Having taken virtually every motor industry rule and broken it, Fiat’s 500 range takes small car manufacturing to whole new levels. With outstanding economy, fuel efficiency and a powerful performance, the 500 seems too good to be true. The all-new third generation car is available in EV or mild hybrid guise.
The goodHugely popular and for very good reasons - design, performance, economy and plenty of fun
The badSpace limited for back seat passengers
Fiat 500 EV Cabriolet Icon – First Drive (2020)
The fun and funky Fiat 500 has always drawn iconic status and was the ‘must-have’ city run-around for trend-setters when it was launched back in the late 1950s.
An all-new second generation model followed in 2007 but now it has all changed again with a modern electric version.
It is the Fiat Group’s first all-electric car and this third generation little 500 is completely new. But the Italian car maker is not turning its back on its roots and has even returned to the original birthplace of the 500 in Turin to build the car at the Mirafiori Plant.
With a driving range of up to 199 miles between charges, Fiat claims the new reinvention of the 500 is more sustainable, connected and autonomous with engineers able to start from a blank canvas.
Customers can choose from four trim levels called Action, Passion, Icon and a limited-run, fully loaded launch model called La Prima. Prices range from £22,995 to £29,995 and there are also two battery sizes to select from – the 24kWh will be ideal if the car is being used mostly for city driving with its lower range of up to 115 miles and this is available on the entry-level Action models.
If longer trips are more likely, then the larger 42kWh battery will be best suited with its range of up to 199 miles. The lower-powered car has a top speed of 84mph while the higher-powered models can reach 93mph. Both versions can sprint from 0-60mph in 9.0 seconds.
Lovers of open-top driving will be delighted to learn the 500 is also on sale in convertible guise in the top three trims, with prices starting from £29,145 and rising to £32,995. This makes it the only fully electric, four-seater, convertible currently on sale.
And it was the wind-in-the-hair driving experience we opted for by testing the 500 EV Cabriolet in Icon trim level, powered by the larger 42kWh battery, costing £27,645 (after the Government’s £3,000 Plug-in Car Grant had been deducted).
These 500 models are the first FCA cars to be kitted out with the new Uconnect 5 infotainment system which is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and can be used in wireless mode too.
There is a smart 10.25-inch high-definition touchscreen with sharp graphics and a generous amount of on-board kit to be explored, including TomTom navigation, automatic air conditioning, a DAB radio and a 7-inch digital display cluster. There are even some neat graphics of the Turin skyline as a gentle reminder of the car’s heritage.
Comfort levels are high with excellent driver visibility and all the controls, dials and readouts are perfectly positioned for ease of use.
There are three drive modes to choose from – Normal is ideal for everyday use, Range increases the regenerative braking and means the car can be driven using just the accelerator pedal, and finally Sherpa which limits the top speed to 50mph and cuts off features such as the air conditioning to maximise battery levels.
The material roof slides back and forth and lowers completely onto the boot lid at the press of a button. And this takes about 25 seconds and can be completed at speeds of up to 62mph.
One of the biggest attractions of the Fiat 500 over the years is its all-round fun factor and charm, and that is just as apparent in the latest generation of cars. Despite its compact stature, the 500 boasts sharp acceleration with plenty of zip and grip to tackle country lanes. It is quick out of the starting blocks with instant torque as you drive along in complete silence.
The finger light steering is lovely in busier town centres with lots of weaving through traffic, but not so much fun on faster B roads where a little more feedback would be welcomed. And you do feel a little vulnerable on motorways with juggernauts thundering alongside.
But the new 500 has grown a little – it is 6cm longer, 6cm wider and the wheelbase has been increased by 2cm which means extra cabin space and more legroom for occupants.
The interior is modern and upmarket in its design with seats that are made from recycled materials, so it’s being kinder to the environment with its build as well as its power source.
The Fiat 500 also offers level 2 autonomous driving with intelligent adaptive cruise control, lane centring, intelligent speed assist, blind spot monitoring, attention assist, along with 360-degree sensors to provide a drone-like view to help avoid any obstacles when parking.
The upgrade in connectivity means many additional functions are now available on the Fiat 500. For example, there is My Remote to check the battery charge from a smartphone and schedule its charging, lock or unlock the vehicle and pre-set the climate control. My Navigation means you can programme in a route and see charge points along the way. My Assistant will call the breakdown services if needed. My Theft Assistance tracks the car. My Wi-Fi is a hotspot that connects up to eight devices and, finally, My Car checks the condition of the vehicle from tyre pressures to scheduled service reminders.
All in all, Fiat has taken the success story that is the hugely popular 500 model and improved on every aspect without compromising on its character along the way. The new Fiat 500 is on sale now in EV or mild hybrid format with first deliveries due in March.
Fiat 500 Twin Air
If you had told me in the past that a car powered by a tiny 875cc two-cylinder engine would offer a brilliant ride packed with power and performance, I would have laughed in your face.
But now, that dream has become reality thanks to the genius of Fiat’s TwinAir concept which is being debuted in the 500 range.
Yet Fiat believes in downsizing with no compromising on the performance or drive quality and that means despite just 85bhp, the TwinAir turbo-charged car can deliver a top speed of 108mph, 0-62mph in just 11 seconds, fuel efficiency of 68.9mpg and carbon emissions of just 95g/km and that makes it the lowest emissions petrol engine in the world.
And Fiat has very clear ideas on who its buyers will be – trend-setters, fun seekers, those that are environmentally-conscious and fascinated by new technology and generally anyone who is looking for outstanding value for money.
That’s because the TwinAir comes packed to bursting with top-notch creature comforts and bags of technical wizardry as standard. So for a starting price of £10,665 you can get a car that boasts excellent savings on fuel costs, is tax free and great fun to drive too.
The cabin is deceptively spacious and the vehicle’s bubble shape means there is plenty of headroom for all occupants.
The trim is very eye-catching with the interior dash matching the exterior colour and neatly finished off with a blend of cream controls and dials.
A few of the great features fitted to the TwinAir Fiat 500 include a fixed glass sunroof with sunblind, leather steering wheel (cream trim again) with audio controls, start/stop technology and gear shift indicator to further improve fuel efficiency, electric front windows, 15-inch alloys, body-coloured electrically adjustable heated door mirrors, air conditioning, an audio system with CD player and MP3 compatibility and remote central locking.
The boot is quite generously-sized for such a small vehicle and can be increased thanks to split-folding rear seats with adjustable headrests. Many other manufacturers could learn a lesson from this as, oh too often, rear headrests severely obscure a driver’s view through the rear window.
First impressions were very positive, but it was the drive itself that proved most surprising. I expected the TwinAir to struggle when it came to sharp acceleration and pulling power, but it proved me wrong – very wrong indeed.
For the small car packed a mighty punch as it cruised at higher speeds – uphill and carrying two adults. And it always seemed to have a little bit more to give.
On windy roads it hugged the bends for fun and the comfort levels were extremely good as the suspension ate up all the lumps and bumps on today’s roads.
The five-speed manual gearbox was very smooth and responsive and the engine’s power just kept on delivering whatever the circumstances. All in all, quite a performance.
And there has been no compromising by Fiat on safety aspects either as the vehicle maintains its five-star EuroNCAP safety rating and includes anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, seven airbags, anti-slip regulation and plenty more besides.
It seems that this vehicle is just too good to be true, but if I had to find fault they would be quite trivial pickings such as the slightly limited legroom for back seat passengers and the rather wide front safety pillar that can hinder visibility ever so slightly, but really I am being very fussy.
Fiat has proved itself to be the most environmentally-friendly brand in Europe for the last three years and with this sort of technology, it’s going to be a crown they can hang on to for some years to come.