New Fiat no small or­der

The pint-sized Fiat 500 is about to put the Ital­ian brand back on the map, writes STEPHEN OT­T­LEY

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

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.

E

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.

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