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New Fiat 500 with small car retro appeal

The Original 1957 Fiat 500 in whiteFun, small, affordable and full of Italian style, the original Fiat 500 was one of the original economic supermini’s, originally launched in 1957.  Along with the cheap Austin Mini, Citroen 2CV and VW Beetle, the Fiat 500 was designed to provide cheap transport for the European population.  Production stopped in 1975, but fifty years later, Fiat re-launched the all new 500 with its distinctive retro-styling and diminutive size so reminiscent of the spirit of the original.  It went on to win 2008′s European Car of the Year and hit UK shores in January 2008 with a large media event at the London Eye.

The Fiat 500’s new styling and build quality are destined to make the small car a big seller for Fiat.  The car has received a full five star EURO NCAP crash test rating, so safety is high on this cars agenda.  A relief for parent’s who are considering buying one for their just-passed-their-test offspring.   Although based on Fiat Panda, the 500 is certainly agile and able to be shift quickly through gaps in traffic. It is reserved when driven out of town on country lanes, with good body control although the steering has a slightly woolly, disconnected feel to it. The suspension is firm and the 500 grips well even when travelling at higher speeds.  The 1.4-litre models feature stability control as standard feature and this is available as optional extra on all other models.

Steering on all models features Fiat’s Dualdrive system, which, when activated decreases the resistance of the wheel making turning it even easier, a function disabled at speeds over 44mph.  Standard equipment on the base models includes driver and passenger airbags, ABS brakes, a combination CD/MP3 player, power steering and electric windows and mirrors but there’s an extensive options list including metallic paint and parking sensors. 

New for 2009: the sportier 500 Abarth

Sportier, Turbo charged fun in the Fiat 500 AbarthThe 1.4-liter 16-valve 135 horsepower Fiat 500 Abarth benefits from aerodynamic changes to the car’s shape with updated side skirts and front and rear bumpers.  The nose of the Abarth is longer than on other 500s to accommodate the turbocharger, with intercoolers fed air by two intakes on each side of the car, while the front bumber air intake has been enlarged.

The rear bumper is integrated with an extra panel on the underside to improve airflow. This new bumper panel extends into the rear bumper and incorporates two sports exhausts which fit either side of it. A roof spoiler extends the cars lines back and over the top of the boot window.  The Albarth has had good reviews and whilst it’s much sportier than the standard chic 500, it’s still a charming and sleek small car to drive… with it’s telling motto of “small but wicked”.

Driving the new Fiat 500

The new Fiat 500 has little to do with speed and handling and everything to do engaging with it’s character and benefiting from its cheap price.  It’s dexterous and easy to drive in traffic around town and all versions of the 500 perform well in this area with gear changes being precise and the clutch light.  However maximum power is developed high up the rev range and the six speed gearbox needs work to keep the engine lively. Even gentle hills need a downshift or two, but once the engine is above 4000rpm, it’s quite speedy.  The 75bhp 1.3-litre Multijet is the most economical engine with 67mpg achievable, plus it offers decent in-gear pace.

In summary, the Fiat 500 has retro good looks both inside and out, a selection of engines and undercuts its rivals on price and iss one of the safest superminis on the road.  However, the handling is jittery and the cabin space is limited and we recommend you keep away from the base model, which misses out on air conditioning.  Buyers will go for the 500 for its characteristic looks, low price and desirability, most likely ignoring how it handles on the road.

Update

Elle Macpherson with her convertible Fiat 500 CThe Fiat 500 C convertible has been launched, with electrically operated soft-top, attracting media attention with the help of 500 owner, Elle Macpherson.  The 500 C made it’s public debut at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show in March with the UK version going on sale in July.

Fiat 500 photos and pictures

Fiat 500 in red - photoFiat 500's funky interior - photo

Fiat 500 in white, front pictureFiat 500 in white, rear picture

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