New Fiat 500 Review
“Now as you go round, look for that bloody exit – we can’t go round ’ere all night!” Michael Caine yelled as he circled Fiat’s insane rooftop test track in the 1969 classic The Italian Job. But, if he wasn’t being chased in his red Mini Cooper by the Italian fuzz, I can confirm after putting the new Fiat 500 on Lingotto’s hallowed tarmac he would happily have gone round that surreal scene all night.
It’s a fittingly iconic launch location for a car with all the emphatically gesticulated history that this one seems to carry with its makers.
Love or loath it’s cutsie looks – this tiny ride has been a raging success since it’s modern reinterpretation in 2007 – 50 years after the original 500 struck that first, everlasting chord with the Italian nation’s heartstrings.
Fiat have shifted a staggering 1.5 million 500s in the past 8 years in markets stretching from Chile to Russia, South Africa to Singapore, and America to Australia.. proving this little ride has an undisputed massive appeal.
THIS SEASON’S COLLECTION
As new cars go, this clearly isn’t the most dramatic evolutions. But, re-designing an automotive icon is a serous balancing act as Roberto Giolito, chief designer at Centro Stile Fiat – who also penned the last model – can testify.
In a world where next-gen cars are frequently longer and wider than their predecessors, the Fiat 500 stands resolute with its identically diminutive dimensions. It’s 357cm long, 163cm wide, 149cm tall. And it’s not budging.
Fiat are keen to push the fact their new baby boasts 1900 innovative changes – that’s 40% of the entire car – but the net result is actually pretty wide of the mark if what you were expecting was an all-new model. For that we’ll likely have to wait until 2018.
In its favour, the 500 this model has remixed was pretty damn tight. So, a safe facelift with some new tech and fresh tones is smart way to refresh interest given 8 years on it’s still selling, and selling well.
Visually, the frontend gains extra chrome detailing over it’s more firmly pinched pout and the lower air intake is re-styled to incorporate the foglamps. The 500’s trademark eyes retain their spherical charm but gain extra focus with a Xenon upgrade alondside funky elliptical day-running lights that ape the split zeros in the 500 logo. Round the back and it’s slightly more noticeable with rad, extruded, ‘empty’ taillights that tease a bit of body-colour in the middle of their stretched donut design.
As ever, the 500 comes in two-door coupe and convertible flavours – the later of which retains the appealing retro chic fabric roll-top roof.
The customisation programme has been bolstered with two fresh paint hues including an outrageously girly coral and a peculiar purple and there are new 15” and 16” rim designs in the collection.
There is also a new ‘Second Skin’ option, where Fiat will factory-wrap the top half of your 500 in a choice of six, err.. let’s say, unique patterns from nautical to black camouflage to tartan if standing out is simply paramount. And then of course there’s the slew of Mopar accessories to pimp things further still from bespoke luggage racks to fabric-effect roof treatments.
DOES IT WALK THE WALK?
I tested the revised European engine line-up that features two, 2-cylinder 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol variants offering 85hp and 105hp – the first boasting an award winning 73.4mpg. There’s also the 1.2-litre, 4-cylinder petrol that lets out a particularly light 69hp – but as the cheapest in the line-up will no doubt prove to be the best seller.
But the 500 obviously isn’t about power, and the characterfully noisy TwinAir engines are the pick of the bunch – that is as long as they’re mated to the 5 or 6-speed stickshifts. The disappointing Dualogic autobox is best left forgotten.
The ride has received subtle modification too that makes the little squirt usefully forgiving of broken-up city roads but the frustratingly short gearing and twitchiness at highway speeds eventually chips away at the charm the 500 so quickly imbues you with.
THE INSIDE JOB
Sweet distraction is to be found inside however, largely due to the much-needed installation of Fiat’s Uconnect infotainment system across the range.
Featuring a 5-inch touchscreen that as well as offering TomTom navigation and Bluetooth connectivity can also deliver TuneIn internet radio, Deezer music streaming and Reuters news feeds as well as Facebook and Twitter apps.
The rest of the interior is largely as you were – ergonomic albeit aimed at the petite. It’s still loaded with body-coloured retro charm, circular instrumentation and bespoke switchgear but to carry four people, well, lets say you’ve got to be very close friends.
Further up the trim levels – out of the Pop and into the Lounge – there’s the option of a new 7-inch TFT driver display that’ll show all the info you’ll realistically ever need, right up to turbo and throttle gauges once you hit that ‘Sport’ button – just don’t expect to be blown away with the upscale in performance.
Sticking with the consistently safe approach of this facelift, the new 500 also now packs 7 airbags in its tiny pockets, as standard.
DID THEY GET AWAY WITH IT?
Ultimately, Fiat didn’t need to do much to their city-loving fashionista – so they haven’t. But where they have, only sweetens the package to who this car is clearly aimed at.
While many will find it just as easy to dismiss as before, more will find even easier to fall for and even better to live with.
Available from September, the all new Fiat 500 range starts from £10,890.
Thanks to Gorilla Images for the snaps!!