IT WAS launched in Australia with great fanfare at the Melbourne motor show last month, and now just five weeks later Fiat's new-generation 500 range has been joined by a new diesel flagship.
Previously only available in the entry-level Pop, the Italian three-door micro-hatch's 55kW 1.3-litre turbo-diesel JTD engine can now be had with the same equipment as the luxury Lounge flagship of the 500 range.
The five-speed manual-only 500 1.3 JTD Lounge is priced at $28,990 - $1000 more than the similarly-equipped 500 1.4 Lounge, which comes with a 74kW petrol engine and a six-speed manual.
The diesel 500 Lounge is also $1000 less than the most expensive 500 in the range, the $29,990 1.4 Lounge auto with five-speed Dualogic automated manual transmission.
Fiat 500 pricing continues to open with the $22,990 Pop 1.2, which comes with a 51kW 1.2-litre petrol engine and a five-speed manual, while the less expensive 500 Sport is priced at $16,990 for the 1.4 with six-speed manual.
Both petrol engines are available with the Dualogic transmission for an extra $2000.
Available to order now, the 500 JTD Lounge, like the JTD Pop, matches the industry-leading fuel consumption of Toyota's landmark Pruis hybrid, offering combined average fuel economy of just 4.2L/100km and leading to claims it offers an unrivalled combination of "luxury, economy and chic style".
"The launch of this car in Australia is a clear sign of marked change in the market’s attitude to diesel," said Edward Butler, the general manager for Fiat cars in Australia.
"Diesel is no longer associated just with basic, economy motoring. Australian customers increasingly want the economy and environmental ability of diesel matched to a chic, luxurious car and cars don’t come much more stylish and chic than the 500 or, with the top of the line Lounge equipment package, luxurious.
"This new model is a response to demands from Australian customers for a range-topping specification 500 with the advanced turbo-diesel engine," said Mr Butler, who added that Fiat importer Ateco Automotive was working with the factory to secure great supplies of the new 500 in 2008.
Fiat revealed pricing and specifications for the born-again Italian icon months ahead of its launch at the Melbourne show to allow customers to order highly specialised examples of the 500 to match their tastes.
Deliveries have just started and the Fiat 500 is sold out for the next four months.
"We are working with Fiat to get an extra allocation of cars for Australia for 2008," said Mr Butler. "But even with the boost in Australian supplies for which we have asked, there’s little doubt that demand will continue to run well ahead of supply."
The 500 JTD Lounge adds a number of features to the Pop JTD's standard fare, which includes air-conditioning, a trip computer, powered front windows, remote central locking, ABS brakes and six airbags.
The Lounge adds climate-control, a fixed glass roof with sun blind, a chrome exterior trim pack, alloy wheels, front foglights, the Blue&Me voice-activated Bluetooth communications package with steering wheel controls, a leather steering wheel and gearknob, and a luxury cloth interior.
Improving on the safety features of the basic 500 Pop, which already scores a class-leading five-star ENCAP crash test rating, the Lounge adds electronic traction and stability control, plus a hill-holder function and the option of leather interior trim.
It travels to 100km/h in the same 12.5 seconds and offers the same 165km/h top speed as the 1.3 JTD Pop. Offering 145Nm of torque, it emits just 111g/km of CO2.