The Fiat 500 is not really a new styling idea. The retro angle has almost been done to death by the likes of Volkswagen, BMW, Ford and GM, all of whom have dusted off past designs and put a modern spin on the theme that was the cause of so much success in the past. And all have been successful from it, BMW particularly so with the MINI.
Now Fiat wants a piece of the pastiche pie and given the historic importance of the 500 to Fiat (and the sales precedent set by the MINI) it looks to have the makings of a winner.
Walking round the new 500 you really can see that it has the old 500’s design DNA. The lights at the front, the little ‘moustache’ on the nose, the waistline crease below the windows are all trademarks of the original. Despite being front-engined (the original 500 had the engine in the back), even the rear looks similar to the original.
Of course it is nowhere near as petite as the original (much like the MINI) and does look a bit portly from the rear but the original lines are still there, however distended.
The interior is like a really trendy party. The kind you never get invited to. It looks so glamorous and the people so alive with verve and joy, and when you finally get to go to one, you see that it is as good as you’d imagined it would be, but you start to feel slightly uncomfortable there, like you don’t fit in.
The interior really is very stylish and looks great, but just like the original Cinquecento the driving position for a tall driver is as accommodating as a sleep-deprived prison guard. The seating position is quite high and the steering wheel is adjustable for rake, but not reach. That’s where the problem starts. The Fiat 500 has enough legroom for tall people, but this comes at the expense of having to adopt a gorilla-like driving position.
I couldn’t get comfortable in the little Fiat. It was either that the steering wheel was too far away when the seat was in the right position or legroom was compromised with the steering wheel within reach. At 192cm maybe I’m just too tall for the Fiat!
Despite the awkward driving position, every time I saw the 500 parked I was excited to get in again and drive. There is something that attracts you to it. It really does have a lot of character.
The interior atmosphere is first-rate with the materials used on the seats, dash and steering wheel giving a quality feel to the inside and making it a nice place to be.
The standard glass roof along with the light-coloured interior makes the cabin feel very airy and the round all-in-one speedo/tacho was very cool and easy to read. Even the key looks like it hangs around with the in-crowd (you can also purchase optional key covers from Fiat).
The centre console plastics look a bit shiny but the functions for the heater/radio are easy to use and the circular design is very chic.
The driving experience, like the looks of the car, is unique and requires a different driving style. The 1.4 litre engine is rev-happy and when pushed gets along at a decent rate and sounds rorty.
The six-speed manual has a slightly vague throw, but this is part of the experience, as it allows you an exaggerated arm gesture every time you change gear, if you are so inclined.
Even though the majority of Fiat 500s are likely to be parked outside fashionable urban cafes, back-roads are what the Fiat enjoys and where you can have some fun. The suspension is susceptible to a bit of ‘pogo’ action over bumps and along uneven roads, which can be annoying on the motorway, but on back roads it adds to the excitement and adventure. The little Fiat is a bouncy, buoyant character that has fun when you have fun.
Grip is fine and the stability control maintains control over excess body movements.
The ‘Hill-holder’ feature is very handy and helps by braking the car for a second or so as you easy the clutch out to prevent you from rolling backward. A bonus for those who don’t like handbrake hill-starts.
The big question for the Fiat 500 is how it stacks up to the opposition.
Given the ‘cute retro angle’ has been the preserve of the MINI for quite some time now, the Fiat at $31,990 (as tested) for the most expensive petrol model (1.4 Lounge) compares favourably to the MINI One ($29,900-$35,900).
The MINI does have a better quality ride and can accommodate the ‘talls’ amongst us, but the Fiat’s engine, the standard features (USB, Bluetooth, voice activation) and the character exuded by the 500 make it a serious alternative to the now quite common MINI.
Price: from $26,990 ($31,990 as tested)
What we like
- Interior style
- Glass roof
- Exterior styling charm
- ‘Hill holder’ system
What we don’t like
- Driving position for tall people uncomfortable
Fiat 500 Specifications
|VERSION||1.4 SPORT||1.4 LOUNGE||1.3 LOUNGE|
|FUEL TYPE||PETROL 95 RON||PETROL 95 RON||DIESEL|
|NUMBER AND LAYOUT OF CYLINDERS||4 IN LINE||4 IN LINE||4 IN LINE|
|TOTAL DISPLACEMENT CC||1368||1368||1248|
|MAXIMUM POWER KW||74 @ 6000||74 @ 6000||55 @ 4000|
|MAXIMUM POWER HP||100 @ 6000||100 @ 6000||75 @ 4000|
|MAXIMUM TORQUE NM||131 @ 4250||131 @ 4250||145 @ 1500|
|NUMBER OF GEARS (MANUAL)||6 PLUS REVERSE||6 PLUS REVERSE||5 PLUS REVERSE|
|TOP SPEED KMH||182||182||165|
|TOWABLE LOAD KG – TRAILER WITH BRAKES||800||800||800|
|FUEL TANK CAPACITY IN LITRES||35||35||35|
|KERB WEIGHT KG||930||930||980|
|DIMENSIONS IN MM|
|WHEELS||ALLOY 185/55/15||ALLOY 185/55/15||ALLOY 185/55/15|
|LUGGAGE SPACE||185 LITRES||185 LITRES||185 LITRES|
|FUEL CONSUMPTION LITRES PER 100 KM|
|URBAN (CITY USE)||8.2||8.2||5.3|
|COMBINED (37% OF URBAN & 63% OF EXTRA-URBAN||6.3||6.3||4.2|
|EMISSION CONTROL AND THE ENVIRONMENT|
|LEVEL||EURO 5||EURO 5||EURO 5|
|PARTICULATE FILTER (DIESEL ONLY)||X||X||S|
|CATALYTIC CONVERTER||3 WAY||3 WAY||OXIDISING|
|FUEL VAPOUR PREVENTION (PETROL ONLY)||S||S||X|
|EXHAUST GAS RECIRCULATION (EGR) DIESEL ONLY||X||X||S|
|SERVICE INTERVAL (KM OR 12THS, WHICHEVER IS SOONER)||30,000/ 12MTHS||30,000/ 12MTHS||30,000/ 12MTHS|
|PRIMACARE (WARRANTY AND ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE)|
|DURATION OR MILEAGE||3 YEARS/ 100,000KM||3 YEARS/ 100,000KM||3 YEARS/ 100,000KM|
|EURONCAP 5 STAR SAFETY RATING||S||S||S|
|ELECTRONIC STABILITY PROGRAMME (ESP)||S||S||S|
|DRIVER AND PASSENGER AIRBAGS||S||S||S|
|DRIVER AND PASSENGER SEAT AIRBAGS||S||S||S|
|DRIVER KNEE AIRBAG||S||S||S|
|RH AND LH WINDOW AIRBAGS||S||S||S|
|INERTIA FUEL CUT OFF SWITCH||S||S||S|
|FOLLOW ME HOME HEADLAMPS||S||S||S|
|DAYTIME RUNNING LIGHTS||S||S||S|
|DRIVERS SEATBELT REMINDER SYSTEM||S||S||S|
|DRIVER AND PASSENGER SEATBELTS WITH PRETENSIONERS||S||S||S|
|ALL SEATS (4) WITH 3 POINT SEATBELTS||S||S||S|
|ISOFIX CHILD SEAT RESTRAINTS||S||S||S|
|AUSTRALIAN REAR CHILD SEAT RESTRAINT ATTACHMENTS||S||S||S|
|ELECTRIC POWER STEERING||S||S||S|
|FIAT CODE ELECTRONIC ANTITHEFT||S||S||S|
|DUAL ZONE CLIMATE CONTROL||X||S||S|
|REMOTE CENTRAL LOCKING||S||S||S|
|HEATED AND ELECTRIC DOOR MIRRORS||S||S||S|
|2 REAR HEADRESTS||S||S||S|
|SPLIT AND FOLDING REAR SEATS||S||S||S|
|ELECTRIC FRONT WINDOWS||S||S||S|
|LUXURY PACK (CONTAINS BLUETOOTH, LEATHER GEARKNOB & STRG WHEEL)||S||S||S|
|OPENING GLASS SUNROOF||$2,000||$2,000||$2,000|
|FIXED GLASS ROOF||X||S||S|
|15″ LOUNGE ALLOY WHEELS 431||X||S||S|
|15″ SPORT ALLOY WHEELS 432||S||X||X|
|16″ HOT ALLOY WHEELS 420||$1,000||$1,000||$1,000|
|16″ SPORT ALLOY WHEELS 435||$1,000||$1,000||$1,000|
|RADIO WITH CD PLAYER||S||S||S|
Words Ben Dillon – Photos Darren Cottingham