It’s not often A Wheel Thing gets to revisit a favourite, but was lucky to do so in the form of the revamped Fiat 500 Pop. With a mild exterior makeover, limited to head and tail light changes and a slightly less mild interior freshen, it’s still a hoot to drive, even with a torqueless 1.2 litre naturally aspirated four cylinder and five speed manual.Why is it so much fun? The Pop brings backs the basics of driving, and that’s not meant in a critical way. It needs the driver to be involved, by asking for a plan of attack before attempting anything. It asks the driver to think about rev points when changing gear, to look in the mirrors when changing lanes or reversing, to judge when just right is the right time to overtake.That tiny powerplant needs 5500 revs to give 51 kilowatts, and there’s just 102 torques at 3000 rpm. But we’re talking a car that weights less than the breath of a butterfly so power and torque to weight ratios imbue the little car (3571 x 1627 x 1488 mm, L x W x H) with enough zip to negate the numbers. It’s also why the manual gearbox is a five, not six, cogger. Although a six speed would help with economy (not that it’s not frugal enough already), with 110 klicks seeing 3000 rpm (and max torque) on the tacho, there’s not quite enough twist to safely or sensibly move the Pop along with a sixth ratio.Fuel economy numbers are those that a driver expects from even a big car and they’re necessary. Due to the compact size, there’s only a 35 litre tank that can be shoehorned in, but you’ll get a 6,2L per 100 km urban figure, with highway running dropping to just 4.2 litres of unleaded for every hundred kays.The downside of that dearth of torque becomes apparent when climbing hills. West of Sydney are the Blue Mountains and in reality there’s only three westbound access points. All three treat the Pop not gently, with one, the Old Bathurst Road zig zag, requiring first gear at times. That’s irrespective of passenger load. Out on the flat, the 500 Pop is an adequate if not startling performer. It’ll zip the tacho around readily enough but naturally needs a bit of rowing through the dash mounted gear lever to get up to speed.The Fiat 500 pushes the fifteen inch diameter alloys out to each corner, managing to cram in a 2300 mm wheelbase as a result. This offers up a competent handling package, allowing the driver to move the Pop around with alacrity and a high level of confidence. Naturally it makes parking a doddle and with the back of the car almost at fingertip’s length, the lack of a reversing camera really isn’t an issue. Having a broad 1414 and 1408 mm track, front and rear, also provides a sense of solidity and stability on the road.Actual ride quality can be a bit choppy; on a smooth tarmac surface there’s a comfortable, absorbent, almost plush ride. Get it on a coarse surface and it changes. There’s some road noise and there’s a more pronounced tendency to wander and rebound becomes more noticeable. On the undulations on a regularly travelled freeway, the 500 will pogo but only momentarily.There’s a propensity for the engine to rev high from a standing start; it’s a juggling act balancing the clutch against the accelerator and it seems that the clutch will slip before actually engaging. It’s a disconcerting feeling initially but once experienced and dealt with, adds to the driving experience.
The 500 also comes with a button on the redesigned dash that changes the weight of the steering. Called City, it lights up on the Pop’s vibrant red backlit dash dial and adds more feeling to the already communicative steering.The interior of the Series 4 500 is a surprisingly cosy and enjoyable place to be. Cosy in that there’s just enough rear seat leg room but also because it’s a delightful view. Colour coded dash plastic, higher quality feel to the materials, some trim changes, all meet to bring the 500 up to date. The dash itself in the Pop stays with a dial within a dial design, centralising information in a look. The leather bound tiller is of a good diameter and thickness and is fitted with audio and voice command Bluetooth controls.
There’s a better look and feel to the plastics and the placement of the manual’s gear lever, up in the lower section of the centre stack, feels more natural and intuitive. Aircon controls go back to basics. Have dial, will travel. Atop them is a new five inch touchscreen for the navitainment system and has DAB radio fitted, a nice and welcome surprise. Even the headrests feel newer and more modern but stay true to the heritage of the 500.Outside, the 500 has reprofiled headlights, a minor reskin to the tail lights, full colour coding to the bumpers, and there’s the nine twin spoke alloys to provide some extra visual appeal. Lob in Euro spec heated mirrors, electric windows, side and knee ‘bags, LED driving lights, a three year or 150000 kilometre warranty AND 36 months of roadside assistance and you’ve got plenty of value in a $20k package.
At The End Of The Drive.
A Wheel Thing adores the Fiat 500. Not only did the car get eyeballs aplenty and a few cheeky looks, it brings back fun to the driving experience. It’s a manual, for starters, the choice of drivers in Europe. It’s basic in presentation and controls but it’s engaging to drive. It’s easy on the eyes, inside and out and the updates don’t stray too far from what made the 21st century version so alike with its 20th century predecessor. And at $20K, the fun factor is huge value.
Go here: 2016 Fiat 500 for more info and to book a test drive.