- Distinctive appearance stands out in a crowd
- Limited performance
- Indecisive Dualogic automatic
- Potentially excellent fuel consumption depends on driving conditions
- Not everyone will find the pedal/steering wheel/seat relationship comfortable
The nostalgic character and fun factor of the tiny Fiat 500 generates plenty of credits to offset some of its glaring flaws, but not all of them. Its iconic name, traditional clamshell body shape and retro styling are instantly recognisable and real conversation starters.
Fiat 500 is certainly a baby-sized car but that doesn’t mean it’s been reborn. The 2016 line-up, called Series 4, has been simplified and freshened up in areas such as new bumpers and lights, an upgraded interior with improved connectivity and functionality, and more customising options for those who like to personalise their cars.
The 500 still has two body styles, a three-door hatch and a convertible, but now with just two spec levels: the base model Pop with a 1.2-litre petrol engine, and the better-equipped Lounge version, with a 1.4-litre petrol engine, rather than Fiat’s stronger-torque 0.9-litre TwinAir turbo-petrol engine previously used in the Lounge. We drove the Pop convertible in five-speed manual form (the Lounge gets a six-speed manual) and the five-speed auto Lounge hatchback.
A pricey micro
The 500 is an expensive micro, starting at $18,000 plus on-road costs for the manual Pop hatch. The automatic adds $1500, while the Lounge spec is $3000 more, and for both versions the convertible is a further $4000. Even with an introductory offer of $1000 on-road costs across the range, the drive-away prices are similar to some popular models in the next class up, light cars. But you are getting a good level of standard equipment.
There’s a pleasing clunk when you close the door, giving the impression of a solidly built car, and unlike some of its tiny competitors, the 500 has a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
The review found the cabin presentation is more funky than functional. Fiat’s Uconnect system works with a five-inch touch screen, there’s digital radio and Bluetooth voice command. While not cutting-edge technology, it’s still better than most of its peers offer.
Most of the niggles are ergonomic. The driver’s foot-well is cramped with just a token left foot-rest, seatbelts are awkwardly positioned, and the steering can only be adjusted for height, while rearward vision is restricted. The driver’s seat height adjuster on the Lounge is only a tilt mechanism, raising and lowering just the rear of the cushion.
Headroom is better than might be expected, although it may still be an issue for tall drivers. The 500 is strictly a four-seater, with the back best suited to children.
Needs regular gear changing
Mechanically, the 500 is still a little old-school. With just 51kW available, the 1.2-litre manual Pop needs regular gear changing to keep the engine at its best. It is not going to be fastest away from the lights but working the five-speed manual to keep pace with traffic adds a touch of driver involvement that is sometimes lost these days.
Despite the 1.4-litre Lounge’s extra power and torque (74kW and 131Nm), it’s badly let down by the old-fashioned five-speed Dualogic semi-automatic. Left to its own devices in auto mode, the transmission gets lost, with erratic changes and slow engagement. Pushing the Sport mode button makes the engine feel more responsive but doesn’t seem to improve things all that much. You can flick the selector level and change gears manually: it’s a bit better but defeats the purpose of paying more for an automatic.
There is also the issue of an unusual gear selection gate which doesn’t have a Park position and can leave you fumbling in neutral if you don’t follow correct procedures. It’s not an easy set-up to just jump in and drive – some familiarisation is required.
Fiat boasts outstanding fuel consumption for the 500 models, with an ADR figure of 4.9L/100 km for the 1.2-litre manual and 5.8L/100km for the 1.4-litre automatic. But having to keep the engine revving and constantly changing gears to maintain expectable performance, the average consumption of our test cars was quite higher, with the 1.2-litre returning 7.5, while it was 7.7 for the auto. Fiat also recommends 95 RON premium grade petrol.
Nimble small car handling, very easy parking and a firmish, comfortable-enough ride are overshadowed to some extent by the 500’s drivability issues. While the Lounge has a performance-focused Sport mode, the Pop gets a City mode option that further
Pop. Three-door hatchback $18,000 plus on-road costs. Two-door convertible $22,000 plus on-road costs. 1242cc four-cylinder petrol engine. 51kW@5500rpm. 102Nm@3500rpm. 5spd manual or 5spd Dualogic semi-automatic ($1500). Front-wheel-drive. 4.9L/100km (95 RON petrol).
Lounge. Three-door hatchback $21,000 plus on-road costs. Two-door convertible $25,000 plus on-road costs. 1368cc four-cylinder petrol engine. 74kW@6000rpm. 131Nm@4250rpm. 6spd manual or 5spd Dualogic semi-automatic ($1500). Front-wheel-drive. 5.8L/100km (95 RON petrol).
STANDARD SAFETY. 7 airbags. Tyre-pressure warning system. Hill-start assist. LED daytime driving lights. Rear parking sensors (Lounge only). ISOFIX child-seat fittings.
STANDARD FEATURES. Manual air-conditioning. Alloy wheels. Satellite navigation (Lounge only). Connect five-inch touch-screen connectivity with digital radio and Bluetooth voice command. Fixed glass sunroof (Lounge hatch only). Space-saver spare wheel.