NEW CAR TEST: #NewFiat500 Hits UK Streets
There's a good old fashioned northern expression "if it ain't bruk... don't fix it" which Fiat are clearly unaware of – as here's the 40% new Fiat 500, ready to order in Fiat showrooms across the UK now.
Understandably, being the custodians of a VERY popular, iconic model, the Italian brand is a tiramisu nervous about it.
The remastered 500 we've known and loved now since 2006 is a car that's bucked the downturn trend of the small car (A segment) class – shifting 1,500,000 units worldwide in over 100 countries in its short eight year history (still a way off the 4,000,000 of the diminutive original 500, the new car trades off mind, but that ran for longer in a different world!).
Putting that into perspective domestically, the outgoing Fiat 500 sold 44,000 units here in the UK last year alone – with the next best (and both jolly good) competitors, Hyundai's i10 and VW's UP! selling 25,030 and 22,461 respectively. Impressive and hugely dominant stuff, right?
So, having been the segment leader since 2009 and shifting so many Fiat 500s – mainly to fashion-conscious, urban freewheeling ladies and an increasingly young audience – it's completely natural for Fiat to be a tad nervous about their bella bambino brand.
They say: "We were very conscious not to mess up what is clearly a winning formula. And we've certainly applied the 'less is more' philosophy to the re-vamped #NewFiat500 version. This is much more about the evolution of an icon, not revolution. What we've done is speak to our core audience and see what it is they wanted from the new car; and that is continuation of great design – inside and out – more safety and quality infotainment. And that is what we've given our buyers with the new car."
So, what's new pussy cat?
The changes (all 1,900 of them) come in a range of forms:
1. Cosmetic – with a new set of daytime-running headlights, new rear bumper design and rear lights, two new alloy designs (adding to the eight existing), two new colours; Glam Coral & Avantgarde Bordeaux (making 13 in total now!) and additional interior colours for dashes and seating etc.
2. Techy – with a brand new Infotainment five-inch system featuring a TomTom nav, BT and all you'd expect via the Uconnect and corresponding mobile App set-up (& with a BeatsAudio system to follow on imminently).
3. Safety – with bigger, better brakes and 20% more pedestrian crash safety.
4. Environmental engines – with improved CO2 emissions from the existing range of 1.2 69HP, 0.9 85HP & 105HP TwinAir turbo, 1.2 69HP Eco and forthcoming 1.3 diesel engines.
5. Customisation – there's now an even greater myriad of customisation options, including the "second skin" vinyl wrap programs in Geometric, Scottie, Comic, Shades & Camouflage – adding an additional dimension to the already wide model range of Pop (from £10,890), Popstar (from £11,765) and Lounge (from £12,640): 13 colours, 10 combinations and six second skins in all! Oh, and then there's the three different roof colours for the convertible! Plus the range of 100+ accessories... giving a bewildering and exciting array of customisations, to help owners express their 500's personality.
Who's going to be buying it?
Ladies mainly, obvs!
And increasingly younger ones too, as the finance offers are very competitive, with the entry-level Pop starting at £139 PCM with a £1,500 deposit and range-topping Lounge models just £169PCM with the same lay down.
Also, Fiat have teamed up with Zurich Insurance and Blackbox to offer a special insurance arrangement, aimed squarely at helping the 18+ age group get behind the wheel of a new 500. So we can expect this year's university hall car parks to be loaded with the new Fiat 500, in all its plethora of formats.
Women (mainly 25-35 we are informed) still represent a huge proportion of the Fiat 500 audience – hence the new brand ambassador of Ella Eyre – "young, stylish and extremely talented"– who is re-mastering the classic iconic 'Best of My Love' track for Fiat 500 TV advertisements, and the equally aspirational existing Fiat ambassador, the lovely Pixie Lott (pictured here with Road Editor, Phil Royle!).
What's the new 500 like?
First impressions very much reflect the "true legends don't grow old: they change" mantra. The look of the new 500 is very similar to the old model. And Fiat have not made the mistake of making the pocket sized 500 any bigger, which must have been tempting.
In truth, it's the rear lights and new bumper that are most noticeable – beyond the some utterly awesome (Geometric and Camo) and some questionable (Comic yellow & black, Indian taxi style!) second skins, which are very effective.
Personally, we're not sold on the two new colours either. Both Glam Coral & Avantgarde Bordeaux look better as nail polish in our view. But what do I know...? I'm a bloke! All the women I asked loved them both... so I'll just shut up on colour. God knows, I own two black cars!
The interior – as with the old 500 – is a real hit though, especially the range-topping Lounge versions, like the brown ivory-coral chequered fabric units we had on our test version (incidentally, Lounge is also available with a leather seat option, in four colours), which are also fantastically comfy. It's a funky, fresh, light, airy and perfectly spacious space to enjoy the drive from. And it feels pretty luxurious too, for such a small car.
The Lounge model we tested also featured an excellent Uconnect DAB radio, but the base system (with USB and AUX ports and steering wheel controls) is also really stylish, easy to use and feels exclusive (despite the old school navigation graphics).
Better still is the on-board 7-inch TFT digital display which is blooming marvellous and will impress even the most cynical buyer. This neat system clearly displays speed, engine revs, coolant temp, fuel gauge and turbo boost pressure (on TwinAirs), or an Eco index, as well as having a gear shift indicator, trip computer, navigation information, time, temperature and parking sensors. It's really superbly done – stylishly presenting a huge amount of information with perfect functionality and customisation – and we loved it, as we are confident new 500 buyers will.
We only got to sample the range-topping and hugely popular 105HP turbocharged two-pot TwinAir engine – which was both torquey and economical in one neat, great-sounding package.
It gives a good sensation of being fast, even if you're not actually going that quick in reality – saving on speeding tickets, whilst making perfectly good progress I guess.
For us, the steering is a tad light and vague to really enjoy the grippy little chassis, but then again, that works to its favour in the city traffic and car parks, where the 500 will no doubt spend most of its working life – not blasting down a b-road.
Same is true for the suspension – set for comfort, not speed, which is perfectly fine and expected.
What is noticeably improved are the brakes – with bigger discs and upgrades to the calipers being added to the list of improvements – which really do feel strong, giving a good sense of confidence to the new 500's driving experience.
In conclusion therefore...
Borsalino Hats off to a nervous Fiat Group!
In the Fiat 500 they have a brand that's shifting in huge numbers and shouldn't be messed with, yet they've bravely taken the opportunity to keep it moving with the demands of its demographic and given it a subtle, stylish and effective makeover inside and out and offered up the sort of tech people expect in a car of its class – all of which should help it stay on top of its marketplace.
Best of all the 500 remains a fun car to drive, a special feeling car to be in and an interesting, exciting car to own – customised to meet the individual's needs with its myriad of optional extras – and that's why it's been so popular, and we think, will continue to be so popular for many moons to come.
Oh, and finally (saving what we see as the best 'til last)... will there be an Abarth version?
Yes. In 2016!
And from an entirely male POV, we very much look forward to testing that... the only 500 squarely aimed at blokes!
Meantime, do check out our Facebook page for more images on the new Fiat 500 UK launch.