Used Fiat 500 review: 2008-2012
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Need a small car but don’t want one that’s so sensible it’s ultra boring? Then iconic Italian automaker Fiat has just the thing for you. The Fiat 500 is as far from being mundane as you can possibly imagine, yet is far more practical than you would guess from its oh-so-cute lines.
The original Fiat 500, usually called the Cinquecento (500 in Italian) was a tiny car that was a big hit when introduced in 1957 and remained on the market until 1975. Quite a few reached Australia and are now collectors’ items.
When the modern-retro Fiat 500 was introduced in 2007, exactly fifty years after the original, it too grabbed plenty of attention. Styling to match the earlier 500s was admired by all.
The new 500 - still called Cinquecento by many lovers of the marque, despite it having a range of engine sizes, none of which displace 500cc - is a couple of sizes up on the old 500, partly to provide crash protection, but also to give it reasonable interior space.
Australian imports of new Fiat 500 three-door hatchbacks began in February 2008, with a two-door convertible / cabriolet joining the range two years later. Sales weren’t particularly good as the original importer charged top dollar for the cars - they also imported Ferraris and Maseratis, so are accustomed to charging what the market will bear…
The pricing situation changed rapidly when the Fiat factory took over Australian imports in May 2012. A series of price drops - which didn’t exactly please existing owners - saw sales take off in a big way and the cute little Italian machines are now becoming a common sight on Aussie roads.
Believe it or not, four adults can fit into this tiny car with more room to move than you would anticipate, that’s principally because they sit tall in the car. The resulting high driving position isn’t initially to all tastes, but owners report they quickly become accustomed to it.
Owners say their 500s are great fun to drive and love the way that people smile and even wave to them, particularly when they’re in a convertible with its roof open. Boot space isn’t great, even less so in the convertible, but that’s the price you pay for having a reasonable back seat. Realistically, most Australian owners are singles or couples and use the fold-down back seats to increase luggage space.
The diminutive dimensions of the 500 mean it has a short wheelbase, which can result in a choppy ride at times. Around town, it’s natural habitat, the Fiat 500 is great. It buzzes around in the traffic and can be slotted into minute parking spots. On long open-road trips the busy ride and the equally busy little engine means it’s less comfortable.
Fiat 500 is sold in several models; Pop, Lounge and Sport. There’s also a hot sports version called the Abarth 500 Esseesse (try saying SS with an Italian accent and the name suddenly makes sense). Technically the Abarth isn’t sold as a Fiat, it should be referred to as an Abarth. Same with the crazily priced ($69,990) Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari that’s crammed with Ferrari type features, though it’s only powered by a 1.4-litre turbo engine.
The Fiat 500 has petrol engine capacities of either 0.9, 1.2 or 1.4 litres. The smallest unit has two cylinders (just like the old 500s), and is turbocharged. It has only been imported since 2012. The 1.2 and 1.4 are four-cylinder engines, with the 1.4 coming with or without a turbo - the blown examples being fitted in the hot Abarth tuned machines.
There are turbo-diesel options, initially with a size of 1.3 litres, which was upped to 1.4 litres midway through 2011. Given that the petrol engines are pretty economical the diesel seems like a bit of an overkill on the Australian market, but owners say they love the big torque it provides.
Transmissions are a five- or six-speed manual or a five-speed automated manual. The latter, like most of its breed, can be rough in its changes in the low gears but becomes much better in the higher ratios. Since Fiat took over importation to Australia the company has spent bulk money on constructing new offices, spare parts warehouses and appointing new dealers.
This bodes well for the future, but it’s still wise to check on sales and servicing in your locality before falling for the appealing body shape and the sheer joy of driving. Insurance rates tend to vary more than normal from company to company, something that should settle down now Fiat is again part of the mainstream. Check by clicking and/or ringing around, but make sure you’re comparing apples with apples.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
This is primarily a city car so the Fiat 500 may suffer the usual battle scars created by crowded parking areas, tight traffic and silly drivers. Check the body carefully for signs of damage or repairs to the same. Tiny repairs are acceptable, big ones aren’t.
Look at the wheels to see if they have been kerbed, the front lefts are usually the first to suffer, but have a look at them all.
Boot space is limited, particularly in the convertible / cabriolet so look for damage caused by luggage having been crammed in.
Wheels with a lot of brake dust inside them probably indicate a hard driver.
The engine should start easily and idle relatively smoothly from the moment it kicks over. The two-cylinder unit has a different note to the typical four- or six-cylinder to which the average Australian driver is accustomed. If you suspect there may be problems call in an expert.
The interior is pretty well bullet proof, but we have experienced several cars where a piece of sound absorbing foam has fallen onto the floor beneath the glovebox - strange.
CAR BUYING TIP
City cars with low kilometres may suffer from more wear and tear than country cars with much higher readings on the odometer.
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