Happy feat

Im­proved ride and added equip­ment lead the up­dates for the lit­tle Ital­ian but they’re not easy to dis­cern

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - PAUL GOVER CHIEF REPORTER paul.gover@carsguide.com.au

DON’T go look­ing for a rearview cam­era in the up­dated Fiat 500. It’s not there. And it’s not go­ing to be there. And don’t go look­ing for the $16,000 base price that has worked so well for fans of the Ital­ian sweetie in re­cent times. It’s also not there.

What has come on the 500 for 2016, with the Se­ries 4 up­date, is more equip­ment and de­tail changes to the brakes and sus­pen­sion that are claimed to make the car more en­joy­able for Aus­tralian driv­ers on Aus­tralian roads.

The nose and tail also look a lit­tle dif­fer­ent and you can get a cream leather steer­ing wheel as part of the colour­ful new choices in the cabin.

Fiat says there are 1800 in­di­vid­ual changes and it’s mak­ing the most noise about the Ucon­nect in­fo­tain­ment setup, en­hanced cabin com­fort, new al­loy wheels and big­ger front brakes.

Pop and Lounge are the sim­pli­fied equip­ment grades, each avail­able as a con­vert­ible, and the ba­sic TwinAir en­gine has been dropped.

The start­ing price for the 500 — not helped by ex­change rates — is $18,000 for the five-speed man­ual Pop, al­though Fiat Chrysler Aus­tralia is ab­sorb­ing some of the ini­tial pain with a $1000 drive-away deal. There is no time limit given for this so for now the Lounge starts at $21,000, or $22,000 on-the-road.

Fiat prod­uct chief Aitezaz Khan says: “The 500 is our brand cham­pion. Peo­ple don’t just buy a city car, they want to ex­pe­ri­ence the brand her­itage.”

Khan hints strongly the 500’s rorty Abarth head­line ver­sion will be­come more af­ford­able than its cur­rent $34,000.

“Later this year we will make the Abarth range more ac­ces­si­ble than ever be­fore. Just watch this space,” he says.

Fiat cites ex­tra equip­ment and the ex­change rate as the cause of the 500’s price rises. De­flect­ing crit­i­cism of the miss­ing re­vers­ing cam­era, the com­pany line is that the 500 is so small it’s not needed.

“There isn’t one. We don’t have plans for one. The plat­form will not sup­port it, any­where in the world,” says spokes­woman Lucy McLel­lan. “We haven’t any feed­back from cus­tomers about a re­quire­ment for a re­vers­ing cam­era.”

Visu­ally, the 500’s nose gets new lights and re­shaped bumper, the 500 logo ap­pears in the day­time run­ning lamps and there are new tail-lights.

It might look un­changed to any­one who is not a 500 tragic but Khan de­tails nu­mer­ous en­gi­neer­ing changes.

“(There are) larger discs and larger calipers at the front in the Pop. We’ve cut the emis­sions, we have fit­ted re­duced rolling-re­sis­tance tyres and there has been aero work un­der the body.”

Any­one new to the 500 will like the touch­screen for the Ucon­nect, five inches in the Pop and seven in the Lounge. The best fea­tures are Blue­tooth and an SMS reader.

To en­tice buy­ers, the bait in­cludes greater colour and trim choices, in­clud­ing three colours for the fab­ric roof on the Con­vert­ible. There is cream-leather trim on the steer­ing wheel for the first time.

Ex­tra stan­dard equip­ment on the Lounge in­cludes rear park­ing sen­sors, sat­nav and new 15-inch al­loys.

ON THE ROAD

Hon­estly, I feel no dif­fer­ence in the up­dated 500. There’s a lit­tle more com­pli­ance in the ride but the im­prove­ment is mi­nor.

The tiny TwinAir en­gine has been dropped — few will miss it — but the ba­sic 1.2-litre en­gine is still dozy with only 51kW.

The Dualogic gear­box, ef­fec­tively a robo­tised man­ual, is slow and jerky and un­der­whelm­ing in to­day’s com­pet­i­tive show­room scene.

The costlier choice is also the bet­ter pick. The 1.4-litre en­gine in the Lounge, def­i­nitely with the six-speed man­ual, is the driv­e­line to go for.

The Ucon­nect works well and I re­ally en­joy the big­ger touch­screen in the Lounge.

The cream-coloured wheel is a tasty ad­di­tion and the con­vert­ible 500c with its elec­tric fold­ing roof is a bunch of fun.

VER­DICT

The mi­nor tweak for the 500 in 2016 is not likely to make much of an im­pact on buy­ers, even though the charis­matic lit­tle Ital­ian is a pop­u­lar choice in the trendier sub­urbs of Syd­ney and Mel­bourne.

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