New Fiat no small order
The pint-sized Fiat 500 is about to put the Italian brand back on the map, writes STEPHEN OTTLEY
THIS is the car to get Fiat noticed in Australia. The pint-sized 500 is the most crucial car for the Italian brand’s local future.
Since the company’s return to the car market in 2006 with the Punto it has flown under the radar. But the 500 will change that.
It stands out in the crowd and Fiat is hoping that not only will it be a strong seller, it will help attract buyers to the Punto and the newer, larger Ritmo hatch.
Fiat has joined Volkswagen (the Beetle) and Mini in looking to the past for inspiration for the present.
Only 355cm long and 163cm wide, the 500 stays true to its tiny roots in size and style.
It is well proportioned for its size and looks great, from it’s cute round headlights to its neat rear hatch.
That style continues through to the interior, which is retro but functional.
A single large instrument dial displays all the information you need.
Speed and revs are handled by two parallel separate dials, and a digital display in the centre handles everything else.
Standard on the base car are airconditioning, trip computer, electric front windows, remote central locking, adjustable steering wheel, splitfold rear seats and a six-speaker MP3 audio system with steeringwheel-mounted controls.
But the best news for Fiat is the 500 has won 2008 European Car of the Year, which highlights the strength of its engine and chassis.
There are three engines in the range: a 51kW 1.2-litre four, 74kW 1.4-litre four and a 55kW 1.3-litre JTD diesel.
There are also three gearboxes to choose from: a five-speed and sixspeed manual and a five-speed Dualogic automatic.
Despite its diminutive stature the 500 has a five-star EuroNCAP safety rating. Anti-skid brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution are standard across the range. The 1.4-litre models get Electronic Stability Control, traction control and Hill Holder.
There are three models in the 500 range: the Pop, Sport and Lounge.
The Pop starts at $22,990 with the 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual gearbox.
The Sport has the 1.4-litre engine and six-speed manual as standard and costs from $26,990.
The Lounge tops the range at $27,990 and, like the Sport, has the 1.4-litre engine and six-speed manual gearbox as standard.
But that is only the starting point. The list of options for customising the car to each buyer’s specification is extensive.
Leather interior, sunroof, metallic paint, pastel paint, alloy wheels and seven sticker options are only some of them.
But that’s when the car’s price starts to creep up. It can top $30,000 if you want a fully loaded model. VEN so, Fiat Australia says most orders already placed for the car are for customised versions.
In fact, the biggest problem facing the company is getting enough cars to meet the demand.
Fiat Australia has been allocated 1000 cars for this year. Already half of those have been sold and the car is not yet officially on sale.
And the news only gets better for Fiat.
If you want a faster 500, you won’t have to wait too long. An Abarth version is already on the way.
Abarth is Fiat’s performance division and the hotted-up 500 is due here about June or July next year.
It will take aim at the Mini Cooper S with a 100kW turbocharged engine and upgraded brakes and suspension.
Small reward: with the past motivating its future, the Fiat 500 is
2008 European Car of the Year, which highlights the strength of its
engine and chassis.