Fiat might’ve launched its baby hatch over 10 years ago, but thanks to its award-winning design, the 500 looks like it hasn’t aged a day.
It’s a gorgeous, radiant looking thing – especially in ‘Sicilia Orange’ - but can it still cut the mustard when taken two hours north of Sydney to the hipster-dominated suburbs of Newcastle? Because, despite being a small car, the Anniversario costs a whopping $21,990 (before on-road costs and optional extras).
That said, if we bought everything with our minds instead of our hearts, we’d probably be all eating meal-replacement paste out of a tube.
Restricted to just 60 units, the 500 Anniversario is one of the most exclusive cars on the market today - rarer than some modern Ferraris even. And for less than $22,000!
As I found out after arriving at my sister’s house in Newcastle, the visual style and rarity of the Anniversario makes a big impact. I had already spotted the glances and second-looks leaving Sydney that afternoon, but it hadn’t prepared me for the response I was about to get. After a few hot seconds in my sister’s driveway, her camera was out and flashing. She never does that. I’m half-surprised Instagram handled the incoming heat!
The 500 Anniversario may be a hatchback, but it packs enough visual flair to stand out from the crowd.
The design pushes the wheels out to the far edges of the car, helping to maximize interior space.
The limited-edition Fiat 500 Anniversario is restricted to just 60 units - 9 manuals and 51 autos.
On top of the regular Fiat 500 Lounge that it's based upon, the Anniversario gets some extra visual highlights, such as slashes of chrome over the bonnet, window sills and mirror caps. They sound like minor details, but they help emphasise the special-edition’s individualism.
You also get three bespoke colour options: 'Riviera Green', 'Gelato White', and 'Sicilia Orange'. None of which are wildly impressive as the cheeky, period-inspired 16-inch alloy wheels. With a solid-fill design and chrome ‘Fiat’ caps, they’re brilliant in their own right.
The design isn’t free from issues; the sweeping rear three-quarter arch, while elegant, creates a large blind-spot from the driver’s seat. You turn to do the all-important safety check before changing lanes and… plastic. A great big beam of it.
The Anniversario's cheeky, period-inspired, 16-inch alloys are one of the car's most spectacular features.
Continuing to walk around the car, my sister’s astounded smile continued to grow. The dash-mounted gear lever, moonroof, and digital instrument cluster were all impressive features she hadn’t yet seen in a car. Nor were the Anniversario-specific details inside, like the orange plastic dash, striped partial-leather seats with orange piping, leather door inserts, and ‘Anniversario’ plaque showing my test car was number 20 of 60.
It’s a comfortable interior over longer journeys, and is sure to offer plenty of ‘60s nostalgia while having enough originality to challenge the Euro small-car status quo.
As the evening sun started to pull back over the Fiat, my sister and I began arguing over dinner. I wanted to get something on the main drag and watch pedestrians react to the Anniversario's wacky wheels, while my sister wanted to go shopping and cook up a storm at home. We ended up choosing the latter.
There's enough adjustment up front for the driver to get comfortable, and huge amounts of headroom on offer too.
As expected, there wasn't much leg, knee, or headroom behind my own (180cm) driving position.
After collecting all the necessary ingredients from the local Woolies, the boot quickly reached half-capacity. There’s only 185-litres on offer – a prominent effect of the 500’s tight dimensions – as opposed to the class-leading 255-litres in the back of the Kia Picanto, so it does fill up quickly.
The two rear seats can be folded in a split 50/50 configuration to help combat the tiny cargo space, but they don’t go down all the way and leave a large lip.
As fantastic as the bigger 16-inch Anniversario wheels may be, I was a bit worried they’d upset the 500’s ride. The evening route around Newcastle took us over a fair share of angry surfaces, speedbumps, and cobbled intersections, but neither of us were agitated by the overall experience. It’s mildly firm, but it’s nowhere near as stiff as a runflat-equipped Mini.
Wanting to find out how the Fiat 500 Anniversario handles in tight city traffic, I thought it’d be best to take it down to the promenade for an early Sunday breakfast.
On paper, the 1.2-litre, four-cylinder ‘Fire’ petrol engine doesn’t look particularly beefy. Punching out just 51kW/102Nm, the 500’s performance limits are quickly met with a zap of confident driving on open roads. But when driven at a more practical pace around urban environments, the flatter torque curve of the Italian engine impressively sustains the car with enough verve and gusto to keep up with most traffic.
The interior of the 500 is one of the most unique on the small car market.
Like the Fiat 500 Lounge that it's based on, the Anniversario gets a fixed moonroof.
All Fiat 500 models require a minimum of premium unleaded fuel, meaning regular 91-octane petrol is out of the question.
Sticking to Newcastle’s inner-city roads found the relatively quick steering and good brake feel translate into a peppy urban driving experience. It might not be as go kart-like as the sporty Mini Cooper, but it’s much sharper than the longer-wheelbased Kia Picanto and better suited to tighter areas.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen is Android Auto/Apple CarPlay compatible and features a USB and aux input, sat-nav, DAB, and Bluetooth.
Some of the buttons across the cabin look like boiled sweets. Marvelous.
A blend of darker, brighter, and softer colours make the Anniversario's cabin an interesting place to sit.
The gear lever to the single-clutch automated manual is perched up on the dashboard in order to maximise floor space.
While there are aux and USB inputs, there's isn't much space for your phone and iPod. Especially if you have drinks.
The Anniversario plaque in my car showed that it was build number 20.
The 1950's fridge-like door handles and 500 logos were neat touches that made the car feel unique.
Spare room in the 500's glovebox is tiny, barely holding enough space for the owner's manual.
Additionally, you can even lighten up the Fiat’s steering with the ‘city’ function. Press a small button to the left of the hazards and assistance from the power-steering system will be boosted, making lock-to-lock turns even easier.
While getting brekky wasn’t the solo trip I was hoping for, it did at least provide some feedback on the rear-seat experience. My sister volunteered to be the test guinea pig, a job she soon grew tired of past the 15 minute envelope. Leg and headroom were 'reportedly tight' behind my own driving position, but considering the car’s overall dimensions, it’s not much of a downside. You don’t buy a two-door micro car to squeeze people in the back.
Some would expect Fiat to include automatic headlights or wipers for that cash, like a some manufacturers do, but the Europeans aren’t as quintessentially generous when it comes to standard gear.
There also appears to be a minor oversight on the smaller things too, like the positioning of the driver’s seat height adjustment. Normally, the lever (or dial) would sit on the outside of the seat, facing the door. But due to limited space in the 500, Fiat’s engineers put the big, long, grey lever on the inside of the seat. Great! Except it’s a few centimetres away from a big, long, grey handbrake...
The 500's 51kW/102Nm 1.2-litre engine hustles along in town easily enough, but feels strained during highway overtakes.
These are minor niggles, but for a car costing around $8000 more than a Kia Picanto, which is very good, you’d at least want the basics to be sorted.
But no matter how disappointing the Fiat 500’s ergonomic or value-for-money setbacks may be, they’re overshadowed by the automated manual. Likely due to packaging reasons, and that conventional automatics sap power from the engine, the automatic gearbox in the Fiat is a single-clutch automated manual. Put simply, a five-speed manual controlled by a computer.
As expected, this generates some histrionics. Unlike a conventional torque-converted automatic that ‘creeps’ forward at a standstill, Fiat’s ‘Dualogic’ system requires a prod of the throttle to engage the clutch. Without it, the clutch remains disengaged, allowing the car to freely roll forward or backward.
A temporary space-saver spare wheel lies underneath the floor of the 185-litre boot.
On a level surface, the system works relatively well in urban traffic. On an incline, the gearbox continuously slushes between ratios, losing an average of around 5km/h per change. Eventually, it will stick to a gear, but only after most velocity has been lost. You can overcome this issue by either putting it in 'manual' mode and overriding the system, or applying an aggressive amount of throttle, but neither are really acceptable responses.
There’s also the questionable issue of noise and reliability, for every gearchange and clutch action is accompanied by the sound of complex electronic actuators loudly clicking, whirring, and buzzing underfoot. While no components fell behind their minimum operating parameters on the test, it does raise a question of reliability over time.
On top of everything, the system is a $1500 option, bumping the original sticker price up to $23,490. We’ll stick to the standard five-speed manual.
While it lacks polish in areas competently performed by its competitors, the 500 Anniversario blitzes its city-car rivals on flair and style. It’s a car for people who want a driveable accessory, or an extention to their personality, rather than a commonplace ‘product’.
While there isn’t much demand for such a niche car, the Fiat 500 Anniversario still an alluring alternative to those who want to stand out from the crowd.
Would you be happy with an Anniversario on your drive? Tell us in the comments.