August 7, 2014
What’s hot: Great style, inexpensive entry models, all fun to drive, the Abarth is a pearler
What’s not: Upper-spec models are pricey, interior a tad underdone
X-FACTOR: The retro-style that works. The latter-day 500 best preserves the ‘feel’ and fun-factor of the 60’s original.
Vehicle style: Micro city car
500 Pop - 51kW/102Nm 1.2-litre
500 S - 74kW/131Nm 1.4-litre
500 Lounge - 63kW/145Nm 0.9-litre TwinAir Turbo
Abarth Turismo - 118kW/230Nm 1.4 Turbo
Abarth Competizione - 118kW/230Nm 1.4 Turbo
The Fiat 500 range might look like one story, but it’s not. It’s many.
It’s a city car, like the 1.2 litre 500 Pop; a style statement, like the twin-cylinder TwinAir Lounge; and a rorty, snapping hot-box like the 1.4 litre 118kW Abarth 595.
And more in-between. Whichever you choose, the 500 is as appealing as a fresh puppy and undeniably cool. As retro lines go, the little Fiat nails it.
Now there’s an updated 500 range - the Series III - and, though the prices at the bottom end have been given a lift, the little Fiat remains reasonably priced at the entry level, well-configured and still a vastly superior drive when compared to most in the micro-car segment.
Fiat now quotes drive-away pricing deals from top to bottom. The 1.2 litre 500 Pop is now $17,000 driveaway; the 1.4 litre S, $20,000 drive-away; the 0.9 litre MultiAir turbo Lounge (with standard dualogic auto) is $23,000 drive-away.
The dualogic can be specified for the Pop and S, adding $1500 to the driveaway price.
Importantly, Pop, Sport, Lounge or Abarth, these are fun cars to be in and as stylish as all get-out.
We love the Abarth, how could you not? Fat wheels, great sound, terrier performance, it is everything a ‘pocket exotic’ (Fiat’s words) should be.
And as for the 500 Pop and 500 S, lock up your daughters because these Latin charmers will steal their hearts.
It’s a tight little interior, with grained but not unattractive plastic surfaces dominating. In the base-spec POP, the look and feel is in keeping with that $17,000 drive-away price.
It’s nicely styled with more than a nod to the simple but elegant interior of the 60’s original.
You can see it in the single round gauge ahead of the driver, the capped binnacle, and the painted panel running the width of the dash.
The long gear-shift lever into the floor tunnel has gone; its modern replacement sits right at the hand, just to the left of the wheel. Above it sit the easily navigated audio and climate controls.
The single round gauge behind the wheel is a long way from the very simple rudimentary affair in the original 500.
Depending on the model, you get a really smart seven-inch TFT display with rev-counter (the Pop misses out on the TFT), speedo, temperature, gear-shift indicator and trip information contained in that single round gauge.
When you start to move up the grades to the 500 Lounge and Abarth, however, the cheerful, minimalist look starts to feel a little on the cheap side.
Especially in the Abarth 595. It gets cracking Abarth leather seats that look mighty and grip your bum like a bear trap.
But, despite the leather stitched binnacle, machined gearshift and pedals, and other highlights, it feels short of its mid-thirties price point.
To lift the ambience are contrasting coloured panels on the doors - also a feature of the 500 S and Lounge - and a higher-tech read-out showing cornering g-forces (as if you’ve got the time and inclination to read them) and a turbo boost pressure gauge.
The multi-function leather-wrapped wheel is a delight (not so good is that it only offers rake adjustment, not reach), the throw of the gearshift has a really nice sporty feel, and the pedals, though a tad offset, are nicely weighted (and perfect for heel/toe driving).
Add $1500 to the drive-away pricing on the lower-spec models and you get the slightly unusual dualogic automatic transmission (it adds $2000 to Abarth models).
Not everyone is a fan of the slurring shifts, but I have no complaints (and the dualogic has proven durable).
And, if you enjoy the wind in the hair and a sunburnt forehead, each in the range offers a Cabrio version - a 500C - with a sliding fabric sun-roof. It seriously works well and adds to the ‘Roman Holiday’ fun.
Storage space throughout is at a minimum. There are pockets in the doors, a reasonable glovebox and a smallish 185 litre boot under the hatch (which extends to 550 litres with the rear seats folded).
It’s fine for the Saturday ‘big shop’, and will carry three or so airline carry-on bags, but this is a little car.
Inside, there’s not a lot of stretching room for long legs. It’s horses for courses; the 500 will carry four adults for a city drive but for a longer run you’ll be stretching the friendship.
ON THE ROAD
These are great cars to drive. Fun, breezy, surprisingly comfortable despite the mega-short wheelbase, and filled with charm.
From the Pop to the Abarth, each will fill you with a warm glow at the wheel.
The Pop - with just 1.2 litres and a somewhat meagre 51kW doing the heavy lifting - is the slowest by a country mile. But get behind the wheel, point it at a winding road and wring it out in the gears, and it’s a delight.
For all the sins of years past, it is hard to think of a dull Italian car. From the smallest Fiat to the most overblown Ferrari, all are built around the driver.
In the case of these little Fiats, whether in the modestly-powered Pop or the rorty Abarth (with 118kW and 230Nm), each feels ‘alive’ at the wheel, corners like a go-kart and makes a nice sporty sound (the Abarth goes about things with a tremendous growl).
We think the S is particularly good value. It doesn’t look as bare-bones as the Pop and picks up 15-inch alloys, body kit, ‘Sport’ mode switch (that sharpens engine response) and comfy sports seats.
It also extracts good value out of its 74kW and 131Nm from the 1.4 litre engine in the snout and six-speed manual (one more ratio than the Pop).
A real benefit of a small lightweight body is that it only needs modest power to hustle things along.
And it does it without a fuel penalty. Claimed combined average is 6.1 l/100km, and we were showing 7.1 l/100km on a tight engine and pushing things along a little unkindly.
The Lounge, with the twin-cylinder 0.9 litre turbo TwinAir, mated exclusively to the dualogic auto, returns a very abstemious 3.9 l/100km with a careful right foot.
We didn’t drive the Lounge on this launch, but we’re very familiar with this engine (having whipped it through the Italian Apennines) and love it.
The McPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear works a treat on Aussie roads. These Fiats are more comfortable on ratty roads than their German and French equivalents.
The 500 has a longer-travel feel to the suspension (leaning to soft in the rear) and soaks up broken tarmac and hollows exceptionally well for such a small car.
Of its competitors, only the Nissan Micra can match the comfortable ride, but is no match for the Fiat’s cornering dynamics.
The Abarth models of course are all about driving dynamics. Sitting on 17-ich alloys and fat rubber, both Turismo and Competizione absolutely look the part, and handle like on rails.
Add the Monza exhaust to the dearer Competizione, and it sounds mighty.
Few cars offer such visceral driving joys at the wheel as the tiny Abarth; it simply has to be experienced.
With 118kW and 230Nm from the 1.4 litre turbo jewel up front, it will fling the little Abarth to 100km in 7.4 seconds. On road, it is absolutely alive with instant throttle response when powering out of a corner.
Whack it through the five-speed box and you’ll find yourself revelling again in all those childhood joys you discovered in a billy-cart, then a go-kart, then your first car.
If you can find no other justification for putting one of these in the garage, buy it as a pet.
ANCAP RATING: 5-Star
All in the range come with seven airbags as standard, ABS braking (with EBD), electronic stability control and ‘hill hold’ assist as well daytime running lights (DRLs) and ISOFIX attachments for child seats.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It’s the price of the upper-spec models that drags the overall rating down.
We concede that Fiat has an appealing range of cars with the updated 500, but mid-to-high thirties for the Abarth models is a bit steep.
The Pop, we think, is well-priced and a very good buy; so too the dressed-up 500 S with an eager 1.4 litre engine and six-speed manual (or dualogic auto).
The TwinAir Lounge is getting up there though and will have a tough battle against some of the better Light segment contenders - like the Polo and Ford Fiesta - which carry a lot of features and performance at the same price.
But, for the style as much as for the fun of the drive, we love these cars.
Lash out and get the $2500 Cabrio convertible version, and everyone will want to ride with you.
- Fiat 500 Pop manual - $17,000
- Fiat 500 Pop Dualogic - $18,500
- Fiat 500 Pop convertible Dualogic - $21,000
- Fiat 500 S manual - $20,000
- Fiat 500 S Dualogic - $21,500
- Fiat 500 S convertible Dualogic - $24,000
- Fiat 500 Lounge Dualogic - $23,000
- Fiat 500 Lounge convertible Dualogic - $25,500
500 Abarth 595 Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Abarth 595 Turismo - $33,500
- Abarth 595 Turismo MTA - $35,500
- Abarth 595 Competizione - $36,500
- Abarth 595 Competizione MTA - $38,500
- Abarth 595 Competizione convertible - $39,000
- Abarth 595 Competizione convertible MTA - $41,000
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