But no, it is just not my cup of tea. Though I sure can see why those enthusiasts would drool over it.

I think maybe it tries too hard. It looks well but there is just something overly exaggerated about it, for me.

Some coalitions work, some struggle a bit.

What

Abarth Punto Evo 1.4-litre turbo MultiAir 3dr hot hatch (1,368cc, 165bhp, 0-100kmh in 7.9 secs, top speed 213kmh); 6spd gearbox, frontwheel-rive, 6l/100km, CO2 of 142g/km; VRT is 20pc. €302 annual road tax.

Cost

From an estimated €25,000. No dealers here yet.

Target Market

Those with more money than practical needs. Hothatch aficionados.

Plus

Performance, looks and difference.

Minus

Rare/niche nature of product, future trade-in values, Garda Traffic Corps.

Standard Equipment

Seven airbags, Electronic Stability Programme (helps avert skidding), Start & Stop system, sports seats, fine audio system.

Others to consider

VW Golf, Alfa Mito Cloverleaf, Audi A1, Skoda Fabia RS, MINI Cooper S.

Rating: 77 / 100

ecunningham@independent.ie

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