The best way to explore Europe is renting a car and see where the road takes you. Renting and driving a car in Europe can be pricy so I am always looking for a good deal. The usual US-based rental car websites didn’t have much to offer for good deals at the end of August so I also checked a few local Dutch sites. Avis.nl was advertising a special for a Ford Fiesta Diesel for €125 which included CDW and VAT. One of the requirements you couldn’t pick it up at an airport location but that was no issue for me.
I made a reservation for 12 days and picked up the car in Hoofddorp, about 10 kilometers south of Schiphol Airport. I was looking forward to drive the new Ford Fiesta and was a bit disappointed a Fiat Punto was waiting for me at the Avis rental location. But that disappointment went away quickly because the Punto looked like quite a nice car as well.
Cars in this segment may look small on the outside but often can provide a surprising amount of room on the inside. I had the same experience with a VW Polo I rented in Italia a few years ago. It’s just a bit smaller than a Volkswagen Golf but quite bigger than a city car like a Fiat 500. The interior wasn’t bad at all for small car like this. There was some hard plastic but other areas were nice soft-touch materials. The audio system was quite good, even though the one I rented was missing an Aux-in or USB input. That was the major drawback for me but it is an available option on the Punto.
Controls were easy to use and gauges were easy to read. I am usually not a fan of red dash lights but it wasn’t too bad in the Punto. Fortunately, the car was equipped with cruise control which is a must-have for me in any car. The seats looked pretty basic but they were quite comfortable for cruising. I usually feel my back quite soon in most car seats but the seats in the Punto were better than average. Seat bottoms were longer than usual which always adds to the level of comfort for me.
Engine and performance
Motivating this little black Italian is a 1.3 liter diesel engine with 83 hp. While that may sound small in displacement, there even is a 2-cylinder petrol turbo engine with a total 875 cc. Yes, that’s 0.9 liter but it still produces the same 83 horsepower. That seems quite fun to drive as well. But I am focusing on the diesel engine in this review because that’s the one I drove.
Engine power is decent for small displacement diesel engine, even though you won’t be doing any burnouts. Torque is mostly available at lower rpms in diesel engines and there wasn’t much left after 3.500 rpm in the 1.3 Multijet. But this is an engine for good fuel economy and not performance. There still is enough power for passing and there is a bit of kick when you floored the right pedal. The engine makes a bit more of the usual diesel engine noise right after start-up but was pretty quiet when the engine was at operating temperature.
The manual transmission is pretty good and better than some other manual cars I have driven before. Not as sharp and direct as a VW transmission but still quite good. Steering feel was nicely weighted and not too fast or too slow. It was actually quite fun to drive which I didn’t really expect. Even though there wasn’t a lot of horsepower and the suspension is tuned for comfort, it was still fun to toss around corners and have a bit of fun.
This Punto was equipped with a stop/start system. It turns off the engine when the car is stationary like when you are waiting for a traffic light. When you shift the manual transmission to neutral and release the clutch pedal, the engine turns off automatically. As soon as you depress the clutch pedal, the engine starts up again. This happens quickly and the engine is ready to go by the time you fully depress the clutch pedal and shift the transmission into first gear.
There was only one time when I was too quick and stalled the engine because it wasn’t ready to go yet when I already shifted into first gear. I didn’t know the car had this stop/start system and it was a strange experience the first time it shut off the engine. I thought it just stalled for some reason and wanted to turn to start the engine again with the key. But it magically started by itself as soon as the clutch pedal was depressed.
There is a light in the instrument cluster when the start/stop system is active. You get used to this system pretty quickly and it is a nice feature for when you’re waiting and idling for a minute or more. When the engine turns off, all electrical systems like exterior lights, heater fan and audio system still continue to function.
Driving and design
My travels took me over the Autobahn in Germany. That is always a good excuse to see how fast a car will go. It took a while to get the Punto diesel to reach its maximum speed of 180 km/h. It was at least still pretty stable and comfortable to drive. I was expecting the Punto to go a little bit faster but it still is not too bad. Fuel economy dropped by about 50% between 100 and 170 km/h so you probably won’t be driving that fast for a very long time anyways.
The exterior really grew on me as well. Many small cars are over-styled these days but the Punto is nicely designed without trying to be too fashionable. My rental car was a 5-door and I think it looks even better in the 3-door body style. Black looked quite good on this little Italian but I would get a brighter color like Petrol Green or Rubino Rossi if I bought one myself. That just seems to suit small cars better. The tail lights are nicely and uniquely styled which gave it a bit of flair. There wasn’t a whole lot of trunk space so you should rent a bigger car if you’re traveling with more than one passenger.
Fuel economy and pricing
I filled up with diesel 4 times during the 12 days with this oil burner. I recorded the fuel consumption for 3 fill-ups and it used 106 liters over 2,228 kilometers. That’s a very respectable 4.8 liter/100km or 49 mpg US / 59 mpg UK. Diesel cost €1.53 – 1.54 per liter in the Netherlands and €1.55-1.60 in Germany. That may sound expensive but it still is about 25-30 cents a a liter less than petrol. And combined with the low fuel consumption of a diesel compared to a petrol engine, renting this diesel car saved quite a bit of money.
The oil-burning Punto starts at €15,690 in the Netehrlands while the 5-door TwinAir is €900 less. Road tax will be a bit more on a diesel car but choosing this Punto is probably still the best choice considering the potential fuel savings. The least expensive VW Polo diesel starts at €19.270 so quite a bit more expensive than the Punto. These prices include about 40% in taxes (BPM and VAT). Yes, that’s right. 40%! I’ll never complain about the 6% Michigan sales tax ever again.
You are glad to return some rental cars but I got a bit attached to this little Punto. It was better than expected but I still wish it was a bit more temperamental and have some more Italian flair. Perhaps it was the black exterior and interior that was making it look all a bit toned down. And perhaps it would also make a difference when you drive it along the Amalfi coast instead of through the streets of Berlin. If I was looking for a small car like this, it would definitely be on the short list of possible choices. Other choices in this segment are the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo and there is a lot to say for those as well. But almost 50 mpg (US) is pretty amazing. I wouldn’t mind having that kind of mileage here in the USA either.