Fiat 500 1.2 Pop, from £10,890
SOMETIMES YOU’VE just got to be brave. Sometimes you’ve got to be prepared to set aside the old ways, throw all the pieces up in the air and see where they land. And then there are those times when you’ve got to renew the Fiat 500.
The big “reveal” moment in last week’s Turin-based presentation for the latest incarnation of the widely appreciated four-seat city car was a minor classic in the art of anticlimax. First out onto the stage came the dinky, huggable, chrome-whiskered Fifties original, not that much bigger than the leather suitcase nostalgically strapped to its boot. Then the curtains closed briefly before we flashed forward to 2007 and the model’s rebirth as a charismatic urban runaround. And then, with anticipation now thoroughly aflame, the curtains closed again and . . . oh.
It was spot-the-difference time. Fiat claims that this car contains 1,900 new components. If so, those 1,900 new bits are very efficiently hidden. On the outside of the car, I managed to count seven — and that’s numbering each of the lamp units, front and back, separately. Six of those, including fog lights, then, plus a new studded air-intake, for a total of seven, leaving me with just 1,893 alterations left to be spotted.
Here, then, is a peerless essay in the philosophy of refusing to meddle with a winning formula. Meet the new car, same as the old car.
But what was Fiat ever going to do? People love this car as hard as they’ve loved pretty much anything on four wheels in the 21st century. Should Fiat risk revamping it as a pick-up truck? Fit an innovative fifth wheel?
In any case, people who want to see the 500’s formative glories monkeyed around with can now go to the freshly bloated 500L, which inflates the car into a people carrier, or the 500X, which reimagines it as a mini-SUV and leading-edge taxi cab. In the context of this expanding range there’s no reason why the standard 500 can’t be left alone to carry on as it is.
In fairness, there are a couple of notable modifications inside. The speedo stops being analogue and goes digital. And where the outgoing model had a mounting pad for a TomTom sat nav and a slot for an ancient mode of musical storage known in days of yore as a “compact disc”, the new one has a 5in touchscreen and glimmering access to the world of connectivity. Thus Fiat 500 owners can continuously update their statuses on Facebook from the cabin — and without that, perhaps, Fiat worried that the 500 would be doomed.
Fiat also now offers “expressive second skins”, which sounds vaguely prophylactic but in fact refers to a new raft of sticker options, enabling you to plaster the entire top half of the car with tartan, camouflage or other patterns, if you wish to.
On a trip round the streets of Turin, in a 1.2-litre petrol model, which has been rendered marginally more efficient, the 500 drove as it always has: agile without being alarming, easy on the wrist, getting a bit thumpy over speed bumps and broken pavings. But nobody ever bought a 500 for smoothly insulated comfort. They bought it because it looked cute and provided a cheerful place in which to sit. And it still does.
Pretty much the worst thing anyone has ever had to say about the car is that it costs too much. All that design has always come at an apparently non-negotiable premium. The good news, though, is that the design in this case doesn’t come at a larger premium than it did, prices having been held at the rates for the outgoing range. So, it might not be very different but at least it costs exactly the same.
2015 Fiat 500 1.2 Pop specifications
- Engine: 1999cc, 4 cylinders, petrol, turbocharged
- Power: 68bhp @ 5500rpm
- Torque: 75 lb ft @ 3000rpm
- Transmission: 5-speed manual
- Performance: 0-62mph: 12.9sec
- Top speed: 99mph
- Fuel: 60mpg
- CO2: 110g/km
- Road tax band:B (free for the first year; £20 thereafter)
- Price: £10,890
- Release date: September
Fiat 500 1.2 Pop rivals
Mini One 3-door
For More spacious than the 500; better interior; better to drive
Against Not as cute; has grown bloated over time
Kia Picanto Chilli 1.25
For Comfortable ride; feels well made; seven-year warranty
Against Steering and brakes are lacklustre