Since the current Fiat 500 first appeared in early 2008, it’s been one of our favourite small cars. What’s more, we’re not alone, since tens of thousands have found homes since then – from the hatchbacks to the 500C convertible and, our particular favourite, the pocket-rocket Abarth 500. Now, though, there’s another 500 model available and it has the potential of being the best-seller in the entire range.
Launched in late 2010, the 500 TwinAir features some remarkable technology, although you’d be hard pressed to spot one. The blue paint scheme on our test car is one giveaway, but I’ll come back to that. Otherwise, the car looks the same as any other 500 from the outside, while the interior also looks pretty standard with the same colour co-ordinated dash you’ll find in other models. If you look really closely, however, you’ll spot the “City” button has been replaced by one that says “Eco”, but that’s about it. No – the clever thing about this car is hidden away under the bonnet. Developed by Fiat Powertrains in Italy is a two-cylinder 875cc petrol engine that develops 85bhp thanks to a turbocharger.
You’d have thought that the tiny engine would make the car a little gutless to drive, but that’s the first surprise awaiting new drivers. Around town, sprightly performance doesn’t really matter, but once the turbo starts spinning the TwinAir is actually quicker than the 1.2 litre car from 0-62mph and it goes on to reach a higher top speed as well.
The sound it makes is the second surprise. I don’t know quite what I was expecting – probably something like a cross between a rattly diesel and one of those one-cylinder static engines they have at county shows – but the reality was that the TwinAir makes a rather pleasant thrummy noise in everyday driving. It does get a little harsher when you push it hard, but that’s only really to be expected. In all honesty, you’d struggle to tell the TwinAir from a “normal” 500 most of the time and, even then, I reckon most people would prefer the sound it makes compared to its older brothers and sisters.
Ride and handling are, of course, the same as other non-Abarth 500s and they’ve actually improved since the 500 was launched, largely thanks to the work done by Ford on its Ka which is produced in the same factory.
Where the car really comes into its own is in terms of economy and emissions. Pushing out just 95g/km of CO2, the powerplant is the most efficient petrol engine currently on sale anywhere in the world. As a result, the TwinAir is exempt from paying any car tax while you also don’t have to pay the London Congestion Charge, saving a small fortune for those unfortunate enough to face a daily commute into the capital.
Fiat’s figures suggest a combined fuel economy of nearly 69mpg, but that’s actually my only major complaint about the car. There was no way I nor any of my colleagues could get anywhere near that figure at the car’s launch and, even using the Eco button which puts the car into an even less thirsty mode, I reckon 60mpg is about the best you could hope for – about the same as some small diesels currently available. Of course, those diesels can cost quite a bit more to buy than the TwinAir, but at least you won’t be disappointed if you know about that economy issue before you buy.
Back to that colour, finally, and our test car’s “Volare Blue” is unique to the TwinAir – just about the only way of spotting one without lifting the bonnet or listening really closely to the engine note. For what it’s worth, I reckon the TwinAir is a great little car – that engine really suits the 500 and there’ll be more TwinAir models released in due course.
Report by Mark James
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