August 17, 2011

Review: Fiat 500 - call this small?

When CelloMom was a young girl, her parents owned a Fiat 600. We loved that car. It was egg-yolk yellow, and sported a set of eye stickers on the front that made it look cross-eyed. Young CelloMom and her little brother rattled around on the back seat (no-one had heard of seat belts), except when they were crammed between the groceries. A cello would probably have to stick out of the window.

The original Fiat 500 was even smaller than that. Its tiny size, and its ubiquity on European roads, particularly around the Mediterranean, earned it and all its brethren the nickname "road lice". It cheerfully kept a family dry as they went from A to B, and that was about it. It was just under 3 meters long, ran on a 0.5-liter engine (500cc: get it?), and weighed around 500 kg. A few beefy guys could (and probably did) carry it around.

The "new Nuova 500" that Fiat re-introduced in 2007, is available in the US for the first time this year. It is Fiat's only US offering.

You can still recognise the original lines, but the Fiat 500 has grown since the sixties - just like CelloMom. To begin with, it's now nearly 3.50m long; its weight has ballooned, to twice its original weight (corresponding data on CelloMom is strictly classified). Its engine has grown with it, although the smallest version still comes in under one liter. Inside it's also roomier. In fact, the grown-up CelloMom and her brother would fit in the back seat, together with one grocery bag, or a third person (but that person preferably a child). You can fit one large suitcase in the trunk, but definitely not a cello.

You could call it discrimination. Or perhaps it's just that they like to keep the best things to themselves. However it may be, the Fiat 500 is sold in the US (and Australia) only with a 4-cylinder, 1.4L engine (avg. 33mpg). Peeking at www.fiat.it, you will find that that version is not available in Europe, where you have a choice between a 1.2L engine, and a 2-cylinder engine with a volume of just 0.875L (actual avg. 41mpg). Since the latter is turbocharged, it still packs an 85HP punch. Either way, one would like this size car to get better mileage.

Between the updated design, the two-tone upholstery, and the vibrant colours (including a traffic-cone orange), this is one cute car. The seating is surprisingly roomy. And the Start&Stop versions have engines that turn themselves off when you're waiting at a traffic light, and start themselves up again when you're ready to go. The start-up is impressively seamless; Fiat claims this adds up to 10% to the mileage. However, even though the Fiat 500 is not as small as it used to be, and even though its mileage is sort of decent, if the cello can't come along, it won't work for CelloMom.


Fiat 500 , Same-Model comparison, different engine size.

Fiat 500 Pop 2-door
Type 1.4L 16V MultiAir
0.9L Start&Stop
Year 2011 2011
Emissions rating ULEV II EURO5 "A"
MRSP US$ 15,500 € 12,181
City/Hwy (mpg) 30 / 38
City/Hwy EU quoted, liters/100km (mpg) 4.9 / 3.7 (48 / 64)
avg. EU quoted, l/100km(mpg) 4.1 (57)
avg. actual, (mpg) (33) (EPA) (41) Honest John)
CO2 quoted, g/km 95
CO2 actual, g/km 142
Engine 4-cyl. 16V 2-cyl. turbo
Power 101 hp@ 6500 rpm 85 hp @ 5500 rpm
Gears 5-speed manual 5-speed manual
Fuel reg. unleaded Euro unleaded
Length, mm(in) (140 in) 3.55m
Width, mm(in) (64 in) 1.63m
Height, mm(in) (60 in) 1.52m
Weight, kg(lbs) (2363) 1074
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) (9.5 cuft) 269L
Turning radius, m(ft) (30.6 ft) 9.32m
Top speed, kph(mph) 173 (107)

Post revised on 5 Sept, 2011 to add actual-use fuel economy.

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