Driv­ers spoiled for choice

Chic looks and tur­bod­iesel off­set a rub­bery ride, writes PAUL GOVER

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test Fiat 500 Diesel -

IN case you hadn’t no­ticed, there is a war go­ing on. We’re all caught in the mid­dle of the melee as car com­pany troops bat­tle for supremacy in a green con­flict that runs to fuel econ­omy, emis­sions, weight, drag and ev­ery­thing else that makes a car more ef­fi­cient.

The good news is that the spoils of war are avail­able to every­one, from large car buy­ers— who have a more fuel-ef­fi­cient Camry and Com­modore next month — to the hy­brid buy­ers who will race for the new Toy­ota Prius and Honda In­sight to the diesel driv­ers who have a broader choice than ever be­fore. Which is why I’m sit­ting, again, in a Fiat. The cutesy lit­tle Ital­ian zi­pabout has been a show­room win­ner around the world since it first hit the road but now Fiat wants to turn it into its econ­omy spear­head.

Mini is do­ing the same thing with its diesel model and both are ranged against the hy­brids sol­diers, as well as ri­val diesels with ev­ery badge from Alfa to Volk­swa­gen.

There is no deny­ing the Fiat is eco­nom­i­cal. It con­sumed 5 litres for 100km dur­ing my test time and the baby 35-litre tank will take you a long way be­tween fills.

Fiat claims even bet­ter, with 4.2 litres/ 100km in gen­eral run­ning and as good as 3.6 litres on the high­way, as well as CO2 emis­sions of 111grams/km. To put that in per­spec­tive, the baby petrol player in the 500 fam­ily, a fru­gal 1.2, makes 119 grams/km.

The 500 diesel also comes with a diesel par­tic­u­late fil­ter, an im­por­tant anti-emis­sion de­vice that’s miss­ing from Toy­ota’s vast range of work­horse and fam­ily SUV and 4x4 diesels, though ni­tro­gen ox­ides are still not to­tally de­feated.

But we’re get­ting far too far into the tech­ni­cal stuff, and most peo­ple who buy diesel are re­ally go­ing for the econ­omy. And the range.

In the case of the 500, they are also buy­ing into one of the trendi­est cars on the planet to­day. Even Elle Macpher­son has one in which to zip around Lon­don, though hers is a petrol ver­sion.

‘‘The econ­omy car isn’t about just fuel econ­omy. Peo­ple are buy­ing a car that’s small but don’t want to give up the fea­tures and equip­ment of a larger car,’’ Fiat’s Aus­tralian spokesman, Ed­ward Rowe, says.

‘‘That stuff is not locked to the size of the ve­hi­cle. Peo­ple want a con­ve­nient small car but they still want some­thing stylish and fash­ion­able.’’

There are six mod­els in the 500 range now, from the ba­sic petrol Pop at a drive­away price of $22,990 through to the Lounge tur­bod­iesel at $29,990, though there is lots of ex­tra stuff if you have ex­tra cash.

The most pop­u­lar choice is the Dua­logic manu­matic trans­mis­sion, which costs $2000, but lots of peo­ple are go­ing for spe­cial colours and stripes and al­loy wheels.

Ac­tu­ally, the lack of the Dua­logic gear­box is hurt­ing the tur­bod­iesel, which only comes with a five-speed man­ual.

‘‘The cur­rent sales rate for the diesel is around 15 per cent of our sales. But that is down to the lack of a self-shift­ing gear­box,’’ Rowe says.

‘‘The mar­ket sec­tor the diesel sells to sees a self-shift­ing gear­box as an ab­so­lute re­quire­ment. The ma­jor­ity of what we sell is based around the 1.4 with the Dua­logic gear­box.’’

Clas­sic Ital­ian:

the Fiat JTD Lounge tur­bod­iesel is part of the pop­u­lar 500 range.

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