THE TRENDSETTING RETRO LOOKS OF THE FUN AND FUNKY FIAT 500 HAS GIVEN IT A SOLID FOOTHOLD AMONG YOUNGER CITY-BUYERS.
The iconic design may hark back to the NUOVA 500 built from the 1950s to the 70s, but, unlike some retro attempts, this one works: it's a great looking little car.
Now, with a refreshed model ready to hit the streets, Fiat has concentrated less on making the 500 range a cut-price battler. Instead, the newest version gets a more up-market touch - adding more features and technology, but lifting the base price to match.
Vehicle Style: Light hatch
500 Pop $18,000
500c Pop $22,000
500 Lounge $21,000
500c Lounge $25,000 (plus on-roads)
Pop 51kW/102Nm 1.2 4cyl petrol | 5sp manual, 5sp automatic
Lounge 74kW/131Nm 1.4 4cyl petrol | 6sp manual, 5sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.9 l/100km | tested: 5.7 l/100km (Pop manual)
Leaving out the performance Abarth models, the standard model range has been pared down, from three models, to just two: Pop and Lounge.
Both are available as a hatch, or cabriolet, with all variants now offering a choice of manual or automatic transmission.
As before, the Pop sticks with a 51kW 1.2 litre four-cylinder engine, but the Lounge now runs the more powerful 74kW engine from the previous 500 S, which has been cut from the range.
That also means the two-cylinder TwinAir engine has been given the chop. ("Customer feedback" being the butcher here, according to Fiat Australia.)
Pricing gets a shuffle too - the Pop now starts at $18,000, $1000 more than before, while the Lounge starts from $21,000, meaning $2000 off the previous model.
The Lounge however now comes standard with a manual transmission not previously available, making up the large slice of the discount.
For an extra $1500, both Pop and Lounge can be teamed with a five-speed Dualogic automated manual transmission, and opting for the 500c cabrio version adds $4000 to the price.
- 500 Pop: Manual air conditioning, leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel, two-tone cloth seat trim, power windows, LED running lights, power adjustable heated mirrors, 15-inch alloy wheels
- 500 Lounge (in addition to Pop): Fixed class sunroof, 7.0-inch TFT instrument cluster, height-adjustable driver’s seat, premium cloth seat trim, floor mats, rear park sensors, exterior chrome package
- Infotainment: six-speaker Uconnect 5.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM/DAB radio, USB and Aux inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. Satellite navigation on Lounge only
- Cargo volume: 185 litres (hatch), 183 litres (cabrio)
With an interior so darn cute you just want to take it home to Mum, the 500 range has always stood out from the pack. Thankfully the facelift hasn't altered its charm.
It still looks like the lovechild of a kitchen appliance from the 1950s inside, but revised details see more chome added, a few extra premium finishes -like lacquered-look power window switches, and a new 5.0-inch Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system.
There’s also vibrant new seat trims, with the 500 relying heavily on its heritage for design inspiration. This brings two-tone cloth seat trims in Pop and Lounge, or optional leather trim available as part of the Perfezionaire Pack on Lounge models.
Unfortunately, the flat and frumpy door trims don’t change, and keep the downmarket look as before, at odds with the fresh and funky look used elsewhere in the interior.
Those opting for the 500c, still the cheapest way into a convertible in Australia, have a choice of three roof colours; black, ivory, or red, with the roof mechanism electrically operated.
Seat comfort and space is surprising up front, but if you’re planning a cross-country jaunt in your 500, the lack of seat support may start to show.
Similarly, the rear seats are best left for occasional use. The 500’s compact dimensions dictate a tight rear seat, with legroom at a premium.
Swing open the tailgate and you’ll find 185 litres of cargo pace in the hatch, with a slightly smaller 182 litres on offer in the cabrio. Both variants feature the same slim door pockets, four cup holders, and a trim glovebox, but no covered centre console storage, or centre armrest.
ON THE ROAD
- 500 Pop: 51kW/102Nm 1.2 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol
- 500 Lounge: 74kW/131Nm 1.4 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: Five-speed manual (Pop), Six-speed manual (Lounge), or optional five-speed automatic (single-clutch automated manual), front wheel drive
- Brakes: Front disc, rear drum
As before, the 500 Pop features a 1.2 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that musters 51kW of power at 5500rpm and 102Nm of torque at 3000rpm. Those are only small figures, but that doesn’t stifle the enjoyment.
While you may not set any new record-breaking acceleration times, there’s a certain fun-factor in the 500 Pop that’s undeniable. Getting the best out of the zesty little engine is a breeze thanks to a collaborative effort from a light clutch and effortless garshift.
Throw a few corners into the mix and the 500 becomes even more of a giggle, tipping in eagerly, with body roll exaggerating the ‘angle of attack’.
Steering comes with a normal mode, or super-assisted City setting that makes it as light as feather. There’s not a heap of feel or feedback in either mode, but overall it’s a good match for the 500’s cheery disposition.
The 500 Lounge offers a more vivacious 74kW at 6000rpm and 131Nm at 4250rpm from a slightly larger 1.4 litre engine. A standard six-speed manual takes the place of the Pop’s five-speeder.
With extra urge underfoot, the Lounge is the more adventurous of the pair, able to jog along with traffic more comfortably, but also, thanks to the extra gear ratio, it’s quieter and calmer at highway speeds.
Extra sound-deadening in both models also makes a big difference to the high-speed comfort of the hatch range, however the cloth roof of the cabrio diminishes some of the added refinement.
That said, even at 80km/h and above, with the roof wide open there’s no need to raise your voice to talk to your front seat passenger. The Cabrio is also free of backdrafts and buffeting, and makes for a surprisingly comfy place to travel with the top dropped.
A further engineering change to the Pop sees larger front brake-discs and calipers fitted up front (while keeping drums at the rear). We’d never really noted a problem with the 500’s brakes previously - but upgraded hardware is only ever a good thing.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 34.91 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2008.
Safety features: Seven airbags (dual front, side, window, and driver’s knee), ABS brakes with electronic brake distribution, stability control with anti-slip regulation, hill holder and hydraulic brake assist for emergency stops.
Each seat comes with an adjustable head restraint, while the front seatbelts feature load-limiting pretensioners.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
It’s changeover time in the light car field at the moment, a facelifted Nissan Micra has already arrived, and a facelifted Mitsubishi Mirage is on the way. Holden has an all-new Spark coming soon, and the Alto-replacing Suzuki Celerio went on sale last year.
While all offer five doors in place of the Fiat’s three, none provide a cabrio option, and none quite match the levels of personalisation that Fiat’s funky city car can achieve.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Despite first debuting in 2007, the Fiat 500 is still feel fresh, fun, and frolicsome - able to successfully blend twee retro cues with iconic styling like few others have managed.
Its price has it straying into the same paddock as the Polo and even into the small car segment above, which knocks off half-a-star from the overall rating.
But this little Fiat, in any model you choose, is great fun to drive and has huge personality on-road. More than just a stripped out budget commuter, the 500 is a decent little feel-good conveyance.
To use a terrible analogy, the 500 is a cup of espresso in a sea of instant coffee - in the same way that either will provide you with a caffeine jolt, you’ll happily pay more for the barista-perfected cuppa.
Likewise, the trendy 500 does exactly what a Micra or Mirage will do, but it does it with distinct style, helping to justify its price premium.
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