Fiat 500

Quirky and cute

"The car's global popularity has endured, selling 1 million units already"

"The 500's cute appeal stands out"

"I can't stop smiling while in the car as it's too cute to resist!" said Ershad

"If you want a more pleasant experience then you better keep the 'Sport' button pressed and play with the semi-automatic gearbox"

The 2015 Fiat 500 is unique in its own way. It's cute and as I recall from my experience with the 2012 edition, it's fun and quirky too.

Initially, the mini car, made by the Italians post WWII in 1957, was named the 'Nuova' and was big hit in Europe where it sold a total of 4 million units until 1975. Celebrating the model's 50th anniversary, Fiat launched the new '500' in 2007 and there is no doubt that the car's global popularity has endured, selling 1 million units already.

That brings us to the big question. What have the designers done this time around?
Well, sensibly, they avoided messing around with the original design. Instead, the focus was to improve engine performance and interiors. So, the trick was to try blending its already retro design with some hi-tech gizmos. Our test car was a 'Lounge' variant, so you'd expect some extra treatment in and out.

With body color bumpers in front, the highlight is still the classic pencil moustache like chrome bar above the grille. We spotted more chrome on the door handles, tailpipe, mirror caps and a protective bar in the front and rear bumper. The 15 inch alloy wheels really stand out and bear in mind, we are talking about a car smaller than a Mini Cooper. All in all, the Fiat 500 is so cute it makes you want to cuddle with it.

The inside, however, is trickier. Many have complained about the rear seats being too tight for adult legs. But let's be honest; I don't fancy the 500 targeting the family car segment. It's a city car for two adults and two kids (or groceries) at the most. The seating position of the driver is upright with height-adjustable front head restraints and there is plenty of shoulder room. Head room was just about okay for me but someone taller than 5'10" may hit the fixed glass roof. Premium seat material is employed in a beige/red combination with the '500' logo engraved and the steering wheel is leather-wrapped with audio controls on the spoke bars and gear shifting paddles underneath. The instrument dials are the same as the classic but the inside door handles and the center gear stick crown have been chrome plated. The dash is colored in beige along with all the control buttons. There's a glass covered button for 'Sport' and hazard light buttons and for infotainment, we've got Blue&Me hands-free communication tech along with a USB port.

Moving onto the engine specs, you find a 1.4 liter MultiAir in-line four cylinder engine under the hood that provides 100 hp at 6,500 rpm and 131 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. The transmission system is a new six speed automatic with auto stick; whereas, in the past it was a 5 speed automatic setup. The 500 also holds the honor of having the world's first Fully Variable Valve Actuation (FVVA) system - this helps the engine achieve better fuel efficiency and power while limiting CO2 emission.

Being small doesn't mean you are safe, however, so Fiat has a package that starts with everything from ABS, EBD, dual stage system driver and passenger air bags, side bags, windows bags and knee bags with fire prevention system, headlight beam corrector, rapid lane change indicator being the other few add-ons at a cost.

Driving the car in fully automatic mode is a boring affair. You wonder if the engine thinks a lot and at times just dawdles. So if you want a more pleasant experience then you better keep the 'Sport' button pressed and play with the semi automatic gearbox. While you can't use the clutch manually, the gear which shifts up and down is much more engaging. The initial kick is great due to short gear ratios and lasts fine till the 100kph mark. But as we progress up the gear, I realized keeping a sense of throttle timing is vital to making the transition seamless. Aside from that little glitch in the downshift, the Fiat 500 yields an intriguing ride on its 1.4 liter engine. I didn't come across any prospect of body rolls which is surprising as the 500 has a very short wheelbase. The steering was light and responsive and in traffic, it can probably zip in and out and anywhere like a mouse. It's remarkably easy to park in a tight space and gets a lot of marks on corners with its grip on the road.

The Fiat 500 is not the most powerful car in its segment neither does it offer the most refined driving experience. The advantage, however, is that the segment is not crowded. I can see the Mini Cooper, which is a great drive but expensive, and the VW Beetle is pretty close, but the 500's cute appeal stands out. That being said, it is ultimately the buyer's desire to own it. I, for instance, can't stop smiling while in the car as it's too cute to resist!

Pros: Striking looks, economical, rev-happy in low gears, fun drive, easy parking.
Cons: Not very quick, tight rear seats, jerky in automatic mode
Rivals: Mini Cooper, VW Beetle, Alfa Romeo Mito
Engine: 1.4 liter MultiAir in-line 4 cylinder, 100hp @ 6,500 rpm, 131Nm @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 6 Speed Automatic gearbox, FWD
Performance: 0-100 kph: 11 sec, 6.5 L /100 km, top speed: 180 kph
Chassis: 940 kg

3.5 STARS

One word: sweet

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