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Driven: Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.

Driven: Fiat 500S TwinAir
Abarth-inspired looks inside and out make the Fiat 500S an appealing proposition; even more so if you fit the excellent TwinAir engine under the bonnet.

   



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| Test drive | Fiat 500S TwinAir |

Overall rating: 4 4 4 4 4

Good points: styling still looks great, especially in S trim, hugely characterful engine, reasonably quiet and capable on the motorway
Not so good: so good: not exactly cheap, been around a while now, other road users have certain expectations of who's driving...

Key Facts

Model tested: Fiat 500S TwinAir 85hp
Pricing: 12,960 basic; 15,390 as tested
Engine: 0.9-litre two-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, five-speed manual
Body style: three-door hatchback
Rivals: Ford Ka, Hyundai i10, Skoda Citigo
CO2 emissions: 92g/km
Combined economy: 70.6mpg
Top speed: 107mph
0-62mph: 11.0 seconds
Power: 85hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 145Nm at 1,900rpm

Our view:

Fiat is in the process of updating the effervescent 500 range with a new instrument display and a more powerful, 105hp version of the exceptional TwinAir turbo two-cylinder engine. But S trim came in last year and with endless rivals spewing forth into its marketplace, we thought it worth seeing if this halfway-house, Abarth-inspired model, with the 85hp TwinAir motor remains relevant.

The styling looks as la mode as it always has, and the S body kit and optional 16-inch alloys (375, as the S gets 15s as standard) eliminate the overly-cute look of the lesser trimmed cars, this model capping things off with a chromed oval exhaust. With its chunky bumpers and in Electroclash Grey metallic (nope, we don't have a clue what that means either) it's very smart, although we're aware some people will dislike it purely on principle. By the way, a metallic paintjob will set you back 460 and if you want the roof and spoiler painted black, that's another 185.

Inside is hip without being contrived, with the switchgear thoughtfully laid out and finished in decent materials. The S gets sporty seats and an Abarth-style steering wheel, which is a delight to hold. But drop the driver's chair to its lowest position and you'll still feel like you're perched on top of the 500 with your head in the roof lining. Thankfully there are enough 'big car' toys in here to make it feel special - like climate control and a Blue&Me Bluetooth hands-free system with USB connection (mated to a 270 hi-fi system with subwoofer in our test car, which is well worth getting).

Fire up the TwinAir engine and if you've never heard one before, you'll be taken aback. Most commentators during our time with it offered unfavourable comparisons with lawn mower motors, but that's doing this engine a great disservice. The tuneful chug of the two cylinders pounding away is superb; better even than a three-pot growl in this author's opinion. As this 85hp lump is shifting a mere 930kg about, the S is peppy enough and you'd be surprised how capable it is on the motorway, keeping up with traffic flow easily, the engine note dropping away to a pleasing thrum and the car returning almost 49mpg in the real world. Which is a long way from the official 70.6mpg, but there we go.

The brakes are good (although the new 105hp model gets an upgrade to rear discs from the 180mm drums on the back of this thing), the gearchange is pleasant, with well-spaced ratios and the ride is slightly firm, a bit unsettled but not uncomfortable; you can cover big distances without getting frustrated with the Fiat. The problem is the DualDrive electric power steering, which is indistinct - in that it gives you the broad strokes of what the front tyres are doing but is unwilling to get down to the nitty-gritty and discuss the minutiae. Pity, because the 500 has an enthusiastic cornering attitude that is fun, in a roly-poly way.

If you're planning on buying one of these and you're male, you need to have robust self-esteem when out and about. Van and lorry drivers will stare across at you, presumably in the hope of seeing a pretty girl at the wheel, and the disappointment on their faces when they see an overweight, balding male driving is palpable. Don't feel tempted to give them a cheery wave at this point, as it is only likely to enrage them and a Sprinter 318 is a Very Big Thing in comparison...

Talking of size, the Fiat is a clever piece of packaging. The boot is useful with a fair amount of floor space, although the sloping hatch will prohibit tall, bulky loads. Also, it has the most pointless parcel shelf we've ever seen, as it's about 2cm wide at its fattest point. The rear seats are by no means capacious, but shuffle the fronts around a bit and four adults can just about fit in, without the driver having his or her knees rammed into the underside of the steering column.

There are bigger cars in this class but as a comparison with that other modern style icon, the MINI (just released in third-generation format), the Fiat is 304mm shorter yet doesn't seem that much more cramped inside. This is because it doesn't have huge door cards and a massive great dashboard construct impinging on the cabin, while the tiny engine bay helps maximise interior space too.

The many other variants of Fiat's 500 are challenging to behold, so the straightforward hatch remains an appealing concept. It doesn't feel its seven-year age and the refreshments Fiat is serving upon the interior will only help its cause. The 500S is not cheap, but it's more reasonably positioned on price than the ever-growing MINI. For that reason, the Fiat remains relevant, and more importantly competitive in a very tough arena. Just make sure you go for a TwinAir model of any power output. It's a brilliant engine.

Alternatives:

Ford Ka: it's the same car, but it doesn't look as nice... or drive as well, strangely. Ford is about to replace it with the third-gen and we'd wait for that.

Hyundai i10: we love this thing and you can bag one a lot cheaper than this 500S. As good-looking as it is, though, for some it'll be too plain in comparison.

Skoda Citigo: the Czech car is arguably the best of the Volkswagen Group's trio of tiny tots, and it represents a compelling package - the 500 looks pricey in contrast.


Matt Robinson - 2 May 2014



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2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.

2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.



2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.
 

2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.
 

2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.
 

2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.
 

2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.
 

2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.
 

2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.
 

2014 Fiat 500S TwinAir. Image by Fiat.
 






 

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