The Abarth Grande Punto kicks off with a 155bhp version of the same 1.4-litre T-jet engine that's in the top Fiat Grande Punto. It will sprint from 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 129mph, and certainly feels lively. A a 'sport boost' button sharpens the throttle response and increases the pulling power available. But it is possible to achieve higher performance by choosing the factory-approved 'esseesse' or 'super sport' pack.
This increases power to 180bhp and as a result it's half a second faster on the sprint from 0-62mph - the extra performance comes with a raucous exhaust note that is almost worth the extra money alone. The standard six-speed gearbox shifts smoothly and cleanly.
Differences between the Fiat Grande Punto and the Abarth version run deeper than just a more powerful engine. The brakes have been upgraded while the ride height is 10mm lower and it has a slightly wider stance. This makes the Abarth feel sharper on the road without compromising ride comfort significantly. It's certainly more composed than the standard Grande Punto on challenging roads and although the power steering has electric assistance rather than hydraulic, it still offers plenty of feel.
Customers choosing the 'esseesse' upgrade get a more driver-focused Grande Punto, with suspension lowered by a further 20mm, 18-inch alloy wheels and heavier-duty brakes. It feels even more alert and responsive, but ride comfort is compromised on anything but the smoothest road surface.