What's good? Good performance, respectable economy, as cute as ever.
The Fiat 500 is one of the most successful cars Fiat has ever made. Initially, the 500 was launched as a BMW Mini competitor, but over the years it has evolved into much more. Now, you can buy a 500C (convertible), 500L, 500L TREKKING, and 500L MPW. You could make a case for the 500 brand having been milked beyond capacity, but each version of the car is excellent, and people keep buying them. For 2014, Fiat have updated the regular 500 super mini with some fresher engines and interior trims. Cult is now the top dog trim level, overtaking Lounge. I've been driving the 0.9 TwinAir version of this car for 7 days. What's it like? Let's find out.
The new Fiat 500 is externally identical to the 2013 version. Aside from new alloy wheel designs, there's little to distinguish a 2014 model from a 2013 model, that is unless you have the car I have. In Cult trim, the 500 gets unique gloss black trim around the rear lights, a slightly revised front bumper, and as noted, fresher alloy wheels (these are 16-inch versus the Lounge's 15-inch alloys). The result of this is a 500 that is as cute as ever. I still feel that the 500 sits too high, though, and this is even more obvious with 16-inch alloys. The arch gap really would benefit from being closed up a little. Still, there is reason for the 500 sitting high, so let's move on to that...
The new Fiat 500 is as joyous to drive as ever. Around town, the tight turning circle, sharp throttle responsive and well weighted steering allowed me to nip in and out of traffic easily, and park extremely quickly. Visibility is also excellent, thanks to a fairly large rear window. There is a larger than average blind spot behind the driver, though, due to the raking back pillars.
The highlight of this car is the revised engine. The 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol engine now produces 104 bhp which is 20 bhp more than the previous version. Torque remains the same, at 107 lb /ft, but that extra horsepower gifts the little 500 with genuinely brisk pace. Also, much to the joy of 500 drivers everywhere, this version gets a six-speed manual gearbox which allows the 500 to be exceptionally refined on the motorway. This also improves economy, but I'll get on to that below. The six-speed gearbox is slick to use and the ratios in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th are short, so there's always plenty of power around town. 5th and 6th are longer, which keeps the revs low at speed.
There are two modes for driving - Eco and Sport. Eco numbs the power output to deliver better economy, whilst sport sharpens everything up.
As standard, Cult trim has leather seats. These are nice and comfortable, if a little firm, and the leather wrapped steering wheel and leather wrapped gear knob add an extra touch of class. The cars dash is dominated by a neat looking TFT screen that will also come as standard in S trim. Surprisingly, this TFT screen can display boost pressure, which is interesting on a city car.
The driving position is good, too. You sit fairly high which gives you good visibility of the road. The steering wheel is height and reach adjustable, and there's plenty of space up front, as well as cup holders. In the rear, leg room is good, but this car still suffers from a small boot - 185-litres isn't exactly impressive.
So how has the addition of a sixth gear and a revised engine benefited fuel economy?
Fiat claims that the 0.9 TwinAir 500 will return a combined fuel economy of 67.3 miles per gallon, which is not class leading, but respectable. During my 200 mile round trip test, the car averaged 63.3 miles per gallon, but my 500 was brand spanking new and hadn't been run in. I used a combination of Eco and Sport driving modes to achieve this. You can easily achieve high 50s in the 500 so long as you change gear below 3500 rpm. The engine is strong enough to pull the 500 at these revs anyway.
In terms of road tax, this version qualifies for free tax. It has a CO2 output of 99 g/km, which is certain to appeal to downsizers and current TwinAir drivers.
Trim and Equipment
Cult trim is the new top dog in the 500 world. Standard equipment includes leather seats, a TFT digital display, 16-inch alloys, gloss black rear light detailing, climate control, rear parking sensors, fixed glass sunroof and a multi-function leather steering wheel.
In other words, the Cult has everything you will ever need for a relaxed journey.
I have been extremely impressed with this version of the Fiat 500. Previous TwinAir 500's had economy and performance shortcomings, but not this one. The engine is now refined thanks to the six-speed gearbox and the extra 20 bhp transforms the 500 into a genuinely brisk little ride. The 500 is also hands down more comfortable than a Mini One of Mini Cooper, and Cult trim makes you feel a little special thanks to the leather seating and TFT display.
Having said that, the TwinAir version is still no match for the MultiJet diesel. This engine has better fuel economy and similar real-world performance. If you do a lot of miles, that is the engine I would choose. For town driving, though, the TwinAir is a great unit.
Is Cult trim worth it over Lounge? That's a tough question. I think it is. The residuals on a Cult 500 will be better than average and the additional equipment is generous for the bump in price.
Overall, this car is highly recommended.