Pocket of small change
A retro chic icon stands the test of time
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s distinctive and has a sense of fun about it. The owner should be likewise.