25 March 2014

Road Test: Fiat 500S

The Fiat 500S is the latest in the iconic and very successful small car range from the Italian carmaker to roll out on our roads, writes Brian Byrne.

In a nameplate which has become synonymous with fashion — all the derivatives seem to have some kind of fashion connection — this time the company has decided to produce one aimed at men.

Like the others, it only means detail changes. A red-topped gearshifter, some sporty red stitching, a couple of red-tipped badges on the outside, including the wheels. Special bumpers front and rear, and side skirts, along with a bootlid spoiler complete the sportier visuals. It remains, though, the Fiat 500.

Which isn't any bad. I'm on record several times as liking this little pocket car which has lots of reasons to attract. And lots of reasons why it should be considered against arch-rival Mini.

Its sweetheart looks are working so well that we're not going to see a brand new version of the car for another couple of years. And even then, while they'll make it bigger they won't muck too much with the core style.

It's a practical shape, slips easily through the air and produces surprisingly little external noise. The practical hatchback (not in the cabrio version though) means good access to an admittedly small boot. But then, it's designed to be a small car. That it's only a 3-door might be a problem if one were to use the back seats much, but really they're not up to more than an occasional child or two, and this 500 isn't aimed at family driving anyhow.

For a pair up front there's good room, especially headroom for even me (though don't order one with a sun-roof if you are tall, it just doesn't work).

I like the cleanliness of the dashboard design, and the very practical instrument pod directly in front of the driver. Revs, speed, and various other informations all neatly packaged and very clear. Should be copied on the 500L, actually. And overall, the 500S scores well against the Mini in the location and simplicity of its switchgear and instruments.

The Abarth-inspired sports seats hug nicely and the steering wheel from the same sporting theme is as neat a handful as you might like to hold.

The review car had the entry 1.2 petrol, pushing 69hp and emissions of 113g/km. It requires and responds to a little welly, though will never screech or burn rubber. Still, I do prefer it to the TwinAir turbo which, while cleaner and punchier at 85hp, needs a mindset change to adapt to the sound of the 2-cylinder popple. The 5-speed shifter is neatly to hand, and tidy in use.

The 500's big selling point is without doubt its place in a crowded motoring world, a nippy and small-footprint vehicle that still can hold its own on any autostrada or even Dublin to Belfast motorway. Ride and handling on most surfaces are fine, and even on rough minor roads it doesn't jar that much. It feels much tougher than it looks.

One of the 500's charms is the fact that this is a fun car in any of its guises. People outside smile at it, and us inside generally have a smile on our faces too.

Which is probably why, across Europe, it's the best selling car in its segment. They have a thing for small cars while we in Ireland don't much like them. Maybe we lose out sometimes.

Prices for the 500S start at €15,195. The TwinAir is available from €16,495. And don't forget Fiat's 5-year warranty.