Fiat has finally pulled the plug on the Punto supermini after 13 years in service, but, amazingly, it’s not actually because last year it became the first car ever to score zero stars in Euro NCAP crash testing.
The model has simply run its useful life span, says Fiat, which has kept the would-be Fiesta rival in production simply because Europe’s supermini market has stayed too large for Fiat not to have at least a half-hearted competitor.
It’s rare for any car model to last 13 years in production these days, so perhaps we should honour the venerable but largely underwhelming Punto as a low-key success, but if it is, it’s one with a bitter end.
The car spent precious little of its life in any real condition to rival the best superminis in the class. There were hidden highlights in the shape of two underrated but eccentric Sporting models, one with a punchy 1.9-litre diesel as a warm-hatch alternative to the first Skoda Fabia vRS, and another with lightning-quick steering and an amusingly punchy turbocharged 1.4-litre Multiair engine.
At its launch in 2005 it was called the Grande Punto, replacing its smaller and even tinnier predecessor, which had no Grande. A rename to Punto Evo in 2009 did little to improve the car’s fortunes as rivals like the Volkswagen Polo sauntered off into the distance. Fiat seemed to realise the futility as it reverted to ‘Punto’ with a second facelift in 2012, but by then the competition was even stronger.
Along the way there was also an Abarth version. It dangled from the bottom end of the hot hatch market with just 155bhp from a development of the same 1.4-litre engine used in the regular Sporting. An Esseesse (SS) version bumped that to a handier 180bhp, and in this trim the Grande Punto finally found some talent – but too little, too late.
Although low prices kept sales ticking over, especially in mainland Europe where nasty plastics seem to be less important than the ability to absorb as much superficial damage as possible without breaking the bank, a zero-star result in the late 2017 Euro NCAP tests did rather a lot to persuade people to spend a little more on something with greater crash safety than a packet of crisps.
In the Punto’s place will be another expansion of the successful ‘500’ sub-brand, which currently spans the 500, 500C, 500L and 500X, all of which have multiple derivatives. An estate version of the 500 will roughly fill the Punto’s boots.