Price: From £11,660 for the hatchback (500), £14,360 for the convertible (500 C)
What Fiat have managed to do with the TwinAir engine is nothing short of a giant leap in engine technology. They have applied clever engine breathing technology and applied it to a tiny two, yes, two, cylinder engine. Oh, and they have added a turbocharger to it. The net result is a petrol engine which emits the lowest emissions in the world.
The engine is not even one litre (1000 cc) in size, actually only being 0.875 of a litre or, 875 cc in motoring terms. And yet it provides a healthy 0-60 miles per hour time of 10.7 seconds, emits a laughably low emissions figure of 95 grams per kilometre and a combined fuel consumption of nearly 70 miles per gallon!
If you live in London you will not pay any congestion charge but the big news is that never has green motoring been so much fun. This little car is charisma defined.
Specifications are defined by the entry level Pop model, the next step up is to the Lounge specification and the other model being offered is Sport specification. All are available with the TwinAir engine. Confusingly, there is also a TwinAir model which has its own unique specification
The Fiat 500 has been around since 2007 and yet the looks still have not faded. It’s still as cute as punch and is so charming it could only have hailed from the tightly packed streets of Italy. Of course the looks are loosely based on the original 500/Cinquecento of the 1950s, 60s and 70s although updated for the 21st Century.
In convertible form it is European chic personified, especially in the Bossa Nova white with red contrasting roof of this press car.
It is a design that can be personalised to your heart’s content too, with endless choices of exterior detailing, including extra chrome, little Italian flags, stickers and numerous wheel choices.
The TwinAir is no different to the rest of the 500 design which is no bad thing seeing that many people buy the little Fiat based on looks alone. It certainly has the ‘I have to have it’ factor in spades!
The cute looks continue to the inside too with a decidedly retro interior. Immediately upon entering the car you are greeted with a huge plastic panel that is painted in the body colour of the car. It looks great in white with the retro large push buttons to echo the design of the original cinquecento.
You can either choose from an ivory ambience package which provides a cream coloured steering wheel along with cream head rests or, if you’re worried about dirty finger prints, you can specify the black ambience pack which turns all of the above into black instead.
Continuing the customisation theme, you can specify a multitude of different coloured interior trims and, as shown in this case, delicious red leather seats.
There is no other small car at this price level that makes you feel as good as the little 500. Have a bad day at work and then get in and sit in this little gem and I challenge you to not smile. It really is that uplifting.
Gone are the dark old days when Fiat had a certain reputation for producing unreliable cars. The 500 benefits from proven mechanicals. which have already seen good service in the Panda, and with even little things like doors closing with a satisfying thunk. Rest assured that although much money has been spent on getting the design and interior right, money was not saved on using poor quality components.
Although the TwinAir engine technology is new, there is no reason to doubt its longevity given that this range of engines will be applied to other models in the Fiat range unchanged. This illustrates the confidence that Fiat has in their product.
Indeed, several well-known motoring publications have been running 500 models over long term tests and no quality issues have been reported.
This is where the TwinAir really excels, it transforms the little 500 into a riot of a car to drive. The first thing that hits you is the engine note, which sounds like a cross between a lawn mower and a drill. Sounds awful I know, but it works as it is so characterful and begs you to take it by the scruff of its neck and drive it hard.
I have not driven a small car in recent memory that puts such a smile on your face and the car, despite its sub 1.0 litre engine, is a real performer. Like a little puppy dog, small but with endless amounts of energy. As mentioned earlier, the surge in performance is thanks to the addition of the turbo charger which means it is zippy, zippy, zippy. Perfect for town driving where you can nip in and out of gaps in traffic.
The suspension of the Fiat 500 was revised in 2010 and such changes were applied to all TwinAir models going forward. The tweaks, although slight, really help the 500 be the driver’s car it always should have been. It now corners well and the steering is of a much better assistance so that as the driver, you are more aware of what the front driving wheels are doing. Couple this with the thrust, noise and character of the TwinAir engine and you have the best 500 in the range.
A word of warning though, if you drive the car as hard as it begs to be driven , the promised fuel consumption figures go out of the window. Instead of nearly 70 miles per gallon, think low 30s. Ouch. The best thing to do is on a long journey press the ‘Eco’ button which reduces the engine power, improving the fuel economy and hopefully offsetting the drop in average miles per gallon you suffered when thrashing around town earlier in the day.
Avoiding the London congestion charge has never been so much fun!
The Fiat 500 achieved a maximum 5-star rating by the European safety agency NCAP. It was also the first car in its class to offer seven airbags and these are offered alongside a myriad of other electronic safety devices.
Rest assured, the cute looks have not come at the expense of top quality safety features. Again, we come back to the having your cake and eating it philosophy!
Given its diminutive proportions, the 500 is surprisingly spacious inside with room for four, although the passenger who draws the short straw to sit behind the driver may find legroom a little tight.
The feeling of spaciousness is amplified by the glass sunroof fitted to the Lounge models although be aware this does impact on the headroom slightly. So, if you’re approaching six feet, sit in one with the glass roof to make sure you are happy first.
The boot is ample sized but the load area can be increased by dropping the rear seats. If you have a pushchair, check it fits in the boot with the seats up first, otherwise you will be choosing between passengers and boot space.
The Fiat 500 in any specification makes for an enticing ownership proposition: Relatively good value to buy with strong second hand values and economic running costs. They also offer a wealth of ways in which to personalise your car which adds to their appeal.
Focusing on the TwinAir specifically, they are Road Fund Licence exempt, meaning no road tax to pay. If you live in London you can drive in and out without paying anything to Borris and, assuming you are liberal with the accelerator, fuel economy should be 50 miles per gallon plus. Just be aware that this TwinAir is incredibly sensitive to how it is driven in terms of fuel economy; drive it hard and its fuel economy would shame its size, use the ECO button where possible and it will offer fun and frugality too.
This is the engine that feels perfectly aligned to the 500; cheeky, cute and fun! If it is smiles per mile you are after, look no further than the TwinAir which is perfectly summed up by the statement “Frugal Fun”, just don’t let it charm you into driving with a lead foot all the time!
© Nick Johnson Motoring Journalist & Vehicle Consultant
MINI One from £11,810
Pros: Fantastic to drive with BMW quality.
Cons: Expensive when you start to add options.
Volkswagen Up! from £7,995
Pros: Strong value with excellent build quality.
Cons: Not as individual as the Fiat or the MINI.
A big thank you to Guest Fiat for the loan of this car. Please do contact us if you would like to discuss any of the above in greater detail or would like to enquire into purchasing options. As ever, let us be your personal guide to choosing your next car.