The Fiat 500 TwinAir is a fascinating prospect. This is the point where Fiat’s kitsch reworking of its iconic 1950s city car elevates itself to a new level of 21st century relevance.
The TwinAir engine tested here is, according to Fiat, ‘the greenest petrol engine in the world’, yet it features no batteries, EV trickery or hybrid drivetrain. It’s just a highly efficient, low-friction, lightweight 875cc petrol engine with two cylinders and a turbocharger. We are not expecting it to be quick. But can we live with it?
Two cylinders and 875cc? The Fiat 500 TwinAir must be horribly slow, presumably?
Do you know, it isn’t. There’s 85bhp to play with and, much more relevantly, 107lb ft of torque from just 1900rpm, so when you’re buzzing around in town you never find a lack of urge.
‘Buzzing’ is the operative word, as the engine has a highly distinctive note – a kind of V8 burble pitched three octaves too high. It’s highly appealing, characterful and not at all intrusive. I haven’t driven the twin-pot 1957 Fiat 500, but I’ll wager it sounded a bit like this. And that’s a good thing. It suits the car.
How flexible is the performance of the Fiat 500 TwinAir, especially out of town?
The car is a function of its gearbox – a five-speed manual with highly specific ratios. The first two gears are incredibly short, but you’ll need to use them all the time to keep momentum, even resorting to first when rolling up to a roundabout. But third is magnificently long-legged, and allows you to do nearly all your town driving without further up-stirring. A 70mph cruise on a dual-carriageway feels comfortable, but a slight incline will have you reaching for fourth.
The gearchange is rubbery and imprecise, but the column-mounted stick is fun to hold and bully. It feels like driving an old car, but in a good way.
Top speed of the Fiat 500 TwinAir stands at 107mph and 0-62mph takes 11sec. But we'd say that's like your watch’s ability to be waterproof to 50 metres – you won’t need to test it.
Does downsizing mean a clean engine?
The TwinAir produces just 95g/km CO2 and claims 68.9mpg. Truly sobering figures. There are further efficiencies in its light weight (13kg lighter than the FIRE 1.4 unit), its small size (23% shorter) and the fact that it can run unthrottled, reducing pumping losses by 10%.
It also features a stop/start system that works pretty well, and has an Eco button which completely changes the engine mapping, moving the torque curve further down the rev range to keep the engine running at its most efficient more of the time.
Strip away the headlines – what’s the 500 TwinAir like to drive?
Good fun, in a slightly hapless sort of way. The ride is not bad, but secondary ride has its hands full when speed bumps and potholes kick in, and the steering is ridiculously light, even before you hit the Eco button to make it even lighter. It’s quite noisy, but not annoyingly so, and there’s plenty of grip if you can put up with some impressive body roll long enough to find out. Of course it understeers, but you’ll never be going fast enough for it to matter.
And does it work as a package?
The Fiat 500 is bigger inside than you might think – you notice the narrowness more than any lack of height or legroom. The footwell is cramped, and a certain upper-body bendiness is needed to grab the seatbelt from behind you, but these are details. The body-coloured cabin plastics have the cheerful feel of an Action Man/Cindy doll car, and the off-white controls ape that Apple chic without feeling pretentious. And the boot’s pretty big, actually.
The dog-tooth check cloth of the seats really brightens the place up, and the seats themselves are as supportive as you could possibly hope. But the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel means the damn thing is anchored too far away.
What price green peace of mind?
Firstly, you get no brownie points from bearded people because there’s no TwinAir badging to thrill them. So it’s no big statement. But in three-door Pop spec it’s an Italian Job-style steal at £10,665.
Upgrade to Lounge spec and it’s still no hardship at £12,065. Ford’s able but less clever Ka tends to be a bit cheaper (£10,245 for a nice Titanium 1.2) and Nissan want £12,095 for a Tekna-spec 1.2 Micra. But both are thirstier and dirtier, and neither makes you laugh like this Fiat.