The car affectionately known as the bambino (Italian for child), the Fiat 500, has been reborn. After winning a swag of awards, not to mention fans, in Europe, it's coming to Oz.
Since its release in 2007, the 500 has been a major sales success for Fiat -- the company has had to increase the production rate at its plant in Poland and will soon begin making 500s at home too. A major factor in the car's success lies with its pinch-my-cheeks-I'm-ever-so-cute styling. While the styling for the new car has been lifted holus-bolus from the original, the mechanical package is completely unrelated both in terms of content -- a relief, considering the half-century gap between the two models -- and layout. The original 500 had a dinky little two-cylinder engine in the rear driving the rear wheels, the "nuova" 500 is a thoroughly conventional front-engined, front-wheel drive machine.
On sale this month, the new 500 measures a scant 3.55 metres from top to tail -- that's about 15cm shorter than a Mini and 20cm shorter than a Toyota Yaris. That's small by today's standards but the original model was only 2.97 metres long. The noughties redux also weighs significantly more (865kg versus 499kg).
The Australian engine range is comprised of three four-cylinder engines: a 52kW/102Nm 1.2-litre petrol, a 74kW/131Nm 1.4-litre petrol and a 55kW/145Nm 1.3-litre turbocharged diesel. Three trim levels are offered: Pop, Sport and Lounge. Like the other retro hatches on sale Down Under, the new 500 is no longer about bargain basement specification aimed at putting a nation on wheels, but premium chic. As such, pricing begins at AU$22,990 with features like air-conditioning, anti-lock brakes and seven airbags as standard.
The interior is as funky as the exterior, with the dashboard dominated by a set of retro-style gauges and a slab of body-coloured faux metal. A six-speaker sound system with a CD player capable of reading MP3 files is part of the base package, while steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth hands-free and a USB port are part of the 500's range of options. Indeed, the 500's option list is longer the car itself; buyers can choose between four different leather packages and seven sets of decals, some of which can be mixed and matched.