Like polka-dots skirts and giant, thick-rimmed sunglasses in retina-shearing colours, it seems retro is back in vogue. There are not many cars that invoke this nostalgic feeling better than the Fiat 500. What’s more, I successfully came into this world thanks to the original Fiat 500.
No! I wasn’t conceived in one! My mother was rushed to the hospital in the wee hours of a balmy night some thirty-odd years ago in a 600cc Fiat 500. She spent the next two days in labour. Sorry Mum!
We recently got thrown the keys to this born-again tiddler. Although Fiat introduced the ultra-frugal 0.9-litre two-cylinder turbocharged TwinAir engine in the 500 Lounge last year, ours is the more powerful, albeit a little thirstier, 1.4-litre four-cylinder Sport. The range starts from just $14,000 drive-away and tops-out at $25,650 (plus on-roads) for the 500 by Gucci Cabriolet.
Design & Comfort
Launched in 2007, the Fiat 500 was awarded the coveted International Car of the Year crown a year later, the year it arrived in Australia. It was one of the last of the retro-inspired brigade that includes the MINI and Volkswagen Beetle to hit our market.
It’s hard not to fall in love with this cute little Italian. Despite larger in all dimensions compared to the 1957 model, the new Fiat 500 retains the classless appeal of the original. From its circular headlamps to the clamshell bonnet and chrome wings protruding from the badge, the 500 oozes charm.
If you’re still not convinced, the interior is dotted with design features that hark back to the rock ‘n’ roll and Twist era, including the three little chrome-surround buttons above the HVAC controls, one each for the Sport mode, hazard and fog lights. There’s also the evocative period-looking chrome door handles.
It’s all designed with that unmistakable Italian flair.
Drop into the snug front seats and you’re greeted by a chunky, leather wrapped (real leather here, thank you very much!) flat-bottomed steering wheel and a rather cramped instrument cluster. The speedo and rev counter are stacked on top of each other, with a large multi-info display in the centre. While I have no issue with this arrangement, the closely-spaced and similarly sized markings on the speedo makes quick reading a nightmare.
The radio also seemed to have a mind of its own, where it insists that we listen to Mix FM every time we jump in, even though we are sure we left it on Nova the last time. Practicality isn’t the Fiat 500’s forte either. If you’re an adult, you can forget about getting comfortable in the rear seats. However, the driving position is good, especially with the high-mounted gear lever.
At the back, the car’s diminutive dimensions mean you only get a 185-litre boot. Like most cars though, this will expand to 550 litres once the rear seats are folded.
Performance and Handling
Our 500 Sport is equipped with a gutsy 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that generates 74kW @ 6,000rpm and 131Nm @ 4,250rpm. It is paired with a slick shifting 6-speed manual transmission. With only 952kg to move, the little Italian feels lively and agile.
Its Fiat Panda derived suspension set up can be a little choppy around town, but it can almost be forgiven when you hit the twisties. The 500’s light clutch, accurate short-throw gear change and enthusiastic engine is assertive and lively. The car is fun and full of character. Like a fox terrier eager to please its owner, its willingness to rev, accompanied by surprisingly pleasing soundtrack, is agreeably entertaining, especially in Sport mode.
The Fiat’s well weighted steering (noticeably firmer in Sport) is accurate and provide enough feedback to know what the front wheels are doing. While the 500’s ride quality isn’t as refined as the VW up! or Mitsubishi Mirage, it’s a trade-off we happily accept.
While the styling and design are all from the 1950s, its quality of construction is not. The car’s fit and finish are all relatively good. Although if you jump across from a Volkswagen up!, you will find it is still not up to VW’s benchmark.
Due to its rev happy nature, over the course of our test, fuel economy has fallen off the cliff. This isn’t helped either by having the Sport button engaged at all times. And because of that, we averaged a real world fuel consumption of 8.6L/100km of mostly urban and country driving.
Don’t be fooled by its retro-inspired styling, the Fiat 500 is properly equipped for the 21st century.
Standard equipment includes air-conditioning, radio and CD player, Bluetooth and power windows and mirrors. The 500 Sport adds a sports body kit, rear spoiler, sports seats with red stitching, flat bottom sports steering wheel with red stitching, larger ventilated front disc brakes and larger rear brakes, fog lights and dark tinted glass.
However, there are a couple of glaring omissions that are oddly left out, like cruise control and external temperature display.
Safety is taken care of by Anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability programme and seven airbags.
While it isn’t a Ferrari, the Fiat 500 at least shares the famous supercar’s Italian heritage and fun to drive character. It is cute and has a range of engines to suit the needs of a wide spectrum of buyers, from the fuel miser TwinAir to the gutsy 1.4-litre petrol.
And like most cars, the mid-range 500 Sport strikes the right balance between power efficiency and most of all, an entertaining drive.
I’m sure my dad would approve of this 21st century Fiat 500.
|Price (Excl. on-roads):||From $14,000 to $25,650.
As tested: $16,900
|Engine:||1.2-litre 4-cylinder petrol, 8-valve||1.4-litre 4-cylinder petrol, 16-valve||0.9-litre 2-cylinder turbocharged petrol, 8-valve|
|51kW @ 5,500rpm, 102Nm @ 3,000rpm, front-wheel drive||74kW @ 6,000rpm, 131Nm @ 4,250rpm, front-wheel drive||63kW @ 5,500rpm, 145Nm @ 1,900rpm, front-wheel drive|
|Transmission:||5-speed manual, or Dualogic auto||6-speed manual (tested) or Dualogic auto||Dualogic auto|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||Manual: 5.1
|Dimensions (mm):||Length: 3,546, Width: 1,627, Height: 1,488, Wheelbase: 2,300|
|Tare Weight (kg):||885 – 962|
|Towing Capacity (kg):||800 (Braked)|