Car reviews - Fiat - 500 - Anniversario
Diminutive dimensions, funky design, gorgeous wheels, quirky instrumentation, good fuel economy
Room for improvement
Terrible transmission, lack of performance, compromised rear-seat space, tiny infotainment screen
One fatal flaw mares the cute, quirky and limited-run Fiat 500 Anniversario hatch
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11 Jul 2018
By TUNG NGUYEN
IT FEELS like Fiat’s funky little 500 micro car has been around for ages, having first been introduced in 1957 before the reborn model landed in 2007.
Over the years, the Italian brand has not been shy about releasing special-edition versions to capitalise on the 500’s stylish nature, putting out variants in conjunction with fashion brands such as Gucci and even a Diesel.
The latest in the long line of limited-run 500s is now the Anniversario, created to celebrate 60 years since the introduction of the first iteration, but do the extra bits of kit justify Fiat’s latest hatchback?
Price and equipment
Fiat’s 500 Anniversario wears a sticker price of $21,990 before on-road costs for the manual version and $23,490 for the five-speed ‘Dualogic’ automatic – only $2000 more than the Lounge grade on which it is based.
With only 60 examples brought Down Under – nine manual and 51 autos – the Anniversario will be a rare sight on Aussie roads as one of the most exclusive, but affordable, offerings in recent memory.
Taking the 500 Lounge as its base, the Anniversario gains new seats with a horizontal stripe theme, chrome exterior highlights, vintage Fiat logos, unique floor mats, a numbered build plaque so occupants know they are in something special, and retro-inspired 16-inch alloy wheels.
The aforementioned equipment is in addition to the standard Lounge-grade appointments including a 5.0-inch Uconnect infotainment touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity and sat-nav.
The Fiat 500 has always been a quirky vehicle, and nothing exemplifies that more than its funky interior.
The Anniversario gains unique cream-coloured seats with orange-piping highlights that look right at home in the retro-inspired hatchback. What a shame then that they are not more comfortable.
The front pews are a little too flat and hard for our delicate derriere, especially over extended driving periods, while offering little lateral or lower-back support.
More adjustability would have also been greatly appreciated, as the seating position has us a little too high and close to the steering wheel for our feet to reach the pedals. A reach-adjustable steering wheel would have also made matters infinitely more comfortable.
The cream finish is also liberally splashed over the steering wheel, centre console controls and door trims, while the exterior hue makes its way inside across the dashboard.
A tiny 5.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is fitted that, while featuring satellite navigation and Bluetooth connectivity, is simply too small and low-definition to be of any real use.
While we appreciate that the system is there, in 2018 when some smartphones measure 6.0 inches and above, its tricky to justify such low-rent technology.
The instrumentation fares much better though, with a large 7.0-inch digital display able to output information such as navigation directions, fuel consumption data and outside temperature.
Mimicking the traditional round dial instrumentation, the digital screen brings a bit of modernity to the old-school-themed Fiat 500 Anniversario but fits in perfectly in its surroundings.
Measuring 3571mm long, 1627mm wide and 1488mm high with a 2300mm wheelbase, there is plenty of head-, leg- and shoulder-room up front for both driver and front passenger, as well as slim door pockets and a handful of shallow cupholders.
As expected, rear seat comfort is severely hampered by the 500’s diminutive frame, often only good for throwing a bag or some groceries on, not for two actual human beings.
We found in-cabin storage a bit lacking, with our bulky wallet and oversized phone often falling out of the storage nooks during enthusiastic cornering manoeuvres, but the boot space is surprisingly practical thanks to a large opening and lengthy floor.
Engine and transmission
Under the bonnet, the Anniversario is powered by the same 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine as its Lounge donor car, which develops 51kW of power at 5500rpm and 102Nm of torque at 3000rpm.
As one of Australia’s least powerful cars, you expect the Anniversario won’t be able to lay down rubber at the drag strip against the likes of the Ford Mustang, but pulling away from the lights in the 500 Anniversario is zippy enough thanks to its low sub-one-tonne kerb weight.
Around town, where the Anniversario will be used the most, the tiny Italian hatchback moves along spritely and with assurance, accelerating up to 60km/h in no time at all.
Even in a quick jaunt to Phillip Island, the 500 gets up to pace relatively quickly and cruises along at highway speeds with confidence and aplomb.
However, our test car is fitted with a terrible Dualogic automatic transmission, which, in our opinion, is amongst the worst shifters we have experienced.
Gear changes take an eternity, especially from first to second, with a physical jerk every time the clutch engages to swap cogs no matter if it’s in automatic or manual modes.
To its credit, in the higher gears shift are a lot smoother, but the noticeable cog swapping process of disengaging the engine, applying the clutch, selecting the next gear, then turning the taps back on is a long one – almost as long as it takes to read that last sentence.
In an age where dual-clutch transmissions are readily available in light cars a class above such as the new Volkswagen Polo, and torque converters are so polished as seen with the Kia Picanto, not to mention well-programmed continuously-variable transmissions (CVTs) equipped on cars like the Holden Spark – there really is no excuse for Fiat’s two-pedal transmission of choice.
Official fuel consumption figures are pegged at 4.8 litres per 100km, while we managed 5.8L/100km in a week of heavy city driving.
Ride and handling
With such a small footprint and light weight, the Anniversario is able to nimbly dart in and out of traffic with a quick tug of the steering wheel.
Direction changes are speedy thanks to the rack and pinion steering set-up, while the front-driven wheels offer plenty of grip and are never overpowered by the engine’s modest outputs.
With a bit of momentum and liberal use of the steering wheel, bouts of understeer can be induced, but for the most part it is grip and go in the Anniversario.
For those that think the steering is a bit heavy, there is even a dedicated button on the dash to lighten the steering for city conditions.
Fitted with retro-inspired 16-inch wheels – that look absolutely fantastic – the ride in the latest Fiat 500 special edition can be likened to a big bowl of spaghetti Bolognese – comforting and foolproof.
The independent front suspension set-up soaks up bumps big and small with ease, but we found the thin 185/55 tyres could easily get caught in Melbourne’s hazardous tram tracks and lead the 500 astray.
Regardless, we’re extremely happy to report that our week with the Anniversario did not reveal any major problems in ride or comfort.
Safety and servicing
All Fiat 500s carry a maximum five-star Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) crash rating from a test conducted in 2008.
Frontal offset and side impact tests scored 15.11 and 15.80 out of 16 respectively, while the pole test scored a maximum of two points and seat belt reminders scored the 500 two out of three. The overall score was 34.91 out of 37.
However, the Anniversario does not feature any active safety equipment such as autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning or blind-spot monitoring, nor does it sport a reversing camera.
As standard, the Anniversario is equipped with anti-lock brakes, dual frontal, side and head airbags, rear parking sensors, hill hold, cruise control and speed limiter.
The Anniversario comes with a three-year/150,000km warranty with three years of roadside assist and a seven-year anti-corrosion warranty from the date of first registration.
Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
Even after over 10 years on the market (and one major facelift), the Fiat 500 still looks fresh and drives like nearly nothing else can thanks to its tiny dimensions.
While we love the way the Fiat 500 Anniversario’s styling and sure footedness behind the wheel, the laggy automatic transmission holds it back from being a genuine contender in the shrinking micro segment.
If funky styling, a frugal engine and ease of parking is high on your list, we’d recommend nabbing a manual version to alleviate the problems of the automatic, but if you absolutely must have a two-pedal car, better options are found elsewhere.
Kia Picanto GT-Line from $17,290 before on-roads
Peppy 1.2-litre engine delivers 62kW/122Nm for zippy performance with the GT-Line grade adding sporty-looking gear. The current standard in the micro segment due to ample space and engaging drive.
Mitsubishi Mirage LS from $15,250 before on-roads
Ageing platform, thirsty 57kW100Nm 1.2-litre petrol engine and a cheap interior holds the Mirage back, but Mitsubishi’s micro hatchback still packs plenty of value for buyers.
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