Sweet, neat and petite still applies to the Fiat 500 though it's about 20 per cent bigger than its 1960s original.
Add affordable and it could be the perfect small car in the way its predecessor enthralled Italians who promptly filled the car with the family — numbers appeared inconsequential — and then went out and filled Italian roads.
Explore the 2014 Fiat 500 Range
From a size and price perspective, it still makes sense but the Australian car market is massive compared to the days in the 1960s. Back then the Fiat 500 cost $1100, the average annual wage was $5500 and petrol was 5.5 cents a litre.
The choice for the 500's target audience — a single motorist or, at best, a couple perhaps with a child — is now huge but it's testament to the little car that sales are buoyant and it outsells rivals such as the Volkswagen Up and Holden Spark.
The entry-level Pop model tested here is $14,000 as a five-speed manual and despite its low-rent price, gets a strong safety list, six-speaker audio with Fiat's voice-activated Blue & Me interface, electric front windows and electric mirrors. Fiat's clutchless manual, the Duologic, is a $1500 option for buyers who eschew clutch pedals. And performance.
No capped price service program from Fiat though there is a transparent menu for owners who want to crystal-ball gaze future costs. The 500 needs an annual service, has a generous three-year or 150,000km warranty and has roadside assistance for three years. The resale is 52 per cent after three years.
It's, er, a Fiat 500. Yes, it's 20 per cent bigger all around and gets twice the engine size and 400 per cent more power than the old days but it's as unmistakable as ever. You may think it's tiny — it's not — and with feather-like road manners but it seats two adults in comfort and even an extra two in the back for short rides.
The boot is barely there — it has 185 litres and same-size rival VW Up has 251 — and a few things, like a glovebox, are missing. Body-colour dashboard is actually attractive, even in the yellow, while seat material is durable and comfortable and its two-tone deign suits the attitude of the car.
The 500 platform is now shared with the four-door Panda wagon, as is most of the drivetrain options. The Pop gets a 51kW/102Nm 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, derived from the Panda's 1.4-litre effort, that holds no surprises. Fuel use is claimed at 5.1L/100km.
The five-speed manual gearbox sends power to the front wheels, so don't look in the boot for the engine. The 500 has electric-assist steering with a dash button that lightens the wheel load for city work. The steering wheel has tilt-only adjustment but the driver's seat can be raised or lowered. Brakes are front discs and rear drums and the whole thing weighs in at only 905kg.
Though diminutive, it has a five-star crash rating and seven airbags. There is electronic stability and traction control, emergency brake display, daytime running lights, a hill holder and a space-saver spare.
It doesn't drive like it looks and that's a blessing. It is quite solid on the road and hugs corners well, albeit revealing some body roll. The steering is geared a bit high — not go-kart sharp as I expected — but that absorbs a lot of road shock.
I was prepared to dismiss the 1.2-litre engine being unimpressed by the Punto's 1.4, but this one works really well — probably due more to the 500's sub-1000kg weight. The gearbox is fun, the brakes don't sap confidence and the ride comfort is very good. But the dashboard is sparse and the dials are a bit hard to read and, personally, there's no adult I'd happily put in the back seat.