FIAT President Oliver Francois, strutting around Milan in a designer three piece suit and sunglasses in the video unveiling of the next generation of the Fiat 500, declared his new city car “The third reincarnation of a spirit”.
It’s hard to argue with him — the outgoing 500 wasn’t the most practical model, nor one of the most comfortable or best to drive. But it was one of the most fashionable cars around, as was the original “Cinquecento”, and the new version seems unlikely to break the trend.
As predicted, the new edition is pure-electric, which means it runs quietly at low speeds. So, as required by regulation, at speeds up to 12mph the new 500 emits an “acoustic alert” for pedestrians to warn them it is approaching.
But rather than copy a standard escalating tone, as other car makers have done, Fiat has sought to avoid the “sea of sameness” and give the 500 its own melody that plays as you drive — Amarcord by Nino Rota. Skip to 8m 40sec in the video below to hear it. Belissima, as they say. Or annoying — you decide.
In addition, the key fob looks like a pebble — another indication that Fiat wanted its baby to stand out from the crowd.
The Italian car maker also collaborated with three famous Italian fashion brands on the first three cars to roll off the production line, which will be sold at auction to benefit the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, with the actor being an ambassador for the car. One is designed by Armani, another by furniture designer Kartell and the third by luxury jeweller Bulgari. The paint of the latter model contains actual gold.
It’s not just a car about style and romance, however — the new Fiat 500 holds some pretty impressive decent statistics. It’s got a 199-mile range between charges, according to the WLTP test on a mix of roads, and Fiat says that it can do 249 miles in city conditions, making it go further on one charge than many of its diminutive competitors.
It is also equipped with a ‘Sherpa’ mode, which gets you even further. It “modifies the car’s parameters, and gets you to your base camp no matter what,” says Fiat. This includes lowering the top speed from 93mph to 50mph.
An 85kWh fast charger allows the battery to be refilled at a rate of 31 miles of driving every five minutes. A branded home charging wallbox will also be fitted by Fiat, avaialble in basic form with a 3kW output, or 7.4kW if you get the upgraded model.
Another addition to the driving experience is “one-pedal-drive”, wherein if you take your foot of the acceleration pedal, the car decelerates more quickly than it would in a vehicle with a normal combustion engine. The brake pedal still has to be used to bring the car to a complete stop, but Fiat says that “you can eventually learn to drive it using the accelerator pedal only.” This isn’t an innovation, though — the same feature can be found on the Nissan Leaf.
Other modern upgrades include level two autonomous driving, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane centring, blind spot assist and brake assist. This, as Fiat points out, is very useful for urban driving, when there tends to be a fair bit going on around you. No car currently offers level three autonomy, which allows drivers to yield control fully to the car and take their eyes off the road for certain periods. (No, not even Teslas).
On the exterior, understandably Fiat has been loath to stray from the styling that has been iconic since the 500’s introduction in 1957. It’s a little bigger, with the wheels further apart and a little length added.
That means that in the interior there’s now more space. There are also fewer buttons, cleaner lines, and the seats are made from recycled ocean plastic. The new 500 also marks the debut of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ new infotainment system, which will be a welcome addition across all FCA brands, which include Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Dodge and Jeep.
All of this means that, like when it reincarnated the 500 in 2007, Fiat is expecting demand to outstrip supply. The initial release, on July 4, will be that of La Prima, which is the top-of-the range, soft top version. Only 500 units of this model will be available per country, and Fiat is taking pre-orders now. The bad news is that this hi-spec, limited edition version will cost you a not-so-compact £29,000.