HAVING been on sale for a good few years now, the Fiat 500 is largely a known quantity, but lately it has been kept fresh with an electric soft top and a unique new engine that make for an intriguing combination.
Little bigger than a shoe, the 500 is a perfect city car with features that are tailored specifically to a life on urban roads. Every model is pretty efficient and it looks great provided owners dont put eyelashes on the headlights. It has to be said that most owners are women.
The new engine is the remarkable TwinAir unit; a turbocharged 0.9-litre with just two cylinders and that gives the model its name. Its the cars standout feature, bestowing upon it high efficiency, a really characterful set of noises and surprising acceleration. No, really! Fernando Alonso even says so (sort of).
Models with the electric sliding roof are called 500C, and the idea of a canvas top fits perfectly with the stylish little Italian hatch as long as you live somewhere sunny. The roof slides back to nestle above the boot, restricting rear visibility if you send it all the way back, but there are two other positions it can be opened to that leave the heated glass rear window upright.
Its neat, operates quickly and only adds 40kg to the overall weight of the car over the TwinAir hatchback, but the financial burden is a bit meatier. The 500C TwinAir adds £2,700 to the cost of the hatch, and there are good reasons why people might not want to pay that.
Not least of those is that we dont get so much in the way of sunshine in this country. The second is that the soft top isnt particularly well soundproofed, making the interior a tad on the noisy side.
But the engine is glorious. Anyone who turns their nose up at the idea of a sub-litre engine really should think again. Its so eager and the boost from the dinky little turbocharger gives it enough punch to be really entertaining without overwhelming the small chassis.
Its the overexcited little spaniel that darts around and gets under the feet of the bigger, heavier, less enthusiastic dogs. The soft suspension and little wheels give it a lively and yet safe feel, and the overwhelming sensation is that it just wants to play.
It fuels your imagination, too. Let the revs rise up past 4,000rpm and you could be listening to the tiniest Spitfire in the world winding up for take-off. Its just brilliant fun!
Personally, Ive never spent so much time giggling in a car. The 500 TwinAirs greatest strength cant be quantified or effectively written down, but its just such a happy little thing. Its size is part of that, along with the fabulously unusual engine noise that gives it a lot of the character of the original 500 decades ago.
There are niggles, as there are with most cars. The glove box is still just an open shelf like in all 500s not great for keeping bits and bobs out of sight. On the subject of storage space, because of the sliding roof the boot just has a letterbox opening as opposed to a proper hatch, and access isnt the easiest.
Then theres the driving position, which seems to have been designed for gorillas. Youve got to have long arms and short legs to be truly comfortable over a longer drive, but at least its not a problem in town.
On the up-side, theres a surprising amount of room for rear seat passengers; more than youll find in many an executive coupé. Its a useful car for young people who carpool to college or university.
To make the naturally efficient engine even more so, theres an Eco button thats meant for gentle town use with a light right foot and low engine speeds. It takes away a lot of the cars urge, but it does boost fuel economy noticeably, especially below 50mph.
On average, expecting 50mpg is realistic if youre mostly gentle, which although short of the claimed figure is still great considering all the fun youll have. At 95g/km of CO2, the TwinAir is road tax exempt, too.
Another boon in town is the power steering, which gives huge assistance at car park speeds and allows the wheel to be turned with almost no effort at all. Combined with tiny dimensions and rear parking sensors, the 500 has to be one of the easiest cars in the world to park.
However, the 500C TwinAir isnt the one Id choose. For around £11,600 before adding any options, the hatchback version makes more sense than the £14,300 C. That said, the pure, innocent joy that they both inspire is priceless.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Fiat 500C TwinAir.
Engine: 875cc turbocharged two-cylinder petrol producing 84bhp and 107lb.ft of torque.
Transmission: 5-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.
Performance: Top speed 108mph, 0-62mph in 11 seconds.
Fuel economy: 68.9mpg.
CO2 rating: 95g/km.