DRIVEN ➤ 2015 Fiat 500 : Il divertimento continua!
By Wayne Gorrett, Turin, Italy.
➤ Subtle external styling enhancements across three trim levels. ➤ Engine line-up tweaked to Euro6 compatibility. ➤ On sale now.
➤ The Backstory…
To meet the demands of the post-war market which called for economy cars, the original Nuova Fiat 500 was launched to the Italian public on the 4th of July, 1957.
It was developed by Italian engineer Dante Giacosa as an inexpensive and practical town car, designed to be both affordable and cheap to run as possible. It was a diminutive 2.97 metres (9ft/9ins) in length and was originally powered by a two-cylinder 479cc air-cooled engine mounted in the rear over the drive wheels. Producing just 13 bhp, the original 470kg Fiat 500 was capable of just over 50 miles per hour, was extremely fuel efficient and required only the most basic maintenance.
Production continued in various guises until 1975, with almost four million 500’s finding driveways and garages around the globe.
Spurred by earlier successes of the re-invented MINI and VW Beetle, Fiat introduced the latter-day 500 in 2007 on the 50th anniversary of the Nuova 500’s launch. Stylistically inspired by the 1957 Nuova 500, it featured a front-mounted engine and front-wheel drive.
It remained true to the philosophy of the iconic 1957 car – affordable, practical and retro-stylish and its design a perfectly executed homage to the original car.
Marketed in 100 countries and with more than 1.5 million global sales, today’s Fiat 500 is barely unchanged in the design stakes from the 2007 model.
The third chapter in the Fiat 500 story began earlier this month on the 4th of July in Turin, when Fiat revealed a refreshed Fiat 500. We were in Turin a week later to see what all the fuss was about…
➤ The Style Factory
The outgoing Fiat 500 still sells in growing numbers (2014 was its most successful year in Britain), so it’s unsurprising that the Italian recipe remains largely unchanged.
The Fiat 500 hasn’t grown in size since its reintroduction in 2007, staying true to the original 1957 Nuova 500 styling, unlike the MINI and VW Beetle.
Rather, the Fiat 500 has matured with subtle exterior enhancements, added technologies, improved engine and transmission efficiencies and increased personalisation options.
According to Fiat, there are ‘no fewer than 1,800 changes’ made to the 2015 Fiat 500. However, most of the noticeable changes are found in the front and rear styling.
The previous two Fiat 500 body styles continue with the standard 500 hatchback and 500C rag-top convertible that slides down between the car’s rear pillars, into a folded pile just above the boot – like the DS3 cabriolet.
New headlight clusters have adopted ‘polyelliptical modules’ for improved night vision and safety, which integrate the dipped-beam headlamps and turn signals. The lower light cluster integrates the high beam headlights and LED daytime running lights.
The iconic Dali ‘moustache’ remains and is joined by an additional but wider line of chrome trim directly below, while the reshaped grille is highlighted with dual ‘Dali’ chrome trims either side.
At the rear there are new ring-shaped light clusters featuring body-coloured centres which look very neat under braking and are strikingly effective at night. The fog and reversing lights are relocated separately to the edges of the redesigned bumper trim.
New alloys wheel designs have been introduced and include a 16-inch diamond-cut design and external colour choices now number 13, including two new colours of ‘Glam Coral’ and ‘Avantgarde Bordeaux’ (as driven, above). Two striking black-yellow and black-red variants are available, too (below).
There are five patterns across two ‘Second Skin’ options, the first of which runs along the belt line only, while the larger ‘skin’ option covers the upper half of all hatchback models.
➤ The Inside Story
On the inside, the changes are more noticeable with a new dashboard design which now integrates the five-inch ‘Uconnect’ infotainment system across the range, with the air vents raised to its sides. The unit is easier to read and simple to use, with steering wheel-mounted audio controls and USB / Aux-in ports on all models.
The circular instrument cluster, with analogue dials for speed and engine revs and digital secondary gauges, is retained for Pop and Pop Star trims, but the Lounge variant offers a seven-inch TFT display as a £250 option.
The front seats have been reshaped and are very comfortable but the passenger seat sits quite high for those blessed with a bit of extra height. There are ten colour combinations for the interior upholstery available on Lounge models with contrasting ‘crescent’ upper portions and head restraints in black or ivory eco-leather. Black, Bordeaux or tobacco Frau leather upholstery is model-dependent, with embroidered 500 logos on the crescent and contrasting bolster accents.
The glove box is now lidded and the centre consoled has been revised to accommodate new cup holders, relocated USB / Aux-in ports and a repositioned 12V power socket. New switches for the electric windows adopt a push-down-pull-up operation. Additional soundproofing panels in the wheelhouse and firewall enhance NVH refinement.
Being the nature of the beast, the 500’s boot remains unchanged at a paltry 185 litres with the rear seats in place.
➤ Trim Line-up
Fiat have retained the simplicity of Pop, Pop Star and Lounge trim grades for the refreshed 500.
Standard equipment on the Pop and across the refreshed 500 range includes seven airbags; remote central locking; electric front windows; electric mirrors; ‘Uconnect’ radio with six speakers, AUX-IN and USB ports; steering wheel-mounted audio controls; start & stop; a space-saver spare wheel and LED daytime running lights.
Options available on the Pop include air conditioning (£530); a fixed glass sunroof with sunblind (£320); rear parking sensors (£270); alloy wheels (from £320); a leather-trimmed steering wheel (£110) and a Uconnect upgrade with touchscreen functionality and Bluetooth connectivity (£250), DAB (plus an additional £100) and TomTom satellite navigation (plus an additional £250).
Pop Star adds more toys with air conditioning, body-coloured mirror caps with defrosting function, 15-inch alloy wheels and a 50/50 split folding rear seat with adjustable rear headrests. Options available on the Pop Star include front fog lights (£160), body-colour side rubbing strips with Fiat 500 logo (£110), 16-inch alloy wheels (£180 upgrade) and Dualogic robotised semi-automatic gearbox (£750) with paddle shifters (an additional £110).
Top of the range Lounge spec adds a panoramic, fixed glass sunroof; rear parking sensors; a leather-trimmed steering wheel; front fog lights; chrome styling kit, specific 15-inch alloy wheels and a touchscreen Uconnect infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity as standard.
Options only available on the Lounge include automatic climate control (£270); a leather interior (£780); dark tinted rear windows (£160); bi-xenon headlamps (£610); an electric tilt-and-slide sunroof (£260 upgrade to standard fixed glass roof) and the seven-inch TFT instrument cluster (£250).
The full suite of Mopar accessories and ‘Second Skin’ customisation kits are available throughout the 2015 Fiat 500 model range.
➤ Engines and Transmissions
All engines on the refreshed 500 have now been tweaked to meet new Euro 6 regulations which come into effect on 1st September.
The 68bhp 1.2-litre and both versions of the 0.9-litre petrol TwinAir are available with start/stop. The TwinAir, in either the 85bhp or 105bhp state of tune, offers CO2 emissions lower than 90g/km in both forms, while the former is officially capable of up to 74.3mpg combined.
The 1.3-litre MultiJet2 diesel will be available later this year and will offer CO2 emissions of 89g/km. Also coming later in the year will be an ‘Eco’ variant of the base 1.2-litre petrol, which sees a smart alternator, aerodynamic body kit and low rolling resistance tyres fitted to push CO2 emissions under 99g/km.
In addition to the five- and six-speed manual gearboxes, Fiat has also updated the Dualogic robotised semi-automatic transmission, which now gets flappy paddle shifts as optional.
Fiat says that its engineers have worked on the ageing 500 chassis, which is still based on the previous-generation Panda, to increase comfort and handling levels across the 500 range. However, there is no mention of what exactly has been revised.
➤ Safety First
Active safety systems on the refreshed 500 include ABS with electronic brake distribution, advanced electronic stability control, anti-slip regulation, hill-hold and hydraulic brake assistance to help with emergency stops.
➤ On the Road
The way the new 500 drives is exactly the same as the previous model – light steering makes for easy urban manoeuvring and reasonably soft suspension irons out city potholes.
There is a confident feel to the ‘new’ 500 when under way as it displays surprisingly good road manners for a compact city car and a fairly decent turn of performance – depending on engine choice.
It won’t set any records in the sports department, but it makes calm, controlled and civilised progress. Should the mood take you, it feels grippy and entertaining through the twisty bits and there is little body-roll to mention.
We only had the opportunity to try one engine variant – the turbocharged 0.9-litre two-cylinder TwinAir producing 105hp. While it’s not the best seller (the 1.2-litre 68bhp takes that honour), it is the engine best suited to the Fiat 500 than any other in the range. However, it tends to become a little vocal as the revs increase and all fun (and some elements of safety) evaporates at around 5,500 rpm when the rev limiter arrives at the most inopportune moments – like when overtaking.
But you get used to it because what the 500 lacks in refinement, it more than makes up for in fun, especially around town or through hilly twisty bits where its short-throw manual gearbox can be most, er…entertaining.
Over crusty surfaces, the Fiat 500 felt jittery and damaged roads sent crashes shuddering through the chassis and into the cabin – a situation aided and abetted by the large (for this car) 15- or 16-inch alloy wheels. Under normal driving conditions though, the 500 felt assured and quite fleet of foot with little body roll evident through more feisty cornering.
Handling is generally fun, particularly around town and our TwinAir 105 Lounge came with a ‘Sports’ button, which remapped the throttle response and tightened up the steering ‘feel’. We left it in ‘Sports’ mode throughout the whole 124km test route around Turin as it offers a reasonable turn of performance.
➤ ICE and Connectivity
The Lounge version is equipped with the Uconnect 5-inch ‘Radio LIVE’ system which is a touchscreen unit complete with Bluetooth hands-free calling and music streaming; voice recognition and an SMS reader for reading text messages received on compatible telephones. It is available as a £250 option on Pop and Pop Star models. DAB digital radio is also available with this unit for an additional £100.
Uconnect LIVE (the UK availability of which remains to be confirmed), allows direct access via the touchscreen to TuneIn internet radio, Deezer music streaming and Reuters news feeds, as well as Facebook and Twitter. Uconnect LIVE can also be used to access eco:Drive, Fiat’s driving style app which assists drivers to improve fuel consumption by up to 16 percent by providing driving tips in real time.
Internet-based radio is excellent when you have a reliable internet source, but not so great in more rural locations, such as the foothills of the Italian Alps for instance.
Uconnect LIVE also connects directly to Fiat’s my:Car, with real time warnings, service deadline memos and an interactive owner handbook to manage car maintenance. The Uconnect LIVE app can be downloaded from Apple Store or Google Play Store and as soon as the smartphone is connected, many applications can be viewed and controlled via the touchscreen of the Uconnect system. The apps have been designed and adapted for use while driving to keep users concentrated on the road ahead.
However, adequate at best was the navigation system which we found wanting in several areas, namely timing and accuracy with the voice-guidance lagging painfully behind the required actions, which is a tad surprising considering the Tom-Tom sourcing. We concluded (and hoped) that it might just be an Italian thing and that the system should work fine once on UK shores.
Priced from £10,890 (£200 more that the outgoing model), Fiat continues to create an immensely likeable car in the 500 developed from an exceptionally winning formula. Its cute retro looks, comfortable cabin, go-kart-like handling and extensive personalisation options which now include those ‘Second Skins’, are all attractive ingredients for an evolving Fiat success story.
The 2015 Fiat 500 is its final cosmetic makeover ahead of an all-new model which will ride on a new platform, due in the next couple of years – we’re guessing the 4th July, 2017.
On the premise of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, we can’t help feeling that Fiat have backed themselves into a re-styling corner. Quite where Fiat intends to take the fourth iteration of the 500 while staying true to the original 1957 Nuova 500, remains an interesting conundrum.
We’ll know in the next couple of years. In the meantime, enjoy this ‘new’ Fiat 500. We did…VERY much.
➤ Fast Facts – The 2015 Fiat 500 range
* Prices from £10,890 (Pop hardtop) to £17,070 (Lounge convertible) * 12 models across three trim levels of Pop, Pop Star and Lounge. * Engines : 1.2 litre 69hp, TwinAir 85hp and TwinAir 105hp (all Euro6 compliant). * Transmissions: Five or six-speed manual gearboxes or a Dualogic auto. * On UK sale early September.