Fiat 500

Almost unbearably cute and unfeasibly small

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

ADMITTING a love for the Fiat 500 is like harbouring a secret passion for the music of Taylor Swift; as inexplicable as it is irresistible.

The Fiat, which has just been facelifted (or software-updated) is too small to be useful, so lacking in power you feel youíre slipping into stasis going up hills, and almost intentionally cute and cuddly, which should be a sin in car design.

But the styling Ė particularly in high-spec versions with patterned leather seats offsetting cool ivory steering wheel and accessories Ė makes sense when 80 percent of 500 buyers in Oz are women.

These are all reasons that a man might find it hard to own up to just how charming the new Fiat 500 is once you climb inside. We extensively tested the retractableroofed 500C in Lounge spec and found it not only strangely involving and smile-tweaking to drive, thanks in large part to the short-shifting dash-top manual gearbox, but huge fun.

Yes, it is effectively the pocket square of cars, but its tiny dimensions make it pointy to steer, easy to park (despite having a turning circle that is, inexplicably, larger than John Goodmanís) and close to the perfect city car Ė as long as you donít intend to carry more than one friend at a time because the back seats seem like a trick done with mirrors.

However, the front seats are comfortable enough and youíre now faced with an all-new Uconnect infotainment system, which replaces the pre-iPad-tech buyers previously had to put up with. Itís a huge leap forward in its slickness, useability and looks.

While headroom is adequate, the tiny nature of the car can be bothersome in other ways.

Presumably in keeping with the overall look and feel, the accelerator pedal is the size of a Paddle Pop stick and your right foot can fall off. Your left foot, meanwhile, will struggle to find any comfort in the foot rest, which feels like an afterthought.

There is also an overwhelming sensation that your seating position is not so much suited to driving a car as playing an organ in a church.

If youíre not vigilant about always being in the right gear, you can attempt traffic manoeuvres on rising stretches of road and find that you donít have the power to make them, yet most of the time the car feels zippy and zesty, despite having just 74kW and 131Nm in our 1.4-litre version.

The $20K-plus asking price for a car this tiddling seems unreasonable considering itís seen very much as a Ďpeopleís carí in Italy. Still, that canít take away from its undeniable charm and its fun and form factors.

Pop go the prices

As if the Loungeís 1.4-litre engine (which replaces the previous 63kW/145Nm 0.9L turbo) isnít slow enough, thereís still the even less powerful Pop, which features a 1.2-litre with an anaemic 51kW and 102Nm.

It starts the regular 500 range at $18,000, which is a hefty $2000 more than the outgoing (and largely similar) model. The Lounge rises to a lofty $21,000 and goes up to $25,000 for the Cabrio.

Aside from the Uconnect upgrade, the higher prices are apparently justified by 15-inch alloys replacing ugly hubcaps, and a styling tweak too small to take seriously.

PLUS & MINUS

Price; awkward driving position; impractical in almost every way Style; interior feel and aura; manual gearbox; steering and handling