Car reviews - Fiat - 500 - range
Funky retro aesthetics, exterior colour options, taught chassis feel, new infotainment system
Room for improvement
Road noise in the convertible, cheap looking door trims in Pop variants, dollar-to-car ratio
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24 Feb 2016
By TUNG NGUYEN
WHILE Fiat’s new 500 micro-car may look, and often feel, the same as last year’s model, the little tweaks to styling – both inside and out – and longer standard equipment list add together to amount to the biggest update the car has had in eight years.
From the front, the new 500 gives away few clues to its updated status, including new sculpted headlights, a redesigned badge area, daytime running lights (DRLs) in the same shape as the 500 logo and an updated lower grille.
However, the most obvious hint at the style updates are the fresh tail-lights with body coloured cut-outs in the centre, which have led to an overhaul of the lower rear bumper to facilitate the reversing and rear foglights. While just a subtle change, the new rear end gives the 500 a less bubbly derriere with more prominent edges and sharper angles.
The interior has also been spruced up with a 5.0-inch touchscreen, which includes digital radio, Bluetooth and UBS input and an ergonomically redesigned leather wrapped steering wheel. Although Fiat could do more with its 500 range (no reversing camera) and the new infotainment system appears out of place next to the rest of the interior’s funky retro styling, the iconic micro-car now has the technological chops to match its younger rivals.
All touch points remain pleasant, and the inclusion of chrome accents and the unique body coloured dash panel elevate a standard interior space into something distinctive and enjoyable.
Though the high seating position allows for impressive forward visibility and the position of the pedals and steering wheel are designed around the elevated view, we wish there was more adjustability in the seat to accommodate taller drivers.
The changes though, do come with a price tag. The cheapest 500, the Pop in manual guise, will now set you back $18,000 before on-road costs, a $1000 price hike over last year’s 500 and the range-topping Lounge is now $21,000.
Pop variants make are powered by a 1.2-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, good for 51kW of power and 102Nm of torque, while Lounge versions get a 74kW/131Nm 1.4-litre four-pot.
If the 51kW/102Nm sounds underpowered, it’s probably because it is. While it was fun to throw the manual Pop around some Victorian country B-roads, the engine often felt asthmatic and lacked grunt when faced with an uphill incline steeper than horizontal.
However, the five-speed shifter in the base variant is a delight to stir, never missing a gear or even coming close while frantically downshifting one (or several) gears to stay in the narrow powerband.
In its natural habitat, the 885kg Pop would have no troubles zipping through traffic around town.
Moving to the more powerful 1.4-litre sees power jump almost 50 per cent and it makes a world of difference. While weight increases to 952kg, the 500 Lounge feels much more eager to attack the open road and even expels a rorty exhaust note on upshifts in higher revs.
While we didn’t get a chance to try the automatic transmission (Fiat only brought along two Dualogic equipped cars), the manual shifter is placed protruding from the centre stack, almost a perfect position for quick and accurate shifts.
As expected, the short wheelbase (2300mm) excels in winding roads, with Fiat’s city car able to change direction enthusiastically with a tug of the wheel.
Fiat has also fitted the new 500 range with 15-inch wheels and new tyres (185/55) designed to lower rolling resistance and decrease in-cabin tyre and road noise. An optional Perfezionaire Pack is available to Lounge variants, which adds 16-inch wheels and increases the tyre size to 195/45 for added lateral grip.
Our pick? The Lounge hatchback with a manual transmission. The bump in power makes a significant difference and you also get more kit as standard including satellite navigation, a 7.0-inch instrument cluster, sunroof and rear parking sensors. Convertible versions also suffered from excessive road noise at speeds in excess of 80km/h.
Fiat even throws in a three year/150,000km warranty across the range and while some will say the car-maker needs to do more to modernise its city car range, we don’t think it needs to. The 500 has always been a niche product and it still ticks all the right boxes by oozing retro cool styling, only now, it features the interior equipment to match its exterior swagger.
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