WHY LESS IS MORE FOR NEW FIAT 500
How working smarter not harder means lower costs, less fuel and a lighter carbon footprint
REVISED FIAT 500 TWINAIR
IT’S fair to say that the Fiat 500 Twinair offers an ingenious solution to a very simple remit. Lowering running costs, consuming less fuel and emitting less carbon dioxide is a formula that manufacturers of small cars have been working to for years now, but the gains have often been marginal, mere incremental improvements that pick at the easy wins and do little to push vehicle engineering on.
Fiat sees things differently. With the innovative Twinair engine, the Italian company contends that not only can you enjoy low cost, clean motoring, but that you needn’t do it in a car that relies on battery packs or which would struggle to show a bike courier a clean pair of tailpipes. There are now two versions of this unit, offering either 85 or 105bhp.
Now that other brands are introducing downsized petrol engines into the citycar segment, does the Italian brand’s technology still stack up?
As in all the best shampoo commer- cials, this is the science bit. Forget Proretinol B5 and never mind the Boswelox, the Fiat 500 Twinair features something a whole lot cleverer. In the past, engine designers have concentrated on optimising the fuelling of an engine, such that we’ve moved from carburettors to electronic fuel injection and then to common rail architecture and direct injection.
The other half of the combustion equation, the management of air into the engine, has attracted less attention. The 875cc 0.9-litre Twinair unit uses the same technology pioneered on Fiat’s Multiair engines, replacing the camshafts of a four-valves-per-cylinder engine with electro-hydraulic control of the inlet valves, allowing the engine to breathe more efficiently.
On the road, the 500 Twinair certainly feels brisk enough, even in 85bhp form getting to 62mph in 11.0s and on to 107mph. Go for the 105bhp
version and those figures improve to 10.0s and 117mph. Push the two cylinder engine hard and it gets rather vocal, but around town refinement is more than acceptable.
Two driving modes are offered — Standard and Eco. In Eco, torque is restricted from the normal peak of 145Nm to 100Nm and the steering lightens up, which makes low-speed manoeuvring even easier. There is a noticeable change in engine note at 2500rpm, the powerplant clearly working harder as the Twinair system does its thing.
Design and Build
The interior of the 500 offers a beautifully pared-back look and feel but since the most recent revision to the range, there’s a genuine piece of modernity in the dial pack. A seven-inch TFT digital instrument display, replicates the retro aesthetic of the analogue dials, with speedometer, rev counter and trip computer all easily read.
The centre of the display — which contains a digital image of the car — can be configured to show various trip computer readouts, such as distance travelled, instant fuel consumption and range. The screen can also display media player and telephone readings and, when fitted with a Tomtom 2 LIVE satnav system, navigation information also appears in the display, including junction graphics and real time traffic updates.
The build quality feels decent with surprisingly sturdy controls. Any doubts about the mechanical integrity of the complex Twinair engineering should be laid to rest by the fact that it uses a similar technology to Honda’s impeccably reliable VTEC system, insofar as it uses engine oil as hydraulic fluid in a rugged and elegant solution that’s not overly expensive to build.
Retro green and three-layer white paint finishes are now offered and the S model is available with a striking blue. Revised alloy wheel designs, seat fabrics and leather upholsteries complete the updates.
Market and Model
Prices for fixed-top 85bhp 500 Twinair models start at around £13,500, so you’re looking at having to find a premium of around £1,500 over the more conventional petrol unit in the range, the 69bhp 1.2-litre entry-level unit. There’s a substantial £3,200 model-for-model premium to find if you want the open-air pleasures of the 500C soft-top derivative.
The least you can pay for one of these with Twinair power is well over £16,500. The pokier 105bhp Twinair engine only comes as an option on the top ‘Lounge’ and ‘Cult’ trim levels where it will cost you around £500 more.
Equipment very much depends on trim levels, so broad is the range. As well as special edition models, the line up encompasses S, Pop, Pop Star, Colour Therapy, Lounge and Cult variants, as well as the 500C convertible bodystyle.
There’s also the option of the Dualogic robotised manual gearbox which allows for clutchless gearchanges just by nudging the gearstick up and down a sequential ‘ box. Seven airbags and anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution help the 500 to a EURONCAP five-ive-star rating.
Fiat offers the optional al Blue&me infotainment t system, which features wheel-mounted and voice-activated control for the stereo, as well as logging your driving style for peak efficiency. A Blue&me Tom Tom touchscreen system integratesates navigation and phone functions nctions in a neat, removable package.
Cost of Ownership
It’s hard to argue with the bald facts. Compared to the best-selling conventional 1.2-litre petrol engine in Fiat’s 500 range, the 85bhp Twinair unit offers 23% more power and yet delivers a 15% reduction in fuel consumption and emissions. Yes, Fiat charge you for that privilege, but the asking price isn’t exorbitant and in some cases the additional cocosts could be recouped very quickly. As well as incurring zero road tax costs due to its 92g/km emissions, thet 500 Twinair is also exempt from London congestion charge fees. It’sIt probably not the sort of car we’d recommend to those covering higher mileagesmilea but it works extremely effectively in traffic, its Start&stop system making queuing a curiously serene experience.
A combined fuel economy figure of 70.6mpg won’t be seen in the urban sprawl and crawl but you should still see a number around the high forties. Go for the 105bhp Twinair powerplant and your running costs aren’t hugely affected, rising marginally to 99g/km and 67.3mpg. These are for fixed-top models. There’s a marginal reduction in these returns if you go for the 500C soft-top. Residual values of 500 models in general have held up very well and the Twinair looks set to be the engine that sparks
the highest demand, com-
bining as it does the running costs of a diesel with the perkiness of a petrol.
Working smarter rather than harder is something we can all buy into and in the Fiat 500, Fiat’s two cylinder Twinair engine has proved to a big step forward in the evolution of the city car. Although the technology might appear complicated, the end result of more power, lower fuel bills and lower emissions isn’t hard to digest.
Coupling this ingenious engineering to a package that’s as appealing as the Fiat 500 results in one that can’t really fail. We’ve heard promises of these ‘cake and eat it’ solutions so often that we can be excused for being more than a little sceptical, but here’s one that delivers on its claims.
Although we’d recommend the bigger 105bhp version of this unit if you like a little more performance (or maybe occasionally need to travel longer distances) the standard 85bhp Twinair powerplant covers all the bases for city driving. Making economies often means going without some of the things that put a smile on your face. Here’s one budgetary measure that bucks that trend.
The 500’s interior is well styled and the display contains a digital image of the car that can be configured to show various trip computer readouts