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Brand New Fiat 500

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Tim O'Brien | Jun 28, 2008

THE NEW FIAT 500, the cutest thing since God invented the Hairy-nosed Wombat, might have two distinct buyers: (a) women, who love it to death, who want to pet it, lick it, and—if they could—put it on the couch next to them while they watch TV; and (b) men: blokes who reckon that women will find them so super irresistibly cool because they drive such a super irresistibly cool car, that they’ll want to pet them and lick them and put them on the couch next to them while they watch TV.

Sure is one cute little machine, the new Bambino 500. In the car park, or on the road, everyone wants an eyeful. In the metal it looks every bit as cool as it does in the marketing snaps.

For automotive retro design, the 500 sets a new benchmark—better even than the Mini: it manages to remain true to the style and ‘presence’ of the original, while being new, fresh and modern at the same time.

It would look as right with Audrey Hepburn as with Audrey Tautou. (Now there’s a double to keep you awake at night.)

Released at the Melbourne Motor Show, the Fiat 500 is a sure sign that the micro-car market is about to hot up in this country. Petrol prices and city roads at standstill will see to that.

Despite its toy-like 3.6 metres in length, the 500 can easily accommodate the modern nuclear family: Mum, Dad, and the pigeon-pair. And, for a night out cruising the chic streets, there’s room enough for four adults if you’re not going too far.

(OK, so you don’t have room to stretch the legs right out. But heck, in the 50’s and 60’s, the original Fiat ‘Cinquecento’ and 600 managed to carry whole Italian families the length and breadth of Italy, with mother-in-law, four chooks, a watermelon and a crock of pasta sauce in tow.)

interior

Unlike those original baby Fiats (which didn’t offer much in the way of occupant protection), the new 500 comes with 5 star Euro NCAP Safety rating, ABS, seven airbags, stability and traction control (the latter available only in Sport and Lounge models).

quote

Inside, it’s uber-style. Chic colour-matching, choice of leather or smart fabrics, chrome highlights and set off with a classy coloured panel, running the width of the dash – a concession to the unadorned curved metal dash of the original.

cut-away

Ok, enough of the catwalk, what’s it like to drive? Well, be prepared for a surprise or two.

First thing you’ll notice (in the manual Sport) is a crisp six-speed shift high on the console and right at hand. It snicks precisely between gears, is great fun to row along, and has the ratios spaced just about right.

And while the 1.4 litre petrol engine we had under test is no fire-breather, nor is it underdone. It’s typically Italian: will rev its head off, makes a nice rasp when stretched, and, with just 900-odd kilograms to poke along, the 500 loves a squirt around town.

More to the point, it feels responsive, it begs to be revved, and it’s fun.

engine

Neither is it underdone on the highway. In sixth, at 110k/ph, it’s tickling along at around 3000 rpm.

It’s also quieter than others of its nearest competitors (though aside from the Citroen C2, and the Smart at a stretch, it’s sitting in its own market niche), and NVH is commendably low,

Suspension is also typically Italian: MacPherson struts with lower wishbone up front and torsion beam rear. It’s compliant (feels like Fiats of old), but with good damping and fore/aft pitch control. Though short, it doesn’t ‘jiggle’ as you might expect, and, as a quick dash up-country showed, it’s a fair companion on a highway drive.

highway

So get ready for it. Come those lazy summer evenings, you’re going to be seeing a lot of these little Bambinos on the café society streets.

April and May have been record months for Fiat thanks to the 500. While not inexpensive, there’s a premium history embodied in this little baby and irresistible show-stopping looks.

When a few more of them are out and about, it will sell itself. It simply reeks of chic.

The Insider

specs

Model: Fiat 500 Sport (petrol)
Cylinder capacity: 1368cc (1.4l)
Valve system: 16 valve
Maximum power: 74kW @ 6000 rpm
Maximum torque: 131Nm @ 4250 rpm
Fuel System: Multi-point electronic fuel injection
Bore x stroke: 72.0 mm x 84.0 mm
Compression ratio: 10.8:1
0 – 100 km/h 10.7 seconds
Transmission: Manual 6 speed
Steering: Power assisted rack and pinion
Brakes: Front 284mm ventilated discs

Rear 240mm solid discs

Weight: 930kg
Consumption: 6.3 L/100km (combined)
Fuel tank volume: 35 litres
Prices: Pop from $22,990

Sport from $26,990

Lounge JTD from $28,990

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