Thursday, 19 March 2015

REVIEW - Fiat 500C TwinAir Cult

Fiat has seemingly based its entire model line up around the 500. And that comes as no surprise. Ever since it first hit the roads in 2008 it has been a vastly popular car. It seemed to pick up the ‘cute’ mantle that the Mini dropped, and went onwards and upwards from there. So it was without hesitation that I took the opportunity to test one for a week. This particular model was a 500C- which stands for convertible- Fiat’s 0.9-litre TwinAir. I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel.

Looks – 9/10

Although the new 500 has grown by a fair amount, Fiat has managed to capture the essence of the original. And that’s certainly a good thing. The whole shape is curvy and cute. From the big round headlights at the front to the rear arches and funky tail lights at the back, the 500 is well proportioned. It manages to look smaller and daintier than it actually is. With some extremely stylish 16-inch wheels, and touches of chrome, I was suitably impressed. And I like the smaller touches, such as the little spoiler built into the fabric roof. And I like how the roof folds down into a neat pile. The retro/modern balance works well on the 500, and I can see why it’s been so popular.

Step inside and the funky image continues. There are more round features, from the new-and-improved dashboard display, to the radio and heater buttons and even the air vents. The seats were my favourite feature of the cabin; the leather featured in this model really became a focal point. The white dashboard really stood out as retro and stylish too. I must confess that the cream plastic didn’t look the highest quality, but I think overall the interior works well. The chrome door handles are very nice, and the overall contrast of black and cream gives a good balance to the interior brightness. That being said, you can let a whole lot more light in by putting the roof down…

Handling/Performance – 8/10

Having reviewed the Panda with a TwinAir engine, I certainly knew the potential it offered. But coupled to the 500, it just works on another level. You get 105PS and 145Nm of torque from the 0.9-litre, two-cylinder turbocharged motor. And best of all, power goes to the road via a 6-speed manual gearbox. 0-62mph is dealt with in 10 seconds and the top speed is 117mph. In a car this size that’s plenty, but to drive the 500 felt much nippier than the figures suggest. There’s a hint of turbo lag but this soon translates into a forward surge. I found you are really able to work the gears to get the most out of the car, which makes you feel more involved in the driving.

Thanks to a relatively small body, with little overhang, the 500 handles rather well. The steering lacks feel, but is rather responsive, and the seats offer enough support to allow you to chuck the 500 about a bit. There’s plenty of grip from the tyres, and not quite enough power to encourage understeer. The 500 does corner relatively flat though, which is a good trait. The suspension is comfortable when you potter round town but then seems to come to live when you start driving like an Italian (forgive the stereotype!).

Economy – 10/10

The beauty of a 0.9-litre engine comes with the rate at which it sips fuel. On a combined cycle (when you’re not driving like an Italian) the 500C will do 67.3mpg which means it will definitely go further on a tank of fuel. And you can forget about paying road tax too. Thanks to the start/stop technology and the small engine the CO2 emissions of the TwinAir fall in Band A at 99g/km. That means free road tax in every year, and that’s more money in your own pocket. The 6-speed gearbox means that on longer cruises the 500C gives good miles per gallon, and then when you head into town the start/stop system comes into life. I wasn’t so keen on them at first, but you do see the benefit when you’re forever at a zebra crossing or red light.

Practicality – 8/10

For what looks like a small car, the 500C is rather practical indeed. The boot opening is limited by the convertible roof, but Fiat have come up with a rather clever hinge which makes the most out of it. Although you won’t be getting two huge suitcases in there, there is enough room for some food shopping. The 500C is a four seater, but because of this you can get four adults in it. The rear leg room is good, although I don’t think the rear seats would be the most comfortable on a long drive. The whole point of the 500C though is to get the roof down. This is done easily enough; a simple push of a button will do it. There are two ‘stages’ to the roof retraction, the first of which keeps the back window in place a bit like a large sunroof. Another press of the button and you get the full effect, which is a great party trick to have, and certainly adds street cred when the sun comes out.

Fun – 8/10

I think the biggest reason for the success of the Fiat 500 has been that bubbly, cute styling. The whole car gives off a fun vibe even before you’ve got behind the wheel. And once you do get behind the wheel that revvy TwinAir engine, sport button and workable 6-speed box keep the fun going. The sun will eventually come out, and at this point the 500C works its magic and keeps on putting a smile on your face. I really grew fond of this car after a week with it, and driving it on a twisty A-road the TwinAir came alive. It’s a properly fun little car and puts a smile on your face. The only problem I had was driving through our village with the roof down and catching my own reflection; it just doesn’t have a very masculine image.

Concluding Remarks

So that’s the 500C TwinAir. Yet another variant of the 500, but this one closely resembles the original. It’s a brilliant engine, and is definitely the one I’d go for. The problem does come when you read the price list though. Because the 500C TwinAir Cult starts at £17,500 which does seem a bit steep to me. But I do get the appeal, and will confess to cracking a smile behind the wheel. So it could definitely be worth a look. If you want some more information pay a visit to your nearest Fiat dealer, or log on to the Fiat website where you can even try out some of the customisation on offer. And that’s all there is to it. The Fiat 500C; cute style meets fun driving.

Total Score – 43/50

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