How work­ing smarter not harder means lower costs, less fuel and a lighter car­bon foot­print

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - FIRST DRIVE JONATHAN CROUCH


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?

Driv­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence

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

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