Pocket of small change

A retro chic icon stands the test of time

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test - NEIL DOWLING neil.dowling@carsguide.com.au Twit­ter @cg_­dowl­ing

NEAT, sweet and pe­tite — the de­scrip­tion still ap­plies to the Fiat 500 af­ter al­most 60 years.

Add af­ford­able and it could be the per­fect small car in the way its pre­de­ces­sor en­thralled Ital­ians who promptly filled the car with fam­ily mem­bers — never mind how many — then went out and filled Ital­ian roads

From a size and price per­spec­tive, the 500 makes sense in our ever more teem­ing cities.

The choice for the 500’s tar­get au­di­ence — a sin­gle mo­torist or, at best, a cou­ple per­haps with a child — is now huge, so it’s a tes­ta­ment to the lit­tle Fiat that it out­sells ri­vals such as the Volk­swa­gen Up and Holden Spark.

VALUE

The en­try-level Pop model tested here is $14,000 as a fivespeed man­ual. De­spite its price, the safety list is strong and there’s six-speaker au­dio with voice-ac­ti­vated in­ter­face. Fiat’s clutch­less man­ual, the Duologic, is a $1500 op­tion. No capped price ser­vice pro­gram from Fiat though there is a trans­par­ent menu for own­ers who want to crys­tal-ball gaze fu­ture costs.

The 500 needs an an­nual ser­vice, has a gen­er­ous three­year or 150,000km war­ranty and has road­side as­sis­tance for three years. The re­sale is 52 per cent af­ter three years.

DE­SIGN

Yes, it’s 20 per cent big­ger all around and gets twice the en­gine size and 400 per cent more power than the old days but it’s as un­mis­tak­able as ever.

You may think it’s tiny — it’s not — and with feather-like road man­ners. Yet it seats two adults in com­fort and even an ex­tra two in the back for short rides. The boot is barely there — it has 185Land same-size ri­val VW Up has 251L — and a few things, like a glove­box, are miss­ing.

The body-colour dash­board is ac­tu­ally at­trac­tive, even in the yel­low, while seat ma­te­rial is durable and com­fort­able and its two-tone deign suits the at­ti­tude of the car.

TECH­NOL­OGY

The 500 plat­form is shared with the four-door Panda wagon, most driv­e­trains too. The Pop gets a 51kW/102Nm 1.2-litre four-cylin­der petrol en­gine, de­rived from the Panda’s 1.4litre ef­fort, that holds no sur­prises. Fuel use is claimed at 5.1L/100km.

The five-speed man­ual gear­box sends power to the front wheels, so don’t look in the boot for the en­gine. The 500 has elec­tric-as­sist steer­ing with a dash but­ton that light­ens the wheel load for city work. The steer­ing wheel has tilt-only ad­just­ment but the driver’s seat can be raised or low­ered. Brakes are front discs and rear drums and the whole thing weighs in at only 905kg.

SAFETY

Though diminu­tive, it has a five-star crash rat­ing and seven airbags. There is elec­tronic sta­bil­ity and trac­tion con­trol, emer­gency brake dis­play, day­time run­ning lights, a hill holder and a space-saver spare.

DRIV­ING

It doesn’t drive the way its looks sug­gest and that’s a bless­ing. It is quite solid on the road and hugs cor­ners well, al­beit re­veal­ing some body roll.

The steer­ing is geared a bit high — not go-kart sharp as I ex­pected — but that ab­sorbs a lot of road shock. I was pre­pared to dis­miss the 1.2-litre en­gine be­ing unim­pressed by the Punto’s 1.4, but this one works re­ally well — prob­a­bly due more to the 500’s weight, 905kg.

The gear­box is fun, the brakes don’t sap con­fi­dence and the ride com­fort is very good. But the dash­board is sparse, the di­als are a bit hard to read and, per­son­ally, there’s no adult I’d hap­pily put in the back seat.

VERDICT

It’s dis­tinc­tive and has a sense of fun about it. The owner should be like­wise.

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