Fiat recently unveiled a more powerful variant of the Punto, christened the Punto 90 HP making it an instant competitor to the quick and loaded Hyundai i20 CRDi. .
Diesels have changed and how. Chosen earlier primarily for efficiency and lower running costs, today's diesels are the new petrol. One look at the specs of most modern day diesels and you find that they are not only on par with their petrol siblings but in some cases even better them. Case in point is the Hyundai i20 CRDi, which easily bests its 1.2 litre petrol unit on all parameters. And now with the recently added 6-speed gearbox the gap has just widened even further. The Fiat Grande Punto too has received some additional horses thanks to the Linea's powerplant finding place under its sexy hood. So which of these two premium hatches should you plump your hard earned money on Let's find out.
Parked next to each other, it's actually difficult to choose between the two as far as looks are concerned. The Hyundai i20's design breaks away from the conventional Japanese/Korean hatchbacks that we've seen so far and adopts an approach that is extremely European. Sleekly raked A-pillars, flared wheel arches and a subtly curvaceous hood resting on a contoured front fascia is the order of the day at the front. And who can forget the attractive, sharp kink in the waistline that runs across the length of the car on either side. Its competition here however has pretty much been the benchmark as far as styling is concerned. Traditional Italian aesthetics can seldom be contested, and the Punto comes carrying the air of a classic hatchback with just the right shades of modernity. Those delicious 15 inch alloys further add to the allure of this Italian stallion..
While its pretty close contest from the outside, it's anything but close once you step inside. The Punto packs in decent space and the seats are extremely comfy offering very good support. Differentiating the 90 HP variant are chromed door handles while the seats feature sporty red stitching to highlight the new sporty character. The rest pretty much remains the same with just about enough legroom at the rear and the iffy plastics in some areas being the drawbacks. The insides of the i20 however are good enough to shame most sedans. Quality of materials is very good but still a wee bit shy of the benchmark Polo. There is abundant space as well and seating three abreast at the rear is hardly a chore in the i20. Hyundai definitely deserves full marks as far as the interior packaging is concerned.
Although diesels, both these premium hatches also promise performance to boot. The Punto earlier pushed out 75 PS which pretty much did the job, but was found a bit lacking when performance was called for. To cure this all Fiat did was plonk the Linea's mill into the Punto. Now equipped with variable geometry turbocharger, the Punto pushes out a very respectable 93 PS and 209 Nm of torque. The i20 with a slightly bigger displacement pumps out all of 90 PS and a massive 220 Nm of torque from the brilliant 1.4 litre DOHC CRDi unit.While the difference in horsepower might not be vast, the difference in performance is. The i20 simply eats the Punto for lunch, breakfast and dinner. The Korean express blitzes to a 100 km/h in a scant 13.5 seconds while the Punto does the same in a yawning 17.9 seconds. The Punto does try to claw back in the roll-ons but the i20 takes no prisoners there as well thanks to its well matched 6- speed gearbox.
When it comes to using all that power though, the roles are reversed. Drive both the cars hard back to back and the difference is immediately apparent. The Korean simply cannot match the dynamics of the thoroughbred Italian. While straight line stability is good in the i20, it's the steering which spoils the party. There is absolutely no feedback and to make it worse it's overtly light and over servoed. While this is fine when one is trundling along at city speeds and trying to park in tight spots but once on the highway where the speeds start getting serious, it starts feeling pretty nervous. And where the i20 starts getting nervous, the Punto is just getting into its groove. A firm suspension set up and a well weighted steering makes the Punto an absolute delight at higher speeds and even with all the new competition around, it features the best balance between ride and handling.
If it's a diesel it has to be fuel efficient as well. The Punto returned 10.5 kmpl around town and 17 kmpl on the highway giving it an overall figure of 12.12 kmpl. The i20, courtesy its brilliantly matched gear ratios returned an even better 13 kmpl around town and a similar 17 kmpl on the highways giving it an overall figure of 14 kmpl.
So what will it be? The Italian Stallion or the Korean express? It's a simple choice actually. If looks are your priority and you like to drive, the Grande Punto will gladly fit the bill. But as a complete package, the i20 completely steals the show. It not only offers more performance, better interiors and better fuel efficiency but is also more affordable of the two. The Punto is only available in the top of the line Emotion trim and retails for Rs. 6,80,792 while the i20 is available from Rs. 5,75,100 for the Era right up till Rs. 6,97,103 (ex-showroom Delhi) for the fully loaded Asta variant. As far as performance diesel hatches are concerned, Hyundai definitely has its game covered.[/img]