Fiat 500 Lounge

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RETRO ROCKET


Back in 1957 a chap called Dante Giacosa came up with what for many was and still is the ultimate compact city car. Referred to in Italy as the Cinquecento this ultra small Fiat introduced family mobility to the masses on the proviso you discount the Italian passion for scooters. In production until 1975 engine sizes varied between 479cc to 594cc, all of them two-cylinders mounted in the rear. And unless you spent the extra and bought the race derived Abarth version, there was no such thing as a 0-60mph reason being the humble 500 couldn’t actually achieve 60mph.


A unique sales gimmick the 500 came complete with a roll-back sunroof buyers thought was a marvelous piece of standard kit. The actual reason the sunroof existed was it cut down on the amount of metal needed to make the car whilst reducing weight. As time went by the 500 was also built under license as the Austrian built Steyr-Puch whilst body variations included the Giardiniera estate and the slightly larger 600 model. All based around the basic 500 shape, it’s the enduring appeal of this little car that started Fiat down the retro route the new Fiat 500 making its appearance back in 2007.


An instant hit, from there on in Fiat can sell every one they build to a degree there isn’t a hope of any form of discount, buyers more than willing to pay full price. Similarly, the modern 500 has become the must have fashion item, the car rated as most women drivers must have car. Add in numerous variations such as colours, a plethora of accessories and limited editions and the new Fiat 500 has now outdone the original. Move on eight or so years and Fiat has updated their bambino going even more retro, the original new 500 maybe not quite close enough to the model that started it all off.


A car that has become as nearly omnipresent as the original 500 the changes are to say the least subtle. Apart from the fact that just like its immediate predecessor it’s slightly larger than Giacosa’s design, the profile is as near to the 1957 car as modern automotive production and safety parameters will allow. The famous frontal moustache has now become more predominate with a longer, more pronounced chrome bars and deeper air intake whilst the rear lights now incorporate a body colour keyed central insert.


Sat in the case of the tester on black multi-spoke 16” alloys and 195/45 Goodyears the neatly integrated arches accentuate the wheel at each corner layout whilst emphasizing the 500’s squat, ground hugging stance. Oversized chromed handles open doors that take up over half of each side whilst the fully depth tailgate provides access to the diminutive 185 litre luggage compartment.


Inside the cabin the homage to the original continues although this time the surprisingly spacious interior provides surprising amounts of room for four full sized passengers. The grey and yellow detailed Lounge spec seating is in the main comfortable although for larger occupants the squabs are at times a little short of leg support on longer journeys. Echoing the original fifties profile the digital and fascinatingly spectacular instrument binnacle relays on going information bolstered by additional readouts contained within the 5” Uconnect infotainment/satnav screen.


Big, bold knobs and chunky controls operate major and minor functions all of which surround the high mounted gearlever, a broad black piano insert adding extra detailing. If a comment had to be passed, for a small car that carries the rather sizable price tag of the 500 on test, textured they might be but soft touch instead of hard touch surfaces would add significantly to what is actually an amusing and stylish interior.


Unlike the original the engine now sits upfront, the turbocharged twin-cylinder 875cc TwinAir petrol that sends out 105hp and 145Nm of torque to the front wheels and controlled via a 6-speed manual transmission. Once on cam the little engine delivers power and performance with levels of gusto that could only have been bred in Italy. Emitting one of the most distinct if at times unusual engine notes, whilst the engine hits maximum revs within seconds of moving off once in third gear and beyond the power the unit liberates is genuinely impressive. The thing that doesn’t set the heart beating is the economy, an average consumption of 40.3mpg over 361 test miles. Even disengaging ‘Sport’ and running in ‘Eco’ with feather light throttle use failed to improve matters all of which means approximately 350 miles per 35 litre tank of unleaded.


But if you buy a new, new 500 for all the right reasons the mpg actually become irrelevant. Why, because if the 500 appealed in the first place you bought this little Fiat for the sheer enjoyment of ownership. The almost intuitive handling makes city centres, back streets and narrow country lanes a pleasure to a level you’ll purposely go and find some. Work the gears and keep the little engine spinning and far larger vehicles are left trailing in the new 500’s dust.


Price wise the 500’s start at around £12,420 and rise to £18,890 for the convertible version whilst the Lounge as tested will set you back £14,580 inclusive of the metallic Crossover black paint and second skin camouflage. If you feel the urge to go more overtly sporting then the Abarth models are highly entertaining or keep an eye out for the various limited edition lifestyle versions that tend to feature an array of pastel colours.


Whilst the retro shape of the Fiat 500 tends to mean its at times less practical than many similar compact city cars, it’s the fact it’s the nearest and most faithful of them all when it comes to comparison to the original car. Dependant on the colour schemes the 500 is blatantly feminine, bright pink not your average chap’s first choice or go for one of the many darker colours with wider wheels and some extra chrome and it’s the modern man’s idea of what a small car should be. But whichever 500 suits you the most, once you’ve learnt how to master the throttle and get the best out of the engine, Fiat’s New New 500 puts a smile on your face quite like no other.


What MNW would like to see is a new 500 with even more retro fittings. A basic, no frills interior, suicide doors, a split rear hatch with an extension that apes the genuine Abarth and a red block engine pumping out some serious bhp, now that would be a new old-style Fiat 500 worth owning! Come on Fiat, we all know you’re more than capable of building one.  

                  


By; Mark Stone




Fiat 500 Lounge