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Fiat Punto: design review

Posted by: Helen Walters on July 14, 2008

It’s been a while since I had to drive anywhere, but this weekend I picked up a Fiat Punto from Heathrow and headed to the southwest of England. After about 20 minutes, I had absolutely no sympathy for anyone in the auto industry. So many details of this car, intended as a small, economical runabout (the basic edition costs £10,600, about $22,000), were completely off. And every single one was a design flaw that’s simply not excused by the car’s price:

Blindspot Barrier
I’ve noticed this in other cars too, but on turning my head to check the blind spot for approaching traffic, I instead got a great view of the car’s interior B-pillar. This isn’t just a design flaw, it’s hugely dangerous.

Spilled Drinks
Careful drivers remain alert. In my world, that means coffee, but I did not remain quite as caffeinated as I had hoped after my drink went flying after I had to change gears. Given that the Punto is a manual car, changing gears is hardly an unexpected activity. There simply wasn't enough space for the drink and the gearstick to coexist.

Wet Wipers
The windscreen wipers weren't bad actually, and could cope with both the torrential downpours and the drizzle that came down throughout my journey. But then I made the mistake of cracking open the front passenger window. And then watched, amazed, as a stream of water trailed neatly across the top of the windscreen and poured straight through the window and into my handbag.

I'm all in favor of small cars -- I'd love to see more of them Stateside. But details like this really matter and will hardly make a strong case for them. What's more, all of these problems show the benefits and importance of actually trying out a design. On paper, I'm sure none of these problems were apparent. In the real world, they're instantly obvious and immediately off-putting. As it happens, I'm not in the market to buy a car. But if I was then the Punto wouldn't make it anywhere on the list.

Reader Comments

Pete Mortensen

July 14, 2008 8:06 PM

It's shocking how many cars feel like their designers have never taken them for a drive, isn't it? Especially with small cars. At American car companies in particular, the focus is so heavily on big trucks and SUVs that the small cars get no love. Ford and GM and Chrysler don't make money on small cars, so they do a bad job at them -- and then the Japanese companies make great small cars and eat up marketshare.

I honestly don't know what's going to get this industry to change. We're far beyond the point where fuel-inefficient vehicles are economical for anyone. Why aren't there 15 cars on the American market offering 40 miles per gallon today? I have to assume it's because car executives don't have a clue what it's like to be unable to afford the gas you need to get to work.


July 15, 2008 6:54 PM

"Spilled Drinks
Careful drivers remain alert. In my world, that means coffee, but I did not remain quite as caffeinated as I had hoped after my drink went flying after I had to change gears. Given that the Punto is a manual car, changing gears is hardly an unexpected activity. There simply wasn't enough space for the drink and the gearstick to coexist."

LOL LOL LOL LOL only an american can say a thing like that omg LOL

It's incredible how americans do nothing to put a stop to theyr sthereotype


July 15, 2008 6:56 PM

Dear Max,
I'm British, actually.


July 15, 2008 8:21 PM

well u can find ur paradise in America bye the way


July 16, 2008 6:23 AM

I drive an Audi A4 - it does all the things you hate about the Punto. It gets wet inside when you open the window in the rain (funny that eh?) The coffee goes flying when I change gear but I've learned to live with this as with the gorgeous view of the B pillar. Perhaps you just weren't in a very good mood?

Phil P

July 16, 2008 7:12 AM

next time ask for a convertible with automatic transmission...I've driven the Punto on several occasions and its 'blind-spot' is not that dramatic...there are worse on the road; obviously you don't drive that often, from what you yourself admits, so you must not have recent experience of similar...also driving a car with open windows in the rain sounds rather water will come in somehow, and what does this have to do with small cars vs presumably large which I presume have better placed cup-holders and/or water does not enter them in rain with windows open? Many large cars have double cup-holders just by the gear just has to manage...I suppose cars are not designed for the inexperiences and 'undexterous'... Oh, and I love the sub-heading of 'wet wipers'...are they supposed to stay dry? they are there for the wet! A rather pathetic piece of wasted writing and of our time.

Stereotypical American

July 16, 2008 8:37 AM

Stereotypes are for ignorant bigots who know nothing more than their meaningless existence. get out of your flat Max, see the world. It's full of great places and people all over, with the exception of you of course...wanker!


July 16, 2008 9:45 AM

Sorry. I wasn't very clear about the windscreen. I do realize that rain might come through an open window! My objection was that the wipers scooped water to the top of the windscreen, which then ran in a neat stream along the top, around and into the side window. This happened even when squirting the windscreen to clean it when there was no rain at all. Phil, your point about the design of small v large cars is well taken, though as space is at a premium in the former, the design of cupholders etc needs to be more carefully thought through. A mere adaptation of the existing paradigm is not good enough. Many of you seem to have learned to accept the design flaws in your cars which is, of course, your prerogative. I happen to think it's more interesting to question and challenge them.


July 17, 2008 5:55 AM

hello hellen,

i have owned my fiat punto for over 2 years and just to let you know the car is brilliant.your comments are so mundane and so stupid it makes me want to puke.
what the hell would you anyway.your life sounds so meaningless...


July 18, 2008 4:22 PM

I'm sure Helen's comments about the Punto are reasonably fair, but I too wondered about the drink issue. Call me Mr. Old Fashioned, but drinking coffee while driving - can't it wait until you stop? It seems dangerous & distracting to me.

Stereotypical American meanwhile calls Max a wanker, and Adam says the author's comments mundane, stupid, and says her life sounds so meaningless - just more examples of the coarsening of public discourse I suppose.


October 21, 2008 11:34 PM

I spent considerable time before purchasing a small economical car just 2 months ago. I take your point about lack of storage space, however after thoroughly testing leading contenders in Australia, the Punto came out way on top over the likes of Hyundai's I30, VW Golf, Toyota Corolla etc; and with its 6 air-bags, 5 star safety rating, cruise control, and 5 litres/100km I can overlook small issues like that. Its a thoroughly enjoyable ride!

The Heretic

March 20, 2009 10:39 AM

Let's address the issues one by one, as I've driven quite a good lot of 5-door hatchbacks in the B- and C-segments, including the Punto.

Blindspot barrier:

1. If you're trying to look for oncoming traffic from the rear, there's a little thingy before you, on your right-hand-side (if you're in a RHD market) or your left-hand-side (if you're in a LHD market). It's called a mirror and it's curved to allow for a more wideangle perspective.

2. If you're approaching a crossroads, ALL B-pillars in 4-door an 5-door cars get in your way, because they're immensely thick nowadays. Just make sure your car's course is roughly perpendicular to the road you're trying to enter, as this will ensure a good view.

Spilled drinks:

What idiot drinks, eats or smokes while driving? I can understand drinking some water while on a long-distance trip, but duh, you can always exit the motorway, enter a town and head for a cafeteria. That way, you'll be able to stretch your legs, walk around a bit, rest a bit and get the coffee you need.

Wet wipers:

Excuse me, but the incident you mentioned really means you had it coming. Who would open a window in the driving rain? Didn't anyone tell you that the car has a quite decent ventilation system?

Anil Wadhwa

July 2, 2010 7:13 AM

I have purchased a Fiat Grande Emotion Pack on dated 16/04/2010 from ABS mercantiles pvt. Ltd, Gurgaon, firstly the buying experience was very bad, they called us at 6:30pm to deliver the vehicle and it was delivered at 8:45pm. I along with my family had to wait there for more than 2hrs.
But misery starts after that, exactly after car’s A.C. stopped functioning and we were asked to bring vehicle to service centre and they repaired it and again after 6-7 days A.C. stopped and they kept vehicle there for 2 days to repair. A new vehicle repeatedly giving trouble and dealer was also very unserious about delivery timing.
Again on 1st service dealer service centre, but black paint spots on the whole car and sent the car. After repeated reminder and requests for 8 days they told us this is paint from nearby car which was being painted for antirust and again they picked up vehicle and half of the paint was removed still spots are their.
Even paint of the car is coming out from many places near door handles, bonnet etc. Today on 2nd July Car’s central locking started giving trouble out of the four doors only three are getting locked, 4th remains open even after locking. Now after calling at the service centre they are saying bring it to the service centre.
My name : Anil Kumar Wadhwa
H.No. 2058, Sec-4, Gurgaon
Mob : 9899600402
Car Reg. No. HR 26 BC 2072

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