My fiend had one and had a lot of problems with the suspension which is quite common apparently.
My dad had a 1996 SX, go for the SX if you can, you will add electric windows, height adjustable seat/steering, front fag lamps, central locking, an imboliser, rear speakers, better head rests, its well worth it for the extra £100-£200 second hand, my dad paid £1000 more for this model in 1998 when he bought his.
It was a very nice car, it had a very cheeky close ratio geer box meaining you could beat some much faster cars as the lights. The 1.1 was a bit slow for motorway driving though.
We didn't really have much problems, just make sure you get the brown key with it. Also check for rust, if a Punto has rust walk away it would have been involved in accident and as the bodies are gavanlised so can't rust.
My dad wrote his off but we walked out of the car in that accident without a scrape, the man in the Peogout 106 was very badly injured and his car was allover the road. They are actually pretty strong cars.
My dad did about 50,000 miles in his the suspension did need replacing (a £150 job) but he did use the car as a van. Check the gaskets on puntos as they can go if driven hard, this about £200 to replace. Also make sure there is no whine from the gearbox.
You pay for what you get.
So theres no point me slating it . . . . . .
I had 2 mates with Fiat Punto's.
My Brother: 1.2 8v Active (cheap as chips - he sold it now) - everything fell off from glove box lids, to the actual drivers seat. Easy to dent and an awful driving position.
My Mate: 1.8 Fiat Punto HGT (expensive to buy) it wasn't fast! It dented easy, his gearbox fell out in the car wash, his windscreen wipers fell off and he eventually sold it 2 years later for 4.5k after shelling out £13k for it! For this amount of money you would of expected something half decent, so the 1.2 is a better option for 6k brand new, even though it has a long list of faults as well as Fiat Customer Service which is just not amusing, which brings me back to . . . . you pay for what you get.
I it always makes me laugh about all this Fiat bashing threads, my dad had to Puntos one he owned and one was hired, none of these things happened with my dads. It was a solid car yes it dented easily that was the only fault. Also most motoring journalists agree that Puntos are good cars.
I hate the old shape Corsas the gearboxes are the most awful horrible things ever, the post 95 Fiestas are actually very good cars and the 1.25 engine is very good, this will probably be my first car.
When I ever I drove a Corsa I just wanted to do what Basil Fawly did and kick the thing.
If were talking about old Fiats, then yes your right about build quality. The old Punto was far better (MkI) in as far as dents etc. The MkII is an absolute pile of c.rap, believe me.
The MkI however still has a clutch that comparable to going down the gym and pushing strong leg weights. The interior is flimsy still and the the appearance I feel is still worse than an old Corsa. You get more VFM with a Corsa.
Old Fiestas do have a great 1.25 engine especially the Zetec version (16v) which is a lot of car for not a lot of engine. Pretty nippy as well.
I have a brand new Fiat Punto, and Ive never had any problems with it. Its the nicest car Ive driven by far, and cheap to run/insure.
I had a friend in college who had an older model, I think it was a P Reg, and as far as Im aware, he had no problems.
Mk1 puntos are the best mines a 98 on 50k and its doing fine apart from the fan gave up the other week. When looking at the history look for any mention of suspention and especialy anthing about trailing suspention as it was a new design that needed refining somewhat (e.g. it rolled out the factory and 2 years later they realized the bushings wernt strong enough) also look at the car from behind and see if the rear wheels lean in to the top too much. If its bad then its not too much of a problem to replace them but you've now got more haggling power.
Ask me anything about the mark 1's. I love mine and I dont regret a single day getting it over something else.
Plus I got 110mph on the M6 going down a gradient the other day so I'm well pleased.
P.s they handbrake turn real easy just make sure you have lots of room
Edit= The only weak part on puntos is the gearbox and thats it. Engines are rock solid, revvy and last to hell and back AS LONG AS you take care of it. Anyone who's engine has gone cannot blame fiat only the poor maintaning of the car over its lifetime.
I am probs getting a Renault Clio. Great little cars with no major problems - for us anyway