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Driven: Fiat 500 TwinAir 105. Image by Fiat.

Driven: Fiat 500 TwinAir 105
Look really closely and you might spot this is the new Fiat 500

   



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Fiat 500 TwinAir 105

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: Retro looks, 500 still possesses bags of character, excellent 105hp TwinAir engine

Not so good: Not cheap in this specification, fuel economy dips on the motorway

Key Facts

Model tested: Fiat 500 Lounge TwinAir 105
Price: 500 range from 11,615; Lounge TwinAir 105 from 15,115, car as tested 17,480
Engine: 0.9-litre turbocharged two-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: three-door city car
CO2 emissions: 99g/km (120 road tax for first year, 140 a year after that)
Combined economy: 67.3mpg
Top speed: 117mph
0-62mph: 10.0 seconds
Power: 105hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 145Nm at 2,000rpm

Our view:

The Fiat 500 has been on sale since 2007 - no, we're not going to hark back to the 1950s original - and it remains a lovely thing to look at. In general sub-supermini city cars have become much more interesting to look at, but the 500 remains the class leader in terms of aesthetic appeal. And despite the fact Fiat advertises and touts the latest model as an all-new car, it's clear to see that very little has, understandably, changed. After all, the 500 sells brilliantly for Fiat, and wholesale alterations might just alienate the car's fan base.

So think of this as a long-overdue facelift for a model which is nearly a decade old. Chief among the changes externally are: some headlights with a triangular motif within them; the displacement of the daytime running lamps to units on the front bumper; a slightly different lower front grille; and at the rear, triangular hoop back lights with a body-coloured centre section in their midst. Inside, a lovely seven-inch TFT instrument cluster is available (at a cost of 275, mind; it's fitted to this car) and the five-inch Uconnect touchscreen makes an appearance. For 600, you can add TomTom navigation with DAB radio, which - again - this car has. Overall, the 500 still looks marvellous, outside and in, but we have some reservations about our test car. And they relate to its particular colour scheme.

Now, in this enlightened age, it's not exactly correct to suggest that a car will only be bought by certain demographics, but there can surely be no arguing that it would take a thick-skinned male purchaser with a particularly strong sense of self-indulgence to be able to get away with a Fiat 500 in Glam Coral pastel pink (350) with a Scottie second skin (850). The interior, which repeats the pink alongside cream highlights and a tartan cloth seat trim, is similarly effeminate; a risky tactic, you might think, to potentially put the car off-limits to many young buyers. But focusing on a female clientele is a move which continues to serve Fiat well. And besides, other colours are available for the 500.

We'll outline the other options fitted to this car at this point, seeing as we've mentioned a few items already. As a Lounge, that means the 500 is top-spec and without any extras fitted, this TwinAir 105 is the second most expensive variant of a ten-model line-up at a robust 15,115. And on top of the exterior treatment, the satnav and the TFT cluster, a set of tasty 16-inch alloy wheels (400), automatic climate control (300) and an electrochromatic rear-view mirror (125) pushed our car to a meaty 17-and-a-half grand. You could get a pretty decent spec Nissan Juke for that money, never mind most of the 500's natural rivals. And don't forget the Panda upon which the 500 is based is also cheaper. You have to really want style over substance to go for the funky Fiat.

You'll be rewarded if you do, though. The rest of the 500 package remains largely the same as ever, which means it's a fine little city car. It doesn't have the best chassis in the world - the larger, more expensive and similarly stylish MINI is ahead on this score - but as it only clocks in at 940kg and it has a 2.3-metre wheelbase, the 500 is pretty good fun to chuck about in the lanes. It resists understeer rather well and proves to be reasonably grippy to boot, which makes maintaining pace an entertaining game, despite the fact the steering is airy-fairy and there's a fair amount of body roll. Also, you'll want to select Sport mode all of the time instead of Eco, because in the latter the throttle response is dreadfully woolly.

Not that the TwinAir 105 is underpowered for its size, however, because this is the fastest 500 short of an Abarth model. It still doesn't like to rev out to the optimistic redline on the tachometer, as once you pass 5,500rpm the power drops away alarmingly and the Fiat begins to wheeze. But shifting earlier brings suitably decent acceleration and that superb two-pot gargle; the 500 TwinAir truly doesn't sound like anything else on the roads, save for other Fiats with the two-cylinder engine. Better than that, compared to the 85hp pre-facelift 500 TwinAir we drove a few years back, the extra 20hp makes a big difference on the motorway. The 105hp car is much more comfortable amid the 2.0-litre diesel execs barrelling along our motorways, although - as with all TwinAirs - once you start driving it quickly, the fuel economy tumbles. We'd been seeing more than 50mpg until a 220-mile return trip to Stansted dropped that to 48.5mpg (recorded across 400 miles at 45mph average). Nevertheless, as there are no longer any diesel options in the 500's line-up, this is about as good as you're going to get.

Modest the makeover may have been, but once again Fiat has done enough to keep this nine-year-old 500 feeling fresh. It's still the most charismatic machine in its class, especially with that magnificent 105hp TwinAir engine, but you'll need to pay quite a lot of money to get a car in a similar specification to our test vehicle, and you sacrifice a lot of practicality in terms of rear seat and boot space (185 litres!) compared to rivals as a result. Still, we don't expect that will hurt the Fiat 500's showroom appeal. Just make sure you don't buy one in Glam Coral pink and you'll be fine.

Alternatives:

Hyundai i10: Such is the pace of change in this sector that the i10 feels like an old friend - we still love it due to its sharp styling, appealing interior and superb refinement.

Toyota Aygo: Funky X-faced exterior makes this the most interesting of the PSA/Toyota tiny tots. Not as nice inside or to drive as the 500 TwinAir, but considerably cheaper.

Volkswagen Up: Volkswagen has updated its Up and as ever, it remains a classy if pricey machine, yet lacking the charm of the Fiat 500.


Matt Robinson - 1 Jul 2016



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