The forgotten hot hatch? Abarth Punto Esseesse
The motoring world is littered with fantastic hot hatches, both new and old, but I bet you forgot about this one...
Intrigued, aren't you? The chances are you have never heard about this car, which is kind of funny, bearing in mind it was the first model to built when Abarth became its own standalone brand again as opposed to being a sub-brand of FIAT.
A brief history lesson
Abarth was first founded all the way back in 1949, building cars such as the 204, 205A and the D46 before it was taken over by FIAT in 1971. Before then Abarth had already had dealings with the Italian giant by building the 1500 Biposto, which was essentially an Italian coupe with three massive torches strapped to the front. Well, not literally, but Google it and you'll see what I'm getting at.
Following the takeover by FIAT, the Italian brand was not interested in hill climb racing, a discipline that Abarth had competed in previously, instead focusing on rallying instead. Abarth became FIAT Group's racing department, pumping out cars such as the 124 Spider Abarth and the 131 Abarth. Then, in 1981, Abarth & C. ceased to exist and the name was merely given to FIAT's racier consumer models.
However, in 2007, Abarth became its own independent brand again (still under the FIAT Chrysler Automobiles umbrella, that is), becoming Abarth & C. S.p.a. - Abarth is WAY catchier though, if you ask me, plus it's more economical for full stops.
Back to the Punto
Hitting the scene in 2007, the Abarth Punto was relatively modest in its design; the look wasn't out-and-out boy racer, but it had some tell-tale signs that this wasn't your standard 1.2 litre Punto used to pop to the supermarket. It had a tasteful bodykit, bigger alloys, a sporty exhaust pipe and an equally sporty spoiler.
You had a few different flavours as well - the standard car kicked out 157hp from its 1.4 litre turbocharged petrol, but if you wanted a bit more bite, there was the Esseesse version, which thanks to a few tweaks such as a new air filter, a remapped ECU and a higher boost on the turbo, is able to pump out 182hp.
There's also the option of buying the boggo model, but with the 'Assetto' pack, which gives the car bigger alloys (18"), lower, tauter suspension, and better handling. In its standard form, the Abarth Punto cost £13,500 when new, which in today's money would be roughly £17,800. The Assetto pack would have bumped it up to around £20,700 and the Esseesse would be around £22,400.
How fast is it?
The Esseesse's 1.4 litre turbo four pot is good for 182hp and 273Nm of torque, which is mated to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox. Once the boost is on song - there is a bit of lag to contend with - you'll hit 62mph 7.5 seconds and continue to a top speed of 133mph. That's not bad for the present day, let alone 2007.
How does it drive?
Well, it's quite the experience. As the owner, Ryan, and I first drove down the road you could hear the turbo clear as day, sounding like some kind of disgruntled Darth Vader. Ryan states that the new air filter he fitted helped to bring more noise from the turbo, which can never bad a bad thing, can it?
The 1.4 needs quite a leg up from the Garrett turbo, and the result is that you'll need to wait until about 3,000 rpm for the performance to kick in. Does it detract from the experience? No, if anything, it adds character, and dare I say a bit of charm? The pedals offer a nice weight, but the shift from the gearbox was longer than I'd normally want from a hot hatch, plus the seating position was a bit high if you asked me.
The seats look cool and they're comfortable, but they are perched a bit too high
Mind you, the inside is a nice place to be, I think it's aged quite well, considering it's over a decade old. You get nice touches of leather inside, red stitching, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel to remind you that this isn't your regular Punto. It's got a few creature comforts as well including cruise control and dual zone climate control, which I wasn't expecting to be honest.
Because of the sportier suspension, the car has a ride height that's got a satisfying squat to it, as if it's been dropped on to some coilovers. The downside to this, is not the ride as you would suspect (although the ride is firm, of course), but is actually the fact Ryan states you can carry rear passengers, otherwise he scrapes everywhere.
The ride is pretty decent though, it's firm like I mentioned, but it wasn't a complete bone-shaker as I was expecting. The handling is well controlled and there was a good amount of grip on offer, thanks to the Michelin Pilot Sports Ryan had wrapped his rims. The steering has got a decent amount of weight to it when the car is in Sport mode, but outside of that the steering feels light. The Abarth does also torque steer when you a bit too enthusiastic with the throttle, which Ryan states makes the car a bit of a handful in the wet.
Before this statement, he said he was aiming to tune the car to 300hp, meaning he's either very brave, or very crazy. Perhaps it could be 50/50. However, despite the torque steer, the car never feels proper unruly, instead it just feels 'alive' if you get what I mean. This is a car that comes from an era where hot hatches could still be a bit raw, whereas nowadays, they're more civilised and they have better table manners.
Would I buy one?
I get the appeal this car has; it's different and a bit left-field. It's certainly not a bad car but I personally wouldn't have one. I'll be honest, there isn't really a specific reason, although I think reliability would be factor. I owned a 2001 FIAT Punto and that was far from having a perfect record of working. The Abarth Punto is a fun car that offers decent performance, and it's the one to have if you want something a bit different from the norm. Massive thanks to Ryan the owner for letting me spend some time with his car.