When people ask me what I think of my wife Julie’s Fiat 500 by Gucci I always give the same answer, “Love the car, hate the gearbox”. That’s in reference to the automated manual five-speed unit that Fiat calls a Dualogic. So when I was invited to road test a Fiat 500 S – with a ‘proper’ six-speed manual gearbox for a week I jumped at the chance.

Our test car 500 S was priced at a pretty reasonable $20,000 plus on-road costs, adding the Dualogic semi-auto transmission adds a further $1500. It’s also offered as a cabriolet at $23,000 with Dualogic.

Cute as a button retro styling has been a big factor in Fiat 500 sales worldwide. The cheeky nose with its round headlights and distinctive bonnet bar lead into a tall rounded body finished off with a stubby tail.

Inside, the painted-metal look of the dashboard is a neat feature, as is the big instrument binnacle. The 500 S (and 500 Lounge) now have digital instruments that can be displayed in a couple of different modes, rather than the twin needles on concentric circles used on all previous variants, and which are retained in the lower cost 500 Pop.


Some bright colours are offered in the gen-three Fiat 500s, including Blue Jelly Bean, Mint Milkshake and Vanilla Ice Cream. Our car was the light cream with some red racing stripes over the roof and down the bonnet.

The Fiat 500 S has sports seats, a flat-bottom leather-trimmed steering wheel with red stitching, chromed gear knob, 15-inch alloys and foglights. Very Italian, and we loved it so much we didn’t want to take it back.

A big range of options allows for plenty of customisation; Italian national colours of red-white-green stripes, a chequered roof, racing numbers, stick on flowers that reminded me of my VW Beetle way back in my hippy days. These and much more are waiting for you at your Fiat dealership.


Power comes from a 1.4-litre four-cylinder that has a reasonable 74 kW, 100 horsepower. Not a lot for a supposedly sports model, but it’s okay.

As referred to above, the Fiat 500 S is offered with a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automated manual. The latter can either be left in Auto or you can do your own shifting, without a clutch pedal, if you want a bit more excitement. Try before you buy, though as it can be an acquired taste. (For the record, Julie loves it…)

Fiat has been in the vanguard in supplying information and entertainment using the latest technology. The 500 has the Blue&Me voice recognition system developed by Fiat in conjunction with Microsoft; a six-speaker stereo, Bluetooth and a full range of connectivity.

Tom-Tom satellite navigation is an option, even in the most expensive 500 models, which seems like a shame, but ‘sell-em-up’ is all part of the game when it comes to retailing cars.

It’s only a small car, but the Fiat 500 has been designed with top rate primary and secondary safety features. Seven airbags, including one to protect the driver’s knees, even a fire protection system, ensure it has five-star safety credentials.

The ‘S’ after the 500 refers to Sport, though 74 kilowatts doesn’t exactly back up that title. However, getting the engine up to the top end of its rev range by way of the six-speed manual gearbox does give it decent grunt.

It’s more than happy to cruise at 130+ km/h on motorways in Europe so isn’t just a city car.

All Italian cars offer you plenty of driving enjoyment. If you haven’t got a smile on your face from time to time you’re not trying hard enough – so get back out on the road and have another go.

Handling is superb, with lots of road grip and the sort of nimbleness you only get in a lightweight car.

Interior space is best used by two, though with a bit of juggling of legroom from front to rear four adults can travel in more comfort than you might imagine. That’s due to the tall body and the relatively upright design of the front seats.

Brilliant retro style backed up by real substance makes these little Italian hotshots great fun to drive.


500 Pop 1.2-litre petrol three-door hatch: $17,000 (manual), $18,500 (automatic)
500 Pop Convertible 1.2-litre petrol two-door convertible: $21,000* (automatic)
500 S 1.4-litre petrol three-door hatch: $20,000 (manual), $21,500 (automatic)
500 S Convertible 1.4-litre petrol two-door convertible: $23,000* (automatic)
500 Lounge 0.9-litre turbo-petrol three-door hatch: $23,000 (automatic)
500 Lounge Convertible 0.9-litre turbo-petrol two-door convertible: $24,500* (automatic)
Note: Prices on hatch models are drive-away and include all government and dealer delivery charges. *Prices on convertible models do not include government and dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Fiat dealer for drive-away prices on these models.

ABS Brakes: Standard in all models
Automatic Transmission: Optional in all models
Dual Front Airbags: Standard in all models
Front Side Airbags: Standard in all models
Electronic Stability Program: Standard in all models
Rear Parking Sensors: Not offered in Pop, optional in S and Lounge
Reversing Camera: Not offered
USB/Auxiliary Audio Inputs: Standard in all models
Bluetooth: Standard in all models
Steering Wheel Mounted Controls: Standard in all models

SPECIFICATIONS (Fiat 500 S 1.4-litre petrol five-door hatch)

Engine Capacity: 1.368 litres
Configuration: Transverse, four cylinders in line
Head Design: DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Compression Ratio: 10.8:1
Bore/Stroke: 72.0 mm x 84.0 mm
Maximum Power: 74 kW @ 6000 rpm
Maximum Torque: 131 Nm @ 4250 rpm

Driven Wheels: Front
Manual Transmission: Six-speed
Automatic Transmission: Five-speed Dualogic
Final Drive Ratio: Not supplied

Length: 3546 mm
Wheelbase: 2300 mm
Width: 1627 mm
Height: 1488 mm
Turning Circle: 10.7 metres
Kerb Mass: 952 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 35 litres
Towing Ability: 800 kg with braked trailer
Boot Capacity: 185 litres (550 litres with rear seatbacks folded)

Front Suspension: Independent, MacPherson struts, lower wishbones, anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension: Torsion beam, anti-roll bar
Front Brakes: Ventilated disc
Rear Brakes: Disc

Fuel Type: Petrol 95RON
Fuel Consumption – Combined Cycle (ADR 81/02): 6.1 L/100km

Greenhouse Rating: 8/10
Air Pollution Rating: 7.5/10

Three years/150,000 km

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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