This isn’t your run of the mill hot hatch. It’s an Italian enigma.
You’ve probably never seen or possibly even heard of an Abarth Punto. With only 99 vehicles produced worldwide and 10 brought to South Africa, it’s rarer than most Ferraris. It’s prettier than some Ferraris, too.
The defining feature of this car is unquestionably the styling. Although beauty isn’t quite everything (as Alfa Romeo will confirm based on sales of the Brera when it was new), it’s a big part of the appeal of any car.
This car is so good looking that even the most hardcore VW fanatics give it a second glance. The miniature Maserati front-end is complemented perfectly by the masculine fenders and the raspy exhaust. The rear three quarter view is something that any aspiring car designer should study. It’s an amazing example of affordable beauty.
The first owner of the car changed the wheels, which is odd given the rarity. Nevertheless, these aftermarket wheels do suit the car and give onlookers ample opportunity to admire the bright yellow calipers.
Yellow is a theme that continues into the interior with numerous styling touches to distinguish this car from a standard Punto. Although motoring journalists will have their usual whine about “perceived quality” and “but it isn’t German” the reality is that nobody who bought this car actually cares. The Sabelt seats are brilliant and the cabin is an endearing place to be.
If anything, it’s the performance of this car that is a negative surprise. With 132kW on tap, it’s not slow. It just isn’t as feisty as you would expect based on the styling and a spec sheet that includes Koni shocks as standard.
Taking 7.5 seconds to reach 100km/h is almost pedestrian by today’s insane standards. The “hyper hatch” arms race that was started by Mercedes Benz with the A45 AMG has given us a world where the fastest hatchbacks would easily embarrass exotics of 15 years ago, all while taking the kids to school and the dog to the vet. It’s extraordinary.
Obviously, those cars all cost an absolute fortune.
We aren’t trying to compare them to the Punto, but rather pointing out that an entire petrolhead generation has been desensitised to speed. They’ve also been desensitised to the sheer joy of a 6 speed manual ‘box in a car that has enough power to enjoy it but not so much power that you need the paddles.
The Abarth Punto was expensive relative to its true competitors when it was launched, with a price-to-performance ratio that meant only fanatics were interested. Luckily, Fiat only needed to find 99 of them worldwide who didn’t want a Golf 6 GTI instead.
There is no observable market price for these cars in South Africa, but it’s likely that R175k to R200k would buy you the most exclusive lukewarm hatch on our roads. That’s still a considerable amount of money compared to capable machinery from the likes of Renault. It’s an enthusiast’s choice and will never truly make sense on paper, which we imagine is part of the appeal to the 10 owners in South Africa.
Having owned a MiTo QV and a Giulietta QV between us, we were expecting the Punto to be somewhere in the middle from a performance perspective. Surprisingly, it has more of the Giulietta’s numbed performance and less of the MiTo’s twitchy entertainment. Despite the boy racer looks and the excellent soundtrack compared to its Alfa cousins, the Punto is almost too refined in how it delivers power.
That is why we think this car is something of an enigma. The looks and the performance seem at odds with each other, although the overall package is something that any true petrolhead would appreciate.
It’s the kind of car that you probably wouldn’t recommend to a friend, but will one day look back on with the fondest memories out of all the cars you owned.
With only 10 of these cars prowling our streets (and possibly fewer now), you’ll be lucky to ever see one. That’s a pity, because it’s a special little machine.
Special thanks to Tiaan of Just Cars SA for joining us with his intoxicating blend of passion for cars and photography.