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