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What's Hot
Plucky engine and super-direct steering in a compact package.
What's Not
Woeful automatic transmission, no covered storage areas.
City-style that wins hearts - it’s one of few that succeeds with the ‘retro-modern’ look.
Tim O'Brien | Oct, 03 2012 | 6 Comments

2012 FIAT 500 REVIEW

Vehicle Style: Light three-door hatchback
Price: $24,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 3.9 l/100km | tested: 7.4 l/100km.



The thriftiest variant of the tiny Fiat 500 city car has been on sale here since January. But we haven’t driven it till now.

With just two cylinders, it’s something of a return to the formula of the first Fiat 500s - the much-loved rear-engined ‘Bambino’. And, despite the retro-styling, it’s the way of the future for city cars.

We wish it were better than it is: its interior packaging is sub-par and it’s saddled with a pretty awful auto transmission.

But, on a positive note, we’re pleasantly surprised by the pep of the TwinAir’s 875cc turbocharged two cylinder - and it looks absolutely great.



Quality: Material quality is acceptable. Sure, plastics are hard (but nicely grained) and the cloth upholstery looks appealing-enough and feels durable.

All switchgear operates smoothly and precisely, and there’s leather on the steering wheel.

It’s outdone in this department by the humble VW Polo though. Considering the premium pricing of the TwinAir ($22,990 +ORC), you’d expect better materials.

Comfort: The 500 looks miniscule from the outside, and it feels every bit as tiny from inside.

But, while space is at a premium, the cabin is light and airy thanks to a generous glasshouse. The driver sits nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with the front passenger, and rear seat headroom... well, there is none.

Front seat headroom, for that matter, is surprisingly limited too. Notch that one down to the front seat squabs; they’re mounted unusually high and even shorter drivers will end up with their heads close to the headlining.

Other issues? The steering column doesn’t adjust for reach, only rake, and the ‘glovebox’ is just a glorified cubby hole. The result is a real shortage of places to keep valuables away from prying eyes.

Equipment: Standard equipment includes power windows, power mirrors, climate control, steering wheel mounted audio controls, a CD/MP3 player with USB/aux input and Bluetooth.

Below, 16-inch alloys are standard. On the 500 TwinAir they’re painted matte black, and they looked very smart indeed against the solid white paintwork of our tester.

Options include leather upholstery ($1450) and a glass sunroof ($1950). Unfortunately, cruise control isn’t even available as an option - and on a light car at this price point, it should be standard.

Storage: The tiny 500 has a correspondingly diminutive boot, with just 185 litres on offer. Fold the 50/50 split backrests down, and cargo space grows to 550 litres.

In front, there’s a disappointing lack of covered storage space, and even the cupholders aren’t much chop (doing a poor job of holding onto tall bottles).



Driveability: It may only have two cylinders and less than a litre of displacement, but the 500 TwinAir’s 62.5kW 875cc turbo engine is a plucky little performer.

You’d swear there was a bigger engine in there. In city driving, it’s actually pretty zesty.

Low-down torque is okay, but there’s a bit of turbo lag. Torque peaks at 145Nm from just 1900rpm, but you really need over 3000rpm showing for the TwinAir to really be in its comfort zone.

This engine does its best work when spinning above 4000rpm, although with the inherent imbalance of a two-cylinder layout, it feels a bit ratty when revving hard. Keep the needle in the middle of the rev-counter. That’s its sweet spot.

The single-clutch automated five-speed manual transmission, on the other hand, is far less impressive.

Gearshifts are painfully slow, and if you don’t lift the accelerator in anticipation of gearchanges, the disengagement and re-engagement of the clutch is abrupt and jerky.

It’s smoother and easier to drive in manual mode (using the gear selector or paddles), but that defeats the purpose of having an automatic gearbox. You may as well be driving the manual.

Fuel economy isn’t sparkling either. We couldn’t get our fuel consumption to dip below 7.4 l/100km despite a listed consumption figure of 3.9 l/100km.

Refinement: The two-cylinder engine starts up with a surprising amount of clatter, and from idle to 2900rpm there’s a significant amount of vibration.

With just two cylinders, the TwinAir’s exhaust note is also kind-of unique. It ‘put-puts’ along at low revs with a sound more akin to a lawnmower. At idle, an uninformed observer might assume something is broken.

As a fuel-saving measure, all 500 TwinAirs are equipped with auto engine start-stop. It may help reduce the 500’s thirst, but it restarts the engine slowly and with a significant amount of vibration.

Tyre and wind noise are present, but not excessive.

Suspension: The Fiat 500 TwinAir corners quite sharply, thanks in large part to its low mass (940kg) and ultra-short wheelbase (2300mm).

Its low-speed ride quality can be a bit jittery over rough pavement though, and while that tiny wheelbase confers a great deal of agility, it also makes the 500 pitch more over bumps.

The steering is electrically-assisted, very direct and very light. Parking is a doddle because of the light steering, but it could use a little more weight when the car is travelling at higher speeds.

Braking: With ventilated discs up front and drums at the rear, the 500 TwinAir’s braking hardware is a little primitive compared to other premium light cars like the MINI Cooper, which uses discs at all four corners.

However with less than a tonne to slow down, the 500 stops very smartly. The pedal weight is good too, with a smooth, progressive engagement.



ANCAP rating: 5 stars.

Safety features: For a light car, the 500 has an impressive array of safety gear. Seven airbags are standard (front, front side, curtain and driver’s knee), as is stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and a hill-hold mechanism.



Warranty: Three years/100,000km

Service costs: Servicing costs vary. Consult your local Fiat dealer before purchase.



MINI Cooper Ray ($27,850) - MINI’s cheapest variant of the Cooper hatch is stripped out to the extreme - hubcaps? On a $27k car? - but its more powerful 72kW/153Nm engine and sophisticated independent rear suspension make it a better drive than the Fiat. (see Cooper reviews)

Smart Fortwo Coupe Turbo ($22,290) - The miniscule smart fortwo is powered by a 1.0 litre three-cylinder engine, but only manages the same power output as the Fiat and 25Nm less torque.

It’s strictly a two-seater, too, and although its practicality is limited outside of inner-urban areas, its incredibly short overall length makes it easy to squeeze into even the most confined of parking spots. (see fortwo reviews)

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.



The Fiat 500 TwinAir dualogic is hit and miss. We like its retro styling, its characterful two-pot engine and its nimbleness around town.

But we absolutely abhor the dualogic automated manual transmission, the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment and the limited seat adjustment.

It’s also priced quite high considering its size and equipment level. However, we know that some will willingly overlook its foibles and price tag because - let’s face it - it’s a pretty funky looking thing.

For the rest of us though, if the price of entry was just under the $20k barrier instead of a few grand above it, we’d find the TwinAir a more enticing proposition.

But as it stands, the Fiat 500 TwinAir is more fashion accessory than practical city car.



  • 2012 Fiat 500 TwinAir - manual - $22,990
  • 2012 Fiat 500 TwinAir - automatic - $24,990
  • 2012 Fiat 500C TwinAir - manual - $25,990
  • 2012 Fiat 500C TwinAir - automatic - $27,990

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.

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