Fiat goes back to basics with the 2012 Punto

Does anyone remember a face-lift which takes the car's design back in the direction of the original model?

I honestly can't. That must make Fiat's debut of the 2012 Fiat Punto subcompact in Frankfurt this week, something of a historical first.

At an event to mark the unveiling of the Punto Evo, a 2009 face-lift of the original 2005 Grand Punto model, I said out loud that I preferred the original model.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne and Fiat brand CEO Lorenzo Sistino both shouted back at me, "for boring clients like you, we'll keep producing the old model."

Now, looking at the 2012 Punto, it seems I wasn't the only one who was upset at the confusing –- or plainly ugly -– 2009 face-lift.

This January, when this revised version goes on sale, the market will get a better looking model -– and a simpler name: Punto.

Nevertheless, this could be too little too late for Fiat.

Competitors normally replace their models after six years, while the Punto will turn seven next September and won't be replaced until 2013.

This looks a dangerous weakness for the Italian automaker, because subcompact models are Europe's largest segment and the Punto is by far Fiat's best-selling model in Europe.

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