Published on December 24th, 2014 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez1
Fiat Punto 1997 Used Car Review
One thing for sure, the Italians know style! They are able to take the most unassuming and boring shape and end up with a sleek or sexy or even suave shape that many other manufacturers try very hard to do and fail. I guess they owe it all to their excellent food and wine which inspires them just like it does me!
In the late 70’s Italian car manufacturer FIAT had a number of their cars running in Malaysia. Legendary for their speed and their ability to corner well, these cars were sought after even with a rather higher than average price. The classic FIAT 131 TC was the one to own and even better the 2-door Abarth version. Abarth is what M Power is to BMW and AMG to Benz.
With bad after sales service and a passion for rusting in all the wrong places, sales dwindled and the dealership closed. Today there are rumors of the brand being resurrected under a new brand guardian. Still waiting for confirmation on this as we write this review. In 1996 the FIAT Punto was released in Malaysia together with its siblings.
The small hatch Punto is a square slab with sexy lines and a car washers dream. Smooth all around this car is ahead its eastern competitors in looks and interior comfort. Price was also acceptable and this resulted in good sales especially among women.
Fiat was and still is world-renowned for making excellent small cars, so a lot of thought went into creating its best-selling Punto. Its investment in a brand-new factory and working practices has certainly paid off.
Assuming the high-waisted styling appeals to you, there are three Punto body styles to choose from: the 3-door hatchback, 5-door hatchback or cabriolet. The 3-door is most popular for its turbocharged engine but the five-door is a better bet. The 3-door’s large, heavy doors are hard to open, especially in tight parking spaces. They also tend to sink on their hinges on older cars, a common problem with all two-door cars. The cabriolet is rare, and not as safe in underground parking lots and dark dingy parking lots; buy with caution.
Puntos were well made and relatively free of glitches from the start, so very early cars can still be a sensible buy. Residual trade wariness over the Fiat badge (reputation for rust) have also kept used values very attractive. Nearly new cars are outstanding value, pushing older cars values down still further.
The Punto is famed for its spaciousness, thanks to its then-modern high-roofed bubble shape as well as clever space-maximising touches all around the car. Rear space is incredible and there’s plenty of room for luggage in the boot.
Power steering makes parking and tight maneuvering easy even for the 5 foot nothing friend of mine.
The ‘all-new’ Punto arrived in 2000, with sharper styling and larger interior space. There was very little wrong with the old one, so very little changed except for a variety of new engines to choose from.
First things first. Have a good look all round the car. Previous accident damage and rusting should show especially if the car has been resprayed. Peel all visible rubber parts (windscreen rubber, side window rubber or rear window rubber) away from the body just a little to see if the paint under the rubber is the same as the paint on the body. Open the doors and do the same test at the doorsills and also the rear hatch. Next climb in to the rear seat and peel away a little bit of the inside door rubber seals to see if the paint there is the same as the body colour. Damaged Fiat’s rarely get new panels as parts from Fiat plus the work required in making look right costs a bundle.
Under the hood it is important to look out for a cambelt replacement every 60,000 miles or so. Look for the receipt to confirm or else expensive engine failure could be coming your way. Service history is essential as repairs can be expensive.
Road testing should reveal any worn shocks, bearings, drive shafts, brakes and so on. Tell-tale signs are heavy nose-dive under braking and a noisy, jarring ride. Replacing these is neither expensive (RM1600 for all four, fitted) nor complicated, but specify branded shocks (such as Koni or Leda) as these are better than the standard Fiat ones. Remember this is not a performance hatch, however it does handle and corner better than most of its competitors.
Obvious engine difficulties such as misfiring and/or jerking are unlikely to occur on any car presented for sale, but if they do it is probably the fault of one of the two ignition coils. Replacing these can cost quite a bit and usually cures the fault completely.
After the test drive, peek under the bonnet with the engine running – take care! Ensure the radiator fan cuts in as appropriate, and listen to the top end of the engine. A rattle in time with engine speed indicates a stuck hydraulic tappet, usually cured with an engine flush and oil change – an easy DIY task for the gearhead or the cost of a night out for two for the mechanically phobic.
Finally the gearbox should be carefully inspected. Listen to the car as it idles – if there is a slight whine it may be the gearbox. Confirm the problem by pressing the clutch pedal down – the noise should disappear then re-appear when the clutch is lifted. A reconditioned gearbox can be costly and lets not mention the price of a new unit so the check is worth doing.
Fiat, encouraged by subsidies, built an entirely new factory in southern Italy for Punto production. There were few suppliers down there, so Fiat demanded all its suppliers locate in the same area, taking the opportunity of a fresh start to ask for ready-made sub-assemblies as opposed to individual parts.
Combine this approach with Fiat’s familiarity with robot assembly, and there really is very little that can go wrong. The Punto was and still is remarkably well-made when compared to other FIAT’s from the sale era. Prices today hover between RM3,000 to RM9,000 for a perfect drive away and this should be considered as a bargain against what else is available in the market from the same era.
To get up, close and personal with a quality used FIAT Abarth 500 please visit Naza World (along Federal Highway in PJ) and check their extensive range of Abarth’s on offer or call 012-332 8116 or 012 332 8141 for an appointment.