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First drive: Fiat 500C Hybrid. Image by Fiat.

First drive: Fiat 500C Hybrid
Has Fiat left it a bit late to make the 500 into a hybrid model? And has the Italian company done enough with its part-electric tech?

   



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Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Fiat gives its huge-selling, 13-year-old 500 city car one last shot in the arm, courtesy of a mild hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV) drivetrain. It's a noble effort from the Italian brand, but is it electrified enough and has it come soon enough, given that we're going to ban the sale of petrols, diesels and hybrids by 2035?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition
Pricing: 500 range from 12,375, 500C from 15,025; Hybrid Launch Edition from 16,795 as tested
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol with 12-volt mild-hybrid electrical system incorporating 3.6kW belt-integrated starter generator and 11Ah lithium-ion battery
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: two-door MHEV city convertible
CO2 emissions: 88g/km (VED Band 76-90 Alternative Fuel Cars: 100 first 12 months, then 135 annually thereafter; NEDC-correlated)
Combined economy: 53.3mpg (WLTP)
Top speed: 104mph
0-62mph: 13.8 seconds
Power: 70hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 92Nm at 3,500rpm
Boot space: 182-550 litres

What's this?

It's a very green, both in a literal and metaphorical sense, Fiat 500. You should know what these things look like by now, given that the Italian marque has sold millions of the little blighters since 2007, and so there's no point focusing on the general appearance and interior of this city-dweller's favourite. What we can say is that, like its Panda Hybrid cousin, the 500 Launch Edition (which we're testing here as an open-top 500C LE) is finished in Dew Green, has round 'Hybrid' logos on its B-pillars and a Hybrid badge on its boot, enjoys larger alloys than the Panda with a set of 16s, and has a cabin that is enlivened by Seaqual seats and a matte-effect green dashpad. As the 500 has a more advanced interior than the Panda, with a touchscreen for the infotainment and a digital instrument cluster, various hybrid-related displays - such as a power-flow graphic in the dial in front of the driver, which shows where the energy reserves are going in the 12-volt system - further up the ambience of the Hybrid Launch Ed, but certain items which are standard on the Panda Hybrid Launch Edition are options here (like parking sensors and climate control), while satnav, DAB and a Beats sounds system are further cost upgrades.

How does it drive?

As the 500C is a lighter, smaller car than the Panda, it has marginally more impressive performance and eco-stats. It'll crack 100mph flat out, for instance, and is said to be nine-tenths of a second quicker to 62mph from rest than its boxier stablemate, while it trims another gram/kilometre off the CO2 emissions and pushes the fuel economy to more than 53mpg on the WLTP cycle. And yet, we can't help but feel that we prefer the Panda Hybrid.

This is because the 500C is a fair chunk more expensive than the Panda, while it is obviously nothing like as practical. It may look cuter on the outside and have the more upmarket dashboard, but the rear-seat space is minimal and the boot tiny. Add into that a ride which is firmer and less forgiving than the Panda, and no particular sensation that the 500C is the more rewarding car to drive in terms of its cornering prowess (it is more composed in the bends than the Panda, but it's not thrilling by any measure), and you can see why our loyalties lie elsewhere within the Fiat petrol-electric stable.

Not that the 500C Hybrid is a bad car, of course. In fact, it's rather appealing and people who adore the 500 (of which there are many) will lap it up. With the hood down, you can even better hear the rasping of the Firefly's exhaust between 3,000-4,000rpm, while there's enough zip about the Fiat to ensure that it can mix it in the cut-and-thrust of city traffic, far better than you'd expect a car with 70hp and 92Nm would be capable of. It's just about refined and muscular enough that venturing out of town shouldn't be a terrifying experience, and it has a light set of controls with good visibility out in most directions; unless, of course, you want to drop the 500C's distinctive soft-top all the way, in which case rear visibility becomes laughable.

Verdict

What saves the Fiat 500C Hybrid from ignominy is the charismatic three-cylinder engine. Having previously loved the turbocharged TwinAir two-cylinder unit, we're amazed to find there's now a powerplant for the 500 which we think sounds even better, albeit it doesn't haul anything like as hard as its 105hp forebear. Nevertheless, the 500C Hybrid achieves what its maker set out to do - provides a cleaner, more socially acceptable version of its global-sales darling, in order to plug an obvious gap in its portfolio until the EV 500e arrives sometime next year. There's nothing even remotely game-changing here, then, but the 500 Hybrid should find plenty of keen buyers despite that fact.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Safety

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 10 Feb 2020



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2020 Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.

2020 Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.2020 Fiat 500C Hybrid Launch Edition. Image by Fiat.








 

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