Tutti frutti cutie
THERE’S a new Fiat 500 in town. The little cutie looks much the same yet it displays a new-found maturity that should put it on more shopping lists.
The unloved two-cylinder turbo engine has gone and in its place are conventional 1.2 and 1.4-litre four-cylinder engines.
Still available is the jerky Dualogic robotised auto , a $1500 option that should be avoided.
The big story is inside, where Fiat has installed its user friendly Uconnect infotainment unit.
There’s not much to distinguish the 500C Cabrio Lounge from the last edition, externally at least. Bumpers and grille have been changed, the lights are slightly different and that’s about it.
Thankfully the basics remain intact, because it’s a design that makes the 500 arguably the best of the retros.
In the familiar cabin, the dash has been rearranged to accommodate the Uconnect head unit, relocating the two central air vents to the sides of the screen.
An import from the Chrysler side of the business, the awardwinning tech is already in the larger four-door 500X wagon.
At five inches, the screen is a little small (it’s a small car after all) but it’s more user friendly than Microsoft’s Blue & me.
Too bad the car didn’t also share the 500X’s rear-view camera and cruise control. Among other oversights, there is no fuel-saving engine stopstart.
The instrument cluster is now fully digital, another point of difference from the outgoing model.
Yes, it’s small but the Fiat 500 is a city car, designed for short hops and small spaces. With the speed limit generally 60km/h or less in most areas, the tiny hatch makes more sense than a powerful V8.
Prices start from $18,000 rising to $25,000 for our top of the range 500 Cabrio. For now it’s $26,000 drive-away.
You get to chose colours (including cool tricolour paintwork) and trims, enabling myriad combinations.
The Lounge’s 1.4-litre engine claims fuel consumption of 6.1L/100km in manual form.
The Cabrio’s power operated folding fabric roof amps up the fun factor.
Given its city role it’s not surprising to find the seats are small with short squabs that you seem to sit on rather than in. Given the steering wheel lacks reach adjustment, finding a comfortable driving position can be challenging.
The ride on 15-inch alloys is firm but OK for a European.
This one doesn’t have a safety rating yet but, with no structural changes, there’s nothing to suggest it won’t copy the previous model’s four stars.
Its TomTom navigation setup gives a warning when approaching school zones and speed cameras. It has none of the 500X’s hi-tech features such as blind spot, forward collision and lane departure warning.
ON THE ROAD
Yeah, baby — not only is it cute, this one goes too. Needing a few revs to get mobile, the 1.4-litre is a willing worker and the note from the exhaust is rewarding.
Outputs of 74kW/131Nm (the latter from a relatively high 4250rpm) mean the dash from 0-100km/h takes a pedestrian 10.5 seconds, though it feels faster.
In fact, being so small and light, with plenty of feedback, it feels as if you’re getting along at a good clip most of the time.
Pushing the Sport button (which stays activated between starts) makes an appreciable difference to the way the car responds.
The steering loads up and the car becomes more responsive to the throttle, with a chortle from the exhaust under hard acceleration.
Corners can be tackled confidently, with handling that remains controlled and predictable, even when pushed