The Fiat Punto: to buy or not to buy?

The Fiat Grande Punto is a car that comes up in most CarToq car suggestions, by virtue of it being a pretty competent car, but yet, the sales figures paint a different picture altogether. Why is it so? CarToq takes a look at all the pros and cons of buying a Fiat Punto.

Sales of the Fiat Punto have been falling, even after the new Punto was introduced. In January 2012, the Fiat Punto sold 1600 units, a number that dropped to about 700 units in May and further to just 597 cars in September, with a low of 395 cars in August. Compare that to the Tata Indica Vista, its sibling from the Tata-Fiat alliance (Tata has been selling and servicing Fiat cars in India till recently), and the figures are pathetic – the Vista and Indica together sell an average of 7000 units a month, nearly 10 times more than Fiat, while the Punto is actually the better product. Also read: Fiat Punto and Linea Absolute Editions launched

fiat punto sports front black

What’s wrong with the Punto?

What’s wrong with the Punto? Well nothing really. It has good ride and handling. The diesel engine used in the Fiat Punto is the same engine that Fiat has licensed out to Maruti, Tata and now Premier for use in their vehicles – so much so the 1.3 multijet diesel engine has earned the tag of India’s “national engine”. It is used in the Maruti Swift, Maruti Ritz, Maruti Ertiga, Maruti SX4, Maruti Dzire, Tata Vista, Tata Manza and Premier Rio, besides Fiat’s own Linea and Punto. The 1.2 litre petrol engine in the Punto is also used by Tata in the Vista, while the Punto Emotion’s 1.4 litre petrol is used by Tata in the Manza. Also read: Can the 1.3 multijet Premier Rio take on the Renault Duster?

A well-built, feature-rich car

In terms of ride and handling, the Punto has a good feel to it. It pleases the driver with its precise and well-weighted steering, body roll is controlled and it responds well to throttle inputs – at least the diesel does better than the petrol. Ride quality is among the best in premium hatchbacks, with the car easily handling bad roads. And now with ground clearance of 185 mm (195 mm on the base variant), the Punto is better than some SUVs on bad roads!

The Punto is pretty good value for money as well. The base Punto Active diesel for instance is priced at Rs. 5.59 lakh, about the same price as the Maruti Swift LDI (Rs. 5.57 lakh), ex-showroom Delhi. At that price the Punto has more space, bigger boot (280 litres vs 210 litres), more features (two power windows, tachometer, single-CD music system) than the Maruti Swift. Yet, the Swift sells an average of 15,000 units a month, over 20 times more than the Punto! If you compare the top-end diesel variants too the Punto offers more at the same price (Rs. 6.8 lakh). It offers Bluetooth, foot-level rear AC vents, warning buzzers, follow-me home headlamps and a more comprehensive multi-information display compared to the Swift ZDI. Also read: Fiat Punto vs Hyundai i20

What’s bugging Fiat?

Why then do buyers shy away from the Fiat Punto? The biggest drawback here is Fiat’s poor service reputation over the years. The company first ran into trouble in early 2000s, where spares and service was a big problem for Fiat customers. It then inked a deal with Tata to build its sales and service network, but somehow that alliance has not worked either in Fiat’s favour, as Tata itself did not have the best service reputation. And there were instances of customers walking into a Tata showroom to enquire about the Fiat Punto, but were soon directed toward the Indica and Vista instead.

This has led Fiat to now try and set up its own service network and sales outlets, with the Fiat Caffes rolling out in different cities in the past few months. Fiat plans to set up 75 such independent service centres by March next year. Right now there are about 68 Fiat-Tata co-branded service centres. Also read: Fiat to launch Jeep Cherokee in 2013

It’s because of these problems associated with service that customers find comfort in a brand like Maruti, where there’s a strong service backing. Other brands like Hyundai and Ford have been steadily building their service network as well, and it’s showing in the sales numbers – Hyundai sells about 7,700 i20s a month on average, while Ford sells close to 6000 units of the Figo monthly.

These concerns have also affected the resale value of Fiat as a brand. The Punto is likely to lose its value much faster than a Maruti Swift.

Should you buy the Punto?

With Fiat now strengthening its brand presence in India and building up its sales and service network, this is one concern that should get addressed soon. If you are in a metro with access to a Fiat service centre, it definitely makes sense to keep the Fiat Punto on your top-three shopping list among premium hatchbacks. The car is pretty reliable. But if you are not in a metro and are worried about service, you could be better off with a brand that has a service centre in your town or city.