Ok, let’s be clear. I love this car. And like anyone that writes a review of something they have forked out their hard earned for, a sense of bias will always shine through. With that in mind, I will try and be as honest and impartial as I can.
I bought my Fiat 500C Pop brand new in October 2013. We’ve just celebrated our one year anniversary, but it would seem the honey moon period is far from over.
I had lusted after this car since Fiat first previewed the ‘Tre piu uno’ concept way back when I was still in my final years of High School. Of course back then you couldn’t even buy a Fiat in Australia. ATECO hadn’t yet re-launched the brand.
Fast forward about 6 years or so to October 2013, and I had finished school, finished uni, started working full time and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had been born, taken over distribution, and priced their products far more realistically.
A few things. I had an budget of not more than $20,000. I went for the base model convertible. I really really wanted the convertible. I also did NOT want the dualogic transmissions. But alas if you want the convertible you have no choice but to buy a dualogic. Fiat, this is stupid. And annoying.
I know you’re all thinking – 20k? Buy a Volkswagen Polo. Or a Fiesta. Or some other car that I know is really great to drive but 30 million other people already have one and I’m completely not interested. You don’t buy a Fiat 500 (or arguably any other Italian car) because it’s sensible, top of its class etc etc. You buy it for very different reasons.
$19,500 later and I have my little Fiat. A brief work about price. I could have had the hard top for 14K. But I didn’t want a hard top. Also, Fiat has recently upped the price. It now costs more for the exact same car than what I paid one year ago. Fiat, this is stupid…
I want to spend a bit of time talking about the transmission. Because this is one of the most criticised aspects of the car in the reviews you will read.
This is the first “automatic” car I have owned (yes I know it’s not an automatic in the sense that we know it, but I’ll come to that).
I have to be honest and say that I could not in good faith recommend the dualogic version of this car to anyone that does not know how to drive a manual car. This car does not drive like an auto. And anyone that expects it to will be left shocked and disappointed in the way it drives. Left to its own devices in auto mode, and driven like an ordinary torque converter, the car will often do odd things. Changes will not be swift at times. They can be slow as you feel the clutch engage and then jerk has it disengages.
Left in auto mode and driven with the knowledge of how the clutch and gear change in a manual car works, and it gets along well. Swift, smooth, no worries. You quickly learn when the engine reaches certain levels and revolutions and you can anticipate the change. Ease off the gas, clutch goes in, change happens, clutch out, all quickly and smooth, back on the gas and, bam the engine happily revs back up through the rev range.
The transmission has definitely improved over time. The car now has 19,000km on the clock and it is obvious that the shifts in auto mode have become better. But they are still far from perfect if you don’t know how to drive it.
If it all sounds like too much for you, than it probably is. Don’t buy it.
But – the experience can be made even better, and genuinely fun, if you do the changing yourself. This is a manual transmission. There is simply a robotised automatic clutch. The gearbox holds the gears all the way through the rev range. Push the lever down to change up a gear, and up to change back down. Seriously it can be so enjoyable to work this transmission both through peak hour and and a good winding road. In manual mode the clutch action is swifter and smoother. I love driving the car like this.
The tiny little 1.2 liter engine is an old Fiat faithful, although notable in this iteration a pretty significant number of changes have been made to the one the debuted almost two decades ago. The 1.2 naturally aspirated SOHC 8v produces only very modest figures. 51 kw and 102nm. BUT! It’s worth noting that the car weighs less than one tonne, and maximum torque comes on at 3000rpm. And this engine loves to revs!
Personally I think that first gear is too short. Far too short. But once you get past that so much fun can be had. The engine loves to rev. And unlike it’s Asian counterparts makes a great little sound while doing so. Most of it’s competitors don’t reach their similar peak torque figures until about 4000rpm. When you’re talking such small numbers of torque, this can make a big difference.
Don’t get me wrong, the Fiat isn’t straight line fast. Not at all. 0-100 comes up in like 13 seconds. But you’d never know it. It’s so revvy and fun, and peak torque coming on relatively low in such a light weight package it feels much quick than the figures suggest.
On the freeway at 100km/h the car is ticking over about 3000rpm. Maybe just under. I am surprised at the refinement of this powertrain. I mean it’s obviously no luxury car, but for the price and size it smooth, quiet enough and no nasty vibrations. I can think of a number of larger Japanese hatchbacks I’ve driven or been in that are notably louder in terms of road noise.
The car obviously has a very short wheelbase. I’m not a motoring journo. I haven’t driven a huge breadth of car models, but I think I can confidently say that the chassis in this little Fiat is dynamically more than competent. It’s go-kart like in the way you can chuck it around, it never feels like it’s leaning overly into corners, it feels planted with good grip levels. Of course when you really push it through the bends understeer becomes obvious.
The short wheel base also has its down falls in terms of ride. Generally I have been quite surprised with the quality of the ride. I never have major issues. But on poor surfaces, particularly through a corner or at speed, the ride can be bouncy. This is usually accompanied with a big smile as the car finds one more reason to make you laugh.
A quick word about ‘City’ mode steering. There is a button on the dash. If you hit it the steering becomes super light at spends under 30km/h. I thought this would be a gimmick I’d never use, I mean how much more assistance do you need in parking a tiny, light car? I now never turn it off…very handy.
Moving on to the interior. The Pop is the base model. But that said, it’s reasonably well equipped. The leather bound wheel is lovely to hold. The Bluetooth works faultlessly. One of the best I have used, except for the fact that there is no audio streaming, which is pretty pathetic. Admittedly there is an AUX input and USB. The USB input is particularly good. Once you figure it out, there is an excellent menu system that you access via the buttons on the steering wheel with the details viewable on the screen inset in the speedo binnacle. There are six speakers and the sound quality is above average for a stock base model unit. All the other essentials for a base model are there. Power windows and mirrors etc. The 500 C has a boot lamp with the hatch does not (stupidly). I have found the seats to be comfortable and the trim is of a good quality and visually appealing. Again the 500C Pop has “500” embroidered onto the seats which the pop hatch doesn’t, it’s a nice touch. The A/C works well (but the cut to engine power when it’s up high is VERY noticeable).
The plastics are hard. No soft touch materials on the doors or dash. But the look good and appear of decent quality. The dash in the 500 is totally iconic. Might be a matter of taste but I love the styling. I also have to admit I have been (happily) surprised that no rattles have emerged! Everything seems to be relatively well knocked together for the price point. I hope it will all hold up well.
Australian delivered versions of the car are assembled in Poland. Quality on face value seems to be okay. Time will tell. I was interested to note however that when you look under the bonnet that many of the major components are clearly stamped as having been supplied by Magneti Marelli and manufactured in Italy. I found this to be reassuring. After 19,000km I’ve not had a single issue arise. Fingers crossed this remains the case!
I am 178cm tall and weigh 70kg. I like the driving position and have no major problems. Taller people may have issues. There is also no reach adjustment for the wheel.
The back seats. Haha…they are there! (there’s only two)I have used them. They are fine for short trips and it’s always a good laugh squeezing three of your mates into this car.
The boot? Well it’s tiny and access is difficult. The key fob has remote access to the boot which is handy. If you try to pop the boot open from the key when the roof is fully down the roof will close to the second most open position automatically and then the boot will open. Neat party trick. The rear seat back rest folds down, but as a whole piece, it’s not split fold on the Pop version. I moved house about three months ago and I moved things in this car that no one would believe was possible (flat packs from IKEA easily moved with the roof down and them sitting on the back seat protruding out of the roof).
It’s good to see Fiat included all the safety stuff in the base model. 7 airbags and the full suite of stability/traction control. The hill holder function is also quite handy.
Some things that I think Fiat really should work on. 3 year/100,000km service is not good enough. No excuses. Nor is the lack of capped price servicing. You’re completely uncompetitive in these areas Fiat. For the record servicing is every 12 months or 15,000km. So I have had one service. It cost $300, which to be honest, I was surprised with. I was sure the dealer would try rip me off for more than that. But I have no faith that servicing in future will be reasonably priced.
Fuel? The tank is only 35 litres. So it’s cheap to fill! Fiat recommend 95RON minimum. I live and work in the city, so unfortunately I rarely see the motorway. I average about 6.5L/100km in only city stop/start driving. I have done the odd long motorway trips on weekends and the fuel consumption dramatically drops.
Some other things I didn’t like? Ummmm Fiat give you two keys. One is a nice flip key with the remote locking buttons. The spare is a circa 1985 looking thing. Cheap Fiat.
Of course, I saved the best till last. All the things I love about this car come to a head when the sun comes out. The roof goes down, and anything that could ever frustrate someone about this car is quickly forgotten. This is not an expensive car from a premium brand. But I have never driven something that attracts so much attention. People point and smile when you drive past. It is just so loveable. I have honestly had people in traffic next to me put there window down to ask me about it and compliment it. Now has anyone ever done that to that purple Honda Jazz driver stuck on Punt Road? Doubt it. And if it can be a hoot to drive, as well as make you feel great, I’d say you’re on to a pretty good thing ;)