Ital­ian job now look­ing more like it’s a steal

NT News - Motoring - - CARS GUIDE - By CRAIG DUFF

NOW the retro cutie is po­si­tioned where it al­ways should have been

A drive-away price of $14,000 for the 500 Pop gives Fiat the cheap­est three-door hatch in the light-car class. Fiat says the mix of main­stream pric­ing will help reignite Aus­tralians’ pas­sion for the Ital­ian mar­que.

At this price they could be right but the ‘‘DuoLogic’’ roboti­cised man­ual trans­mis­sion won’t be a sell­ing point. VALUE Fiat has gone one up on VW with its pric­ing. The drive­away deal un­der­cuts VW’s $13,990 Up sticker price and is thou­sands cheaper than the other three-doors— Kia Rio, Opel Corsa and Toy­ota Yaris.

The 500 Pop uses a 1.2-litre engine with a five-speed man­ual that drives ev­ery bit as well as the Up. Mov­ing up to the Sport adds an­other ra­tio to the gear­box and a 1.4-litre engine with auto stop-start.

The range-top­ping Lounge uses Fiat’s ‘‘TwinAir’’ twocylin­der engine that is the pick of the range but can only be had with the DuoLogic auto.

Cabrio ver­sions are $2400 dearer than their hatch equiv­a­lents but only have the DuoLogic. All mod­els have elec­tric mir­rors and win­dows and voice­con­trolled Blue­tooth soft­ware. TECH­NOL­OGY The 875cc TwinAir engine uses valve man­age­ment to de­ter­mine how much air to pump into the tur­bocharged twin, re­gard­less of throt­tle open­ing.

Fiat says this low­ers fuel con­sump­tion and emis­sions by about 10 per cent, while giv­ing 10 per cent more power and 15 per cent more torque com­pared to a con­ven­tional engine of the same size. DE­SIGN Retro chic is the 500’s sig­na­ture look and turns heads as few small cars can. The front seats are good for the in­tended use — city driv­ing — but lack the bol­ster­ing to sup­port en­thu­si­as­tic driv­ing.

The rear seats are for the kids ex­cept in emer­gen­cies but the same ap­plies to many light cars.

The in­te­rior is a spread of hard plas­tics, bro­ken up by a colour­coded strip along the fas­cia. Not sur­pris­ing, given the car dates from 2007, but fit and fin­ish gen­er­ally are good.

The big in­te­rior is­sue is the lack of a glovebox. The 500 has a stor­age com­part­ment un­der the pas­sen­ger’s seat but it isn’t nearly as con­ve­nient as be­ing able to keep the valu­ables out of sight in the glovebox. SAFETY Seven airbags and a solid chas­sis earn the 500 five stars from the crash-test­ing au­thor­i­ties. ANCAP rated it at 34.91/37, not­ing there was a ‘‘slight risk of se­ri­ous chest and leg in­jury for both the driver and pas­sen­ger’’ in the off­set crash test. In

Top Gear host Richard Ham­mond drives a Fiat 500 (the TwinAir), so it’s not a girls’ car, ap­par­ently.

He drives a man­ual, though, and Aus­tralian buy­ers can’t get that com­bi­na­tion here. As it is, the DuoLogic slush­box does its best to sub­due the TwinAir engine’s torquey na­ture by slur­ring up­shifts and con­sis­tently us­ing too high a gear. It might be good for fuel econ­omy but it isn’t fun in fully au­to­matic mode.

And the 500 is a fun car to drive. The light­weight steer­ing still has good feel and hav­ing the wheels pushed out to the cor­ners gives the lit­tle car sur­pris­ing com­pe­tence through the turns.

Sus­pen­sion is firmer than Asian ri­vals but it rides re­spectably at city speeds and fits into gaps that will amaze oth­ers. VER­DICT Fiat is on the money with the re­vamped 500 range. The price and spec­i­fi­ca­tion are more than com­pet­i­tive and it’s en­joy­able to drive. All it needs is an au­to­matic with the abil­ity to match the rest of the car.

The Fiat 500 of­fers retro good looks and fuel econ­omy at a very com­pet­i­tive price

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