The little Fiat that could
No mere nostalgia exercise, the 500 is a modern city car
The nostalgia wave that swept over motoring produced a number of new models that recalled classics of days gone by.
There were the Mini, the Beetle, the PT Cruiser to name a few but only the Mini has eclipsed the impact of Fiat’s baby 500.
Recalling the wonderful little 500 produced between 1957 and 1975 the new generation 500 was as cute as a button. No matter which angle you chose to view it from it tugged at the heartstrings, it was a car you could easily fall in love with on first sight.
Fiat offered three hatch models in the range, which kicked off with the Pop and followed by the Lounge and Sport. Its small size made it perfect for city use. It wasn't much good for a family, but was perfectly sized for singles or couples without kids who wanted to nip around town, park on a postage stamp and save on fuel.
Fiat offered three engines, two petrols and one diesel. These started with a 1.2-litre four-cylinder that was sufficient for town use, there was a 1.4litre four that gave more useful performance and there was also a 1.3-litre turbo diesel that was the fuel miser.
Promising 4.2 L/100km the little turbo diesel was the most fuel-efficient engine on offer at the time of its launch. T here was a choice of three transmissions depending on the engine chosen.
Buyers could choose five or six-speed manuals or five-speed auto, although turbo diesel buyers were limited to the fivespeed manual.
With a wheel at each corner the 500 was pure fun on the road with sharp steering and go-cart like handling.
Italian brands have always built cars with passion but the experience has often been soured by seemingly endless visits to the shop to have them fixed after they broke down.
But owners of the 500 tell a refreshingly different story, saying they are happy with their 500s and love them to bits. Those who have contacted us praise the fun feel of their cars, they also cite their fuel economy and report few if any problems with them.
Graeme Smith’s daughter has owned a 2008 manual 1.4litre Lounge from new and loves its versatility and economy. She also loves that it is different. It is her everyday work vehicle, which she uses to visit clients and finds it easy to park in the city and negotiate the traffic. It performs well on the highway, even when fully loaded, and has given her no trouble.
Peter Cheong and his wife have owned a 2009 Fiat 500 diesel from new. It was her dream car and she loves it. It has now done 68,000km and he says it has been reliable and economical. Apart from front tyre wear and warped brake discs, issues that affect many of today’s cars, there have been two warranty issues: a cracked fuel pipe and a broken wiper arm.
Mechanic Bruce McCann bought a demonstrator Fiat 500 Pop 1.3-litre turbo diesel in 2009 and has had five years of brilliant service from it. It has covered 113,000km and has had normal 15,000km by-the-book dealer servicing. He does an additional engine oil and filter service at 7,500km intervals.
Apart from the servicing he changed the front disc rotors and pads at 75,000km and fitted new tyres at about the same time.
There has been one small gremlin with the central locking system, which was fixed by the dealer. Apart from that there are no squeaks or rattles and nothing has fallen off.
He reckons the turbo diesel performance has been brilliant, with smooth torque delivery. It has been quite spritely through city traffic, good when hill climbing and very quiet.
It doesn’t use oil and regularly does 4.5L-4.9 L/ 100km. He describes handling and steering response as a joy.
In summary, he says, it is a clever city car that easily copes with interstate trips — when diesel fuel consumption touches the “old”60 miles per gallon on cruise.
Retained value has taken a hit. Original importer Ateco priced the 500 like a mini luxury car. Now imported by the factory, a new 500 starts from a far more realistic $14,000.
Fun little car that’s perfect for the young and young at heart.