Fiat’s almost unbearably cute and unfeasibly small 500 has a received a reboot rather than a facelift but has copped a $2000 price rise, making it even more money for something small but hugely stylish.
WHAT IS IT?
A posh Italian handbag on wheels, or the small car you’d definitely be buying if you lived in Italy, where they sell hugely well. The Fiat 500 is a city car for properly crowded, possibly ancient cities. It sticks out on our roads with its cool Euro style, yet somehow works here as well.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
While there are no changes to the powertrains, the upgrade does bring an entirely new infotainment system that finally drags the Fiat 500 out of the 1990s. Plus there are new colours and a styling tweak, and it really is fun to drive.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Would I have one for a month if it was free? Yes. Would I buy one for my teenager if I had money falling out of my pockets (and a teenager)? Definitely. But the $20k-plus asking price for a car this tiddling seems unreasonable for a vehicle seen very much as a people’s car in Italy. Still, that can’t take away from its undeniable charm and its fun and form factors.
PLUS: Design; style; interior feel and aura; manual gearbox; fun steering and handling
MINUS: Price; lacking in power; impractical in almost every way
THE WHEELS REVIEW
ADMITTING to a love for the Fiat 500 is not unlike harbouring a secret passion for the music of Taylor Swift: it’s as inexplicable as it is irresistible.
The Fiat, which has just been facelifted, or software updated, is too small to be useful, so lacking in power you sometimes feel like you’re slipping into stasis going up hills, and is almost intentionally cute and cuddly, which should be a sin in car design.
The styling, particularly in the high-spec versions with their chi-chi leather seats offsetting the cool ivory steering wheel and accessories, makes sense, though, when 80 per cent of 500 buyers in Australia are women.
These are all reasons a man might find it hard to own up to just how charming the new Fiat 500 is once you climb inside. We tested the retractable-roofed 500C in Lounge spec extensively and found it not only strangely involving and smile-tweaking to drive, thanks in large part to the short-shifting, dash-top manual gearbox, but huge fun.
Yes, it is effectively the pocket square of cars, but its tiny dimensions make it pointy to steer, easy to park (despite having a turning circle that is, inexplicably, larger than John Goodman’s) and close to the perfect city car – as long as you don’t ever intend to carry more than one friend at a time.
The back seats may seem like a trick done with mirrors, but the front ones are comfortable enough and you’re now faced with an all-new Uconnect infotainment system, which replaces the pre-iPad-tech previous buyers had to put up with.
It’s a huge leap forward in slickness and usability, but more importantly in the looks department.
While the headroom is adequate (leaning out the window to look at anything will rend your sunglasses in twain), the tiny nature of the car can be bothersome in other ways. Presumably in keeping with the look and feel, the accelerator pedal is the size of a Paddle Pop stick and your right foot can tend to fall off. Your left foot, meanwhile, will struggle to find any comfort in the foot rest, which feels like an afterthought.
There is also an overwhelming sensation that your seating position is not so much suited for driving a car as for playing an organ in a church.
If you’re not vigilant about always being in the right gear, you can attempt traffic manoeuvres on rising stretches of road and find that you don’t have the power to make them. And yet most of the time the car feels zippy and zesty, despite having just 74kW and 131Nm in our 1.4-litre version.
Passengers always get out remarking on how fast it feels, which has a lot more to do with the way its eager nature encourages you to drive it than genuine performance.
An even less powerful version, the Pop, now starts the range at $18,000 (featuring a 1.2-litre with an anaemic 51kW and 102Nm), which is a hefty $2000 more than the outgoing, and largely similar model.
The Lounge kicks off at a lofty $21,000 and rises to $25,000 for a convertible like ours.
Aside from the Uconnect upgrade, the new price is apparently justified by 15-inch alloys replacing ugly hubcaps and a styling tweak too small to take seriously.
Model: Fiat 500C
Engine: 1368cccc four-cylinder
Max power: 74kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 131Nm @ 4250rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-100 km/h: NA
Fuel economy: 5.8L/100km
On sale : Now
Click here to read the full range review of the Fiat 500.
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