New models - Fiat - 500
Driven: Fiat moves the 500 upmarket
More standard equipment and a pricing rejig for the facelifted Fiat 500
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18 Feb 2016
By TUNG NGUYEN
FIAT is pushing its refreshed 500 micro-car range upmarket with subtle tweaks to aesthetics and increased standard equipment, while also trimming down variants and re-jigging pricing.
The Italian marque has deleted the mid-tier 500 Sport in favour of just two flavours, the entry level Pop and range-topping Lounge, both available as hatchbacks or with an electric folding fabric roof.
While pricing the base Pop variant jumps $2000 to $18,000, before on-road costs, the top-of-the-line Lounge drops $1000 to $21,000, with a five-speed Dualogic automated transmission adding $1500 and a convertible roof adding $4000 to prices of each variant.
Fiat Australia product manager Aitezaz Khan said the reshuffling of variants and price was a result of closely listening to customer feedback and tailoring the new 500 to fit with Fiat’s brand ethos.
“With pricing for us, we were always looking at the pockets of the market where it resonates the strongest,” he said. “For us, the important thing with the 500 is for us to stay close to its DNA.
“If we wanted to, we could have stripped everything off the Pop and sold it for a cheaper price, but that’s not what the customer demands.”
Mr Khan drew comparisons to another Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) mainstay, the Jeep Wrangler, and said the 500 has evolved beyond being just an everyday car.
“It’s an aspirational product,” he said. “Think of it as, and I don’t want to talk about other brands, but let’s just say within the (FCA) group, the Wrangler right, it’s an icon.
“It has looked pretty much the same for God knows how many years, but they’ve slowly matured it. And over time, you find the sweet spot in the market where it resonates the strongest.
“So it’s not so much economics, it’s more about resonating with the right factors.”
All Pop variants are powered by a 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 51kW of power and 102Nm of torque, while the Lounge drops the 0.9-litre TwinAir turbo unit in favour of the retired Sport’s 74kW/131Nm 1.4-litre four-pot.
In manual guise, the Pop makes do with five gears while the Lounge features six ratios and both have the option of the five-speed Dualogic automated transmission.
Mr Khan said the decision to drop the two-cylinder TwinAir “was driven by market feedback, which preferred a more a traditional four-cylinder engine to the TwinAir.”
Fiat has maintained the look of the iconic 500, but has given it a tweaked front end with slightly redesigned headlights, daytime running lights (DRL) in the shape of the 500 logo and a new diamond mesh grille to cover the air intakes.
At the rear, the 500 gains new tail-lights – inspired by tattoos, according to Fiat – that feature a body colour-matched square cut-out in the centre, as well as a revised bumper incorporating reversing and rear foglights.
Pop versions also include new 15-inch alloy wheels, chrome door handles and heated wing mirrors as standard, with Lounge variants adding chrome front and rear bumper highlights, sill plates and window details, rear parking sensors and a sunroof.
On the inside, Fiat has included its Uconnect 5.0-inch touchscreen display across the 500 range with Bluetooth connectivity, USB input and digital radio on the Pop and satellite navigation on the Lounge.
A more ergonomically oriented and leather-wrapped steering wheel – complete with a suite of audio control buttons – sit in front of a nested analogue speedo and tacho instrumentation in the Pop variant, while Lounge versions get a 7.0-inch digital display that can show media, telephone and navigation information.
Other changes to the interior include redesigned seats, chrome accents highlighting window control switches and airvents, and increased sound deadening to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels.
All cars retain a high level of customisation, with Fiat touting 13 exterior colours, 10 interior options and three different roof colours available on the convertible.
While these additions to Fiat’s micro car go some way to justifying the increased price for the base Pop, Mr Khan said the 500 is about more than just having a vehicle or form of transportation.
“When you think about buying a mainstream product, it’s more about ‘Okay I just want a small car’, it’s more about function,” he said. “When you think about buying a 500, you want that ownership experience, you want to personalise it.
“I mean how many cars in this segment allow you to personalise the key fob?” Last year Fiat sold 2158 500 and Abarth models in Australia, representing a 28 per cent decline over its 2014 haul of 2995 units. It was the second best selling offering in the micro-car class behind the Mitsubishi Mirage hatch with 3882 sales.
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