Fiat_500_frontFiat 500 has blossomed in Australia in the last 18 months or so. Instead of being a rarity it’s now part of the everyday city automotive scene. After several years of nothing much happening Fiat’s head office in Italy took over the Australian operation in the middle of 2013.

The company’s new Australian chief, Veronica Johns, made the bold decision to slash prices to grab market share. She set up a price list that began at a mouth-watering $14,000 driveaway for the basic Pop version with a 1.2-litre engine and five-speed manual gearbox. Dirt cheap for a European car, and right down with the imports from Asia.

Sales leapt, but most were of the $14,000 500 Pop and we suspect that profits do a lot for the balance sheet, though naturally Ms Johns isn’t going to comment on this. Once you got away from the Pop manual prices lifted significantly and all other models required you to pay on-road costs, typically in the $2500 to $3000 range.

With the 500 established as a mainstream model Fiat Australia was keen to make a profit, which is after all what business is all about. So the just launched 500 Series 3 sees the driveway price of the entry level Pop sitting at $17,000.

With all models now at national driveaway prices it’s difficult to do a before-and-after comparison but added equipment does improve the new Fiat 500’s value for money.

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 centre bonnet bar lead into a tall rounded body and on to a stubby tail. The latter is no longer the residence of the engine, as was the case in the original Fiat 500, instead it now houses a boot that’s larger than you might expect in such a diminutive car.

Inside, the metal-look of the dashboard is a big feature, as is the big instrument binnacle. Fiat 500 has a singe round dial with the speedo and tacho in concentric circles. Sports and Lounge variants have digital instruments that can be displayed in a couple of different modes, but these sit within the same distinctive binnacle.

Some bright colours are offered, including those with enticing names of Blue Jelly Bean, Mint Milkshake and Vanilla Ice Cream make a pleasant change from the boring silver and grey colours that seem to be everywhere on our streets today.

Interior trim can be ordered in various single or dual colours and comes in cloth or leather, depending on model.

A big range of options allows a high degree of customisation; stick on flowers, Italian red-white-green stripes, chequered roof, racing numbers, and much more are waiting for you at your Fiat dealership.

Fiat 500 Pop comes with air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, remote locking voice recognition so is certainly no low-cost stripper. It has a 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine that delivers just 51 kilowatts of power and not a lot of excitement. It can be ordered with manual or automated manual gearboxes, the manual is certainly our choice.

Moving up to the Fiat 500 S gives you sports seats, a flat-bottom leather-trimmed steering wheel with red stitching, chromed gear knob, 15-inch alloys, foglights, and electronic instruments. Power comes from a 1.4-litre four-cylinder that has a healthy 74 kW (that’s 100 horsepower in real money) that makes it much nicer to drive. Though the extra grunt makes the auto gearbox much more acceptable we still prefer it with the manual. After all, the ‘S’ after the 500 refers to Sport.

Topping out the range is the Fiat 500 Lounge. A dress up variant, it has body coloured door mirrors, chrome accents on the bumpers, a round leather steering wheel and a different design of alloy wheels to the ‘S’, but still with a diameter of 15 inches. It uses climate-controlled air conditioning. Power comes from the fascinating two-cylinder 0.9-litre TwinAir turbocharged petrol engine, the most economical petrol engines sold in Australia. If you don’t want an automated manual gearbox in your 500 Lounge then tough luck, there’s no manual option. Pity…

Long a leader in its class, the Fiat 500 has the Blue&Me voice recognition system, a six-speaker stereo, Bluetooth and a full range of connectivity. Tom-Tom satellite navigation is an option in all versions.

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

A huge amount of fun in a very Italian manner is provided by this very Italian small car, if you haven’t got a smile on your face from time to time you’re not trying hard enough.

Handling is superb, with lots of road grip and the sort of nimbleness you only get in a lightweight car. Other than in the 1.4-litre engine performance is nothing to get excited about, but the engines are happy little units that do love to rev. Have them in the correct gear and they do a worthwhile job.

Style backed up by substance makes these little Italian machines great fun to live with. We’ve had two different Fiat 500s in our family for almost three years now and I still love getting from some high-priced automobile exotica into our little 500C by Gucci just for the sheer fun it provides.

500 Pop 1.2-litre three-door hatch: $17,000 (manual), $18,500 (automatic)
500 S 1.4-litre three-door hatch: $20,000 (manual), $21,500 (automatic)
500 Lounge 0.9-litre three-door hatch: $23,000 (automatic)
500C Pop 1.2-litre two-door convertible: $21,000 (automatic)
500C S (Sport) 1.4-litre two-door convertible: $24,000 (automatic)
500 Lounge 0.9-litre two-door convertible: $25,500 (automatic)
Note: These are driveaway prices and include all dealer and government charges.

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.
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *