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Fiat 500 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Richard Berry road tests the Fiat 500 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.

You’ve got to go - it’ll be funny, the boss said. You’re crazy tall and it’s really tiny, we want to see you standing next to it and then trying to fit your legs into it, he said. So like some sort of circus freak I headed to the launch of the new Fiat 500. The one that looks like a scoop of ice cream, the retro version of the ’50s Italian car, yes, that one. But having clocked up close to a thousand kays in one not that long ago I knew that the only seat I’d be squashed into would be the one on the plane to Melbourne to drive it.

This new 500 is really an upgrade of the previous one. Actually this is essentially the same car that first went on sale in 2008 and it’s an upgrade of an upgrade of an upgrade, but Fiat calls it the 500 Series 4.

What’s changed this time? The styling, the line-up, standard features and, ahem, the price. Sounds like a lot has changed but it hasn’t really.

Fiat has dropped the mid-spec S from the line-up leaving just two trim levels – the Pop and the top-spec Lounge. You should also know that Fiat have raised the entry price into a 500. The Pop hatch now lists at $18,000 or $19,000 drive-away. That’s two grand more than the previous Pop and $5000 more than the drive away price in 2013.  Conversely, the Lounge is now $1000 less at $21,000, or $22,000 driveaway. Folding roof cabrio versions of the Pop and the Lounge add another $4000.

New standard features on the Pop and Lounge include a five-inch screen, digital radio and steering wheel with voice controls. Air con in the two specs has been replaced by climate control and both now have LED running lights.

The Pop gets new cloth seats and upgrades from steel wheels to the previous Lounge's alloys. The Lounge now has satnav and retains its seven-inch digital instrument cluster.

The 500 is a small car. It’s not clown-car small like the original 1957 model which is less than three metres long.

The Pop keeps its 51kW/102Nm 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, but it is 0.2L/100km more efficient with the standard five-speed manual gearbox for a combined 4.9L/100km. The Lounge loses the 0.9-litre turbo petrol two-cylinder and gains a more powerful 74kW/131Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder which was formerly in the S and continues with the previous 1.4's 6.1L/100km combined figure with a six-speed manual.

A Dualogic automated manual is an extra $1500 and is available on the Pop and the Lounge. This transmission sees claimed combined fuel consumption drop to 4.8L/100km in the 1.2, and 5.8L/100km in the 1.4.

The styling update is subtle – there’s new headlights, taillights and bumpers, but there’s total of 13 colours to choose from. Two of which are new – Glam Coral pink and Avantgarde Bordeaux maroon pictured above.

On the road

The 500 is a small car. It’s not clown-car small like the original 1957 model which is less than three metres long and 1.3m high, but at 3.5m long and 1.5m high you still feel little out of place on the highway.

The seat on the plane down was indeed cramped, but the 500’s aren’t. Even those in the back are surprisingly spacious. It’s these unexpected interior qualities that save the 500 from being ordinary – and that’s the key to this car, it’s different and it’s fun. From the retro styled dash, to the seats an door trims it’s pleasing.

The Dualogic auto with its slow and awkward shifts honestly needs to be turfed in favour of something smoother

That goes for the way it drives too. Both engines do lack grunt, with the 1.2 underpowered and the 1.4 merely adequate. It’s not that noticeable in the city, but was glaringly obvious on the country roads used for the launch.

But again what saves this car is that it’s otherwise fun to drive, it handles well, the steering is direct and accurate.

We thought the previous version was composed and the ride doesn’t seem to have changed much, despite Fiat telling us the suspension has been retuned. The Pop also gets bigger 257mm disc brakes at the front, up from the 240mm anchors on the previous version.

However, the Dualogic auto with its slow and awkward shifts honestly needs to be turfed in favour of something smoother. The manuals improve the connection you have 500 and suit its character more anyway.

The 500 has a high level of safety, too. There’s seven airbags and a five-star crash test rating.

Verdict

Fiat is really pushing the limits with the increased entry price, but they know there are people prepared to pay more for something that ‘defines’ them better. But the appeal of the 500 is not about affordability, even though that was the intention of the original 1950s cars. Today, the 500 attracts buyers because it’s unique, cute and fun.

Does the updated 500 bring enough value to justify its price tag? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Fiat 500 pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$15,990
Based on 16 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$11,990
Highest Price
$17,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Lounge 0.9L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $15,990 – 17,000 2016 Fiat 500 2016 Lounge Pricing and Specs
Pop 1.2L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $11,990 – 15,990 2016 Fiat 500 2016 Pop Pricing and Specs
S 1.4L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $15,510 – 19,910 2016 Fiat 500 2016 S Pricing and Specs
Lounge 0.9L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $15,990 – 17,000 2016 Fiat 500 2016 Lounge Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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