The original Fiat 500 Bambino was introduced in 1957, the all-new model arrived as a celebration 50 years later. Though visually based on the 1957 model the new Fiat 500 is several sizes up on the old, that’s partly to provide crash protection in the way of crumple zones and anti-intrusion bars, but also to give it reasonable interior space.
Australian imports of new Fiat 500 three-door hatchbacks began in February 2008. A two-door cabriolet with a huge fabric roof joined it two years later.
Around town the Fiat 500 is fun to drive, it buzzes in and out of the traffic and can be slotted into small parking spots that make those driving the currently fashionable pickup trucks wonder if they’ve made the wrong choice.
Four adults can fit into this baby Fiat with more room than you would anticipate, principally because they sit quite upright. Getting into the back through the ‘front’ doors can be a pain, though.
Boot space isn’t great but that’s part of the price you pay for having reasonable back seat space. Though the volume of the cabriolet’s boot is similar to that of the hatch it’s significantly harder to load through a much small opening.
While the new Mini and new VW Beetle are the Fiat’s direct competitors, they have both been heavily revised since their introduction. By contrast the Fiat 500 remains much the same, only getting mild restyling and minor mechanical upgrades. So, Nuova Fiat is starting to show its age, not necessarily a bad thing, but try before you buy to see what you think.
August 2014 saw the introduction of the Fiat 500 Tricolore ‘three colours’ in Italian with the red-white-green stripes of the Italian national flag on the body and decals. It also has and chromed door mirror housings. Inside there are floor mats again in the red-white-green theme. The Fiat 500 Tricolore’s key even has an Italian flag design.
A makeover in February 2016 introduced mild styling changes front and rear. Seat and trim designs were changed and revising seat padding improved comfort. A central infotainment screen gives acmes to the Fiat-Chrysler Uconnect system and USB, Aux and Bluetooth connections
A brilliant special edition is the Fiat 500 by Gucci – a fascinating collaboration between two iconic Italian brands. It has added chrome and the Gucci green-red-green theme is used on the seats and even the seatbelts.
The green n’ red stripes are featured on the sides of the hatchback and the roof of the cabriolet and the 16-inch alloys have Gucci symbols in their centres. (My very fashionable wife Julie just loved her 500C by Gucci which she owned for many years.)
The tail no longer houses the engine, as was the case in the original Fiat 500 Cinquecento. It is front engined and drives through the front wheels.
Fiat 500 come petrol engine capacities of either 0.9, 1.2 or 1.4 litres. The smallest unit has two cylinders (just like the old 500s) but is now a high-tech turbocharged unit tagged TwinAir. It was imported from 2012, but cost more than the standard cars and wasn’t a sales success.
The 1.2 and 1.4 are four-cylinder engines, with the 1.4-litre coming with or without a turbo. The turbo units are fitted in the hot Abarth tuned machines.
There are even 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesels. These were economical and have high torque numbers but didn’t exactly appeal to Aussies.
There’s a hot sports version called the Abarth 500 Esseesse (say ‘SS’ in an Italian accent and the name makes sense). Technically the Abarth isn’t sold as a Fiat, it should be referred to as an Abarth.
Then there are the crazily priced ($69,990 when new) Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari that’s dressed in Ferrari-type features, it’s powered by the 1.4-litre turbo engine.
Transmissions are a five- or six-speed manual depending on model, and a five-speed automated manual. The latter, tagged as Dualogic, can be harsh in its changes in the low gears but smoothes out from third upwards.
Check on sales and servicing facilities in your area as these are rather limited outside major metro areas.
Insurance rates tend to vary more than normal from company to company. Shop around for prices, but make sure you’re making accurate side-to-side comparisons.
Look at the wheels to see if the little Fiat has been kerbed, the front left is usually the first to suffer.
Would-be Italian racing driver may have created feathering on the tyres due to hard cornering. Hmm … perhaps take them off you list of possible buys.
Keep in mind that cars used in city areas are, sadly, often the subject of carpark dings and scratches.
Signs of previous crash repairs are paint that don’t quite match, ripples in the panels and overspray.
We have seen several cars (including Julie’s) where a piece of sound absorbing foam has fallen onto the floor beneath the glovebox. Give it a wiggle and see what happens.
Boot space in the cabriolet is hard to access so look for damage caused by luggage being crammed in.
The engine should start easily and idle relatively smoothly from the moment it kicks over.
The two-cylinder unit has different characteristics to four-cylinder engines, so don’t be put off by it. However, if you do suspect troubles call in an expert.
Gearchanges on the manual should be light and easy. Sticky changes, particularly in lower gears, may mean an overhaul is due. But may simply need a clutch adjustment.
We haven’t heard of any problems in self-changing Dualogic manual gearbox. But if there’s any doubt then have a Fiat mechanic check it out.
Wheels with a lot of brake dust inside them probably indicate a driver with bravado in their makeup.
Expect to pay from $2000 to $4500 for a 2009 Fiat 500 Pop; $4000 to $7000 for a 2011 500C convertible or a 2012 Sport; $7000 to $11,000 for a 2013 Lounge or a 2015 Pop; $9000 to $14,000 for a 2016 convertible; $10,000 to $15,000 for a 2017 Pop; $11,000 to $16,000 for a 2016 Lounge; $13,000 to $19,000 for a 2017 Lounge; and $15,000 to $22,000 for a 2018 Lounge.
CAR BUYING TIP
Love to drive hard and fast? Good on you, but you’re better off not buying a used one…
RECALLS: To browse recalls on all vehicles go to the ACCC at: www.productsafety.gov.au/products/transport/cars/