Mini Cooper 2014 review: road test
Designing a new Mini isn't easy. As with the Porsche 911, Fiat 500 and VW Beetle, a new Mini must not stray too far from the original.
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Is retro style that apes a 1950s Euro-classic still cool in 2014? The Fiat 500’s recent Australian sales figures certainly suggest so.
Over the past 12 months, local sales the pint (or pinta) sized modern version of the original 1957 Cinquecento have more than doubled, despite its design dating back to 2007.
Niche models like the Fiat 500 tend to have a relatively brief market appeal compared to more mainstream designs, but the 500 was given a significant appeal injection in June 2013 in the form of a new base Pop grade with surprisingly mainstream drive-away pricing of $14,000.
The new ‘Series 3’ version of Fiat’s equivalent of the reborn Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Beetle extends drive-away pricing across the range, but are the new higher price tags justified by other spec upgrades?
Continuing with the existing Pop, S, and Lounge trim levels, the entry Pop hatch manual ambitiously now kicks of $3000 dearer at $17,000 drive-away. Drive-away pricing has been fixed at $1000 more than the list price (before on-road costs) across the board, and the Pop manual’s new $16,000 list is actually just $1000 more than the $15,000 list the variant has carried since February.
The mid-spec S hatch manual now lists at $19,000 (up $2100), but can be had for $20,000 drive-away.
The S introduces a new seven-inch colour LCD instrument display, which includes a digital speedo, tacho and trip computer info.
With the dash-button Sport mode selected, the 500 S’s throttle response is sharpened and the instruments change to a sportier display that includes a g-force meter.
The top spec 500 Lounge now lists at $22,000 (up $1700), but can be had for $23,000 drive-away.
The Lounge also scores the new instrument display, but the Sport button is replaced by an ‘eco’ mode which changes the screen mode to include an efficiency meter. Efficient driving is further encouraged with the driver able to earn ‘eco trophies’.
All three grades continue to be available as a sliding roof convertible with the Dualogic auto, and cost an extra $2500 over the respective hardtop auto variants.
The 500 lineup is now available in the new Mint Milkshake and Vanilla Ice Cream hues, plus the S-specific Blue Jelly Bean metallic in addition to the 11 existing colours.
The Pop’s interior has also been given a lift with contrasting colours used on several interior surfaces, in addition to the body-colour dash panel and leather steering wheel.
The 500 continues to offer a broad array of personalisation options, including 16 different interior options across the three trim levels.
Pop models continue to use the 51kW/102Nm 1.2-litre petrol four cylinder engine, which carries a 5.1L/100 official combined fuel figure with the standard five-speed manual transmission.
Likewise with the S, with an unchanged 74kW/131Nm 1.4-litre petrol four with a standard six-speed manual, and a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.1L/100km.
The 63kW/145Nm 0.9-litre two-cylinder TwinAir engine is still exclusive to the top-spec Lounge. While it may trail the S 1.4 for power, but its meaty torque figure and stop/start system help to make it the most efficient petrol engine on the market at 3.9L/100km. The Lounge continues with the five-speed Dualogic automatic as the sole transmission.
Both the Pop and S hatches continue to be available with the Dualogic auto as a $1500 option, which saves 0.1L/100km on the Pop and 0.3L/100km on the S.
All Fiat 500 variants continue with a maximum five star safety rating, with seven airbags, stability control with EBD and hill assist, along with Isofix child seat mounts for both rear positions.
Despite its now seven-year vintage, the 500 is still a surprisingly refined for its size. Even the base Pop’s interior is tangibly more ‘premium’ and the drive experience is more solid than cut-price rivals in the sub-light segment.
Aside from a surprisingly compliant ride, this perception of solidity is aided by heavier than expected steering, which is meaty in feel with a thick rimmed leather steering wheel on all variants.
Some may be surprised by the absence of cruise control from the 500’s spec sheet, but this is still a rarity in vehicles of this size.
Where fitted, the canvas convertible roof does transfer an expected level of further road noise, and despite its smaller boot opening (in lieu of a hatch), the convertible impressively loses just 3-litres of seat-s up cargo space.
The base Pop’s interior steps up a notch with new dual colour inserts in addition to the body colour dash panel, and the rest of the retro-styled inside looks and feels as appealing as when the model first arrived.
The back seat isn’t the most comfortable place for long journeys, but there’s a surprising amount of room back there for two adults.
We drove all three engines at the Series 3 500’s local launch, and the Pop’s 1.2 is spritely enough for around-town work, but merely adequate on the open road.
The S’s 1.4 brings a welcome performance edge, but the most characterful 500 powerplant is still the 0.9-litre twin cylinder in the Lounge.
The turbocharged two is surprisingly punchy, but the Dualogic auto is still ponderously slow on up and downshifts, regardless of throttle input. The twin cylinder is available with a manual transmission in other markets, but Fiat’s Australian arm cites a lack of local demand for manuals in the 500’s top-spec.
The twin cylinder isn’t as smooth as the fundamentally better balanced four cylinder engines, but there’s a definite charm to it, and the turbo torque delivery feels stronger underfoot.
The new Series 3 changes make the modern 500 better than ever, but aren’t quite enough to justify the price jump from an intellectual standpoint.
Fortunately for Fiat, the seven year old 500 design has maintained its intrinsic appeal, and still stands out among the fresher retro models from VW and Mini.
|By Gucci||1.4L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO||$11,110 – 15,180||2014 Fiat 500 2014 By Gucci Pricing and Specs|
|Lounge||0.9L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO||$10,729 – 15,990||2014 Fiat 500 2014 Lounge Pricing and Specs|
|Pop||1.2L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO||$7,999 – 13,990||2014 Fiat 500 2014 Pop Pricing and Specs|
|S||1.4L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO||$9,990 – 14,977||2014 Fiat 500 2014 S Pricing and Specs|
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