back to article Fiat 500S: So pleasingly sporty we didn't want to give it back

As I wound the 900cc turbo up to 5,000 rpm, my teenage son noted that while it didn't have the look of a powerful car, “it’s got balls”, in a line describing the Fiat 500S to an absolute T. One of the reasons for his surprise was the colour. Fiat call it “Electronica blue” and it’s only available on the 500S. It's a …

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    1. et tu, brute?

      ...one doubt is about stop and start

      Have a 500 Lounge myself, and the Start & Stop is the first thing I disable between starting the engine and driving off... It's more of a nuisance than anything else! I wish it was possible to set the default to be off instead of on, something like opt-in rather than opt-out!

      1. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: ...one doubt is about stop and start

        So you spend quite a bit of time stationary, in neutral, with the clutch up, and the engine running? Why? I don't understand this "it stopped just as I was about to move off" complaint. You don't even have to have a gear selected to prevent the stop - just put your foot on the clutch. It takes a little bit of getting used to, sure, but it's better for fuel consumption, pedestrians around you, and the environment in general. Why bother getting into the habit of disengaging it every time you drive when you could just get into the habit of using it properly?

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: ...one doubt is about stop and start

        So in 3-4 years when the battery's gone a bit limp, how many times are you going to get stuck at a light with a car you can't start?

        I notice it's got twin batteries, so that'll be double the price for new ones.

        1. John H Woods Silver badge

          Re: ...one doubt is about stop and start

          "So in 3-4 years when the battery's gone a bit limp, how many times are you going to get stuck at a light with a car you can't start?" - Gene Cash

          As people have said - sometimes it doesn't stop, and sometimes it restarts itself - because start/stop technology monitors the battery condition. The amount of time it will spend off depends on whether the A/C, headlights, demist etc are on. I should imagine you'll notice when the battery goes a bit limp, because it will hardly ever autostop.

        2. auburnman

          Re: ...one doubt is about stop and start

          With twin batteries, presumably never unless you're extremely unlucky or negligent with maintenance?

          1. handle

            Re: ...one doubt is about stop and start

            Typical Luddite comments with a hint of "nanny state". (How DARE you take any control away from ME! It's my party and I can pollute if I want to!)

            You could get auto stop start on VW Polos (and probably other things) in the early 1980s, before fuel injection and engine management systems, which at the very minimum increase idle speed if they sense the battery is low. Even then they had thought about engine temperature and so were disabled by a thermostat if the engine was cold. No doubt they checked battery voltage too (dead simple), but the Haynes manual is long gone. If they were reliable enough to be incorportated into a retail product in those days, just think how reliable they will be now.

            I am fortunate enough not to have to drive very often, but on a car hired recently (an up-to-date VW Polo coincidentally) found the need to turn the key back to off after a stall and to press the clutch before starting (a hire car thing?) far more disconcerting than the already whisper-quiet engine stopping at the lights and starting again so smoothly and rapidly that there was never a worry that it wouldn't be there. Super in traffic jams - hopefully the vehicle in front would be similarly equipped so as not to be pumping fumes at me in the same way that I wasn't pumping fumes at the vehicle behind.

            1. Yugguy

              Re: ...one doubt is about stop and start

              "I am fortunate enough not to have to drive very often"

              Then your opinion on this subject is about as useful as fart in a wind-tunnel.

      3. Irongut

        Re: ...one doubt is about stop and start

        I've been driving a 500 TwinAir for the last three years, I had doubts about the StartStop system at first but it has been great. I like to be quick away from a set of lights and it is more than fast enough to keep up with me. You shoud try leaving it switched on, you might be pleasantly surprised.

    2. GregC

      Re: Stop/start

      I'm not familiar with the Fiat system, but the one on my car is reasonably intelligent - it doesn't activate until the car is warmed up, won't kick in when the weather is very cold and so on. It does take some getting used to, but my experience is that once you do it actually feels odd when you take your foot off the clutch and the engine keeps running.

    3. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Progress

      On my VW Up!, the stop-start doesn't kick in until the engine is warm, and if you are stuck in a particularly bad traffic jam, the engine sometimes springs back into life while you are waiting.

      1. Ivan Headache

        Re: Progress

        Just the same with the wife's Ford Ka. It doesn't start working until the engine is well and truely warm.

        We do get the instances though (when it is warm), of the engine shutting off just when you want to pull away - and , as in the post above, it sometimes starts itself if you are sitting in a queue for any length of time.

  2. Dr_N Silver badge

    Small petrol is back!

    Fiat were at the forefront of DERV tech, but they didn't rest on their laurels and perceiving the coming storm of anti-DERV/anti-pollution taxation have come up tops again in the small (turbo'd) petrol car market. TwinAir has now been around for a good while and anyone I know who's driven one calls it "fun".

    Stop 'n' start can be de-activated. It's only there to help with quoted consumption figures during tests.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: Small petrol is back!

      It was joint designed with Ford though wasn't it? I thought the 500 and KA were effectively the same thing with minor tweaks?

      1. IsJustabloke Silver badge

        Re: Small petrol is back!

        No, the Ka is built on the same platform as the 500 but the platform is all FIAT baby!

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Small petrol is back!

          The Vauxhall/Opel Adam is also a Fiat 500 with a new skin.

    2. Irongut

      Re: Small petrol is back!

      Yup the TwinAir is lots of fun, more fun than a l lot of much larger engined sporty cars that I've owned in the past.

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Electric steering

    I have this on a Bravo and the thing that's most annoying about out - apart from being ridiculously over-servoed compared to my nicely weighted 1995 Coupe Fiat - is that the damn thing coggles the motor. Leave the weight of your hand on the wheel when stationary and the wheel slowly moves under you in a series of tiny jumps. Most disconcerting.

    I hate to think what it's like in 'city' mode.

  4. Steve D
    Unhappy

    NEVER buy a Fiat

    Fiats may be nice when brand new, but their build quality is crap.

    Mine had:

    Massive clutch problems.

    Air mass sensor failure.

    Leaking sunroof.

    Wheel bearing failure.

    Gearstick to gearbox linkage failure when crossing 3 lanes of traffic (no prior warning).

    2 separate occasions when an engine sensor failure dumped us out on the M1.

    This was despite having the car from new and dealer servicing throughout.

    Fiat: Just say NO!

    1. A 31

      Re: NEVER buy a Fiat

      "if you want a great second hand car, buy a brand new fiat"

      I think Mr Hammond quoted that a few year ago

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NEVER buy a Fiat

      Sounds bad.

      Hopefully all covered under warranty which is 5 years in most EU countries now.

      All the sensors are Bosch sourced, so can happen on any number of car makes.

    3. Peter 48

      Re: NEVER buy a Fiat

      sounds like you had a dodgy model as my first 500 only ever had to head in between annual servicing because of a mandatory recall. On my second one now and this one seems just as reliable (fingers crossed)

    4. Shady

      Re: NEVER buy a Fiat

      You do know what FIAT is an acronym, don't you?

      Fixed It Again, Then?

      1. Irongut

        Re: NEVER buy a Fiat

        At least get it right it is...

        Fix It Again Tony

    5. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: NEVER buy a Fiat

      Steve D, there's an anecdote like yours for every car make/model on the road.

      Similarly, there are people who have had years of flawless service from any make / model.

      It get unlucky sometimes, even with Hondas.

      You get lucky sometimes, even with Renaults.

  5. petur
    Boffin

    That dashboard

    "Perhaps the most up to date thing about the 500s is the all-electronic dashboard, which has a round seven-inch TFT digital instrument display, developed in collaboration with Magneti Marelli."

    I was involved in some SW development on such a dashboard some years ago. It ran WinCE and crashed all the time. Hope they now use a better platform. Anybody knows what they use these days?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Uh?

    Why the cars reviews? And more important, why are motorcycles not reviewed?

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Uh?

      Especially when the car has a smaller engine and less cargo space than any of my motorcycles.

      And is a Fiat.

      1. kmac499

        Re: Uh?

        I've got an 17yo BMW K bike; 4cyl in line, lying on it's side length ways if you didn't know rather then the trad BM-Boxer units. Rumour has it that when BM were tinkering with prototype options they used a Fiat engine .. Apparently BM cars didn't make small enough lumps at the time.

        Anyone Fancy a Twin Air lump in a bike frame ??

        1. MJI Silver badge

          Re: Uh?

          No, much better bike engines

        2. James Micallef Silver badge

          Re: Uh?

          "Anyone Fancy a Twin Air lump in a bike frame ??"

          Short Answer - No

          Long answer: well, it's a 0.9l unit that outputs 105HP. Comparing same cc, for example Ducati 899 Panigale (898cc) is 148HP. Also, with bikes it's nice to have a smooth-ish power curve, while with a turbo you get a bit of a laggy low-end. I'm not sure what size the Fiat engine is either, could be bulky with turbo added, or maybe not?

          In any case, bikes achieve high power from small(ish) engines by revving a lot higher, that in turn places more stress on components that need to be more carefully engineered / have better quality materials than car engines that redline at 6 or 7k.... which is probably why the Ducati costs almost £13k, more than quite a few small cars

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: Uh?

            "In any case, bikes achieve high power from small(ish) engines by revving a lot higher, that in turn places more stress on components that need to be more carefully engineered / have better quality materials than car engines that redline at 6 or 7k.... which is probably why the Ducati costs almost £13k, more than quite a few small cars"

            And the reason that your Ducati which weighs about 1/5 of the Fiat can only get half the MPG.

            1. James Micallef Silver badge

              Re: Uh?

              "And the reason that your Ducati which weighs about 1/5 of the Fiat can only get half the MPG."

              Completely correct... however I have never met a biker who cared about MPG :)

              1. Basil Fernie
                Coat

                Re: Uh?

                Perhaps we'll meet someday then. Here in the good old R of SA, it is all too easy to turn down an interesting-looking road only to be faced 100km later with the awareness that you are likely not to see another petrol station for at least another 100km. Unless your bike has a Dakar-size tank, you might just start caring about MPG round about then. Happened to me any number of times, more so when riding high-performance two-stroke twins... Friend of mine regularly tours long distances in the USA, similar problem, swears by the 4-valve BMW boxers for economy that certainly challenges that of the FIAT.

                Bad MPG on a bike may be somewhat due to the state of tune of the engine, but is more dependent on the verve with which all those horses are unleashed onto the road, only to have to be reined in again very wastefully at the next traffic light. Also, car shapes are noticeably aerodynamic these days, while bikes still tend to remind the aerial environment of a brick on its side with some irresistible scoops sticking out for added parachute-braking effect. Permanently.

      2. Peter 48

        Re: Uh?

        wasn't aware you could fit full size adults and some hand luggage on your bike. what model do you have?

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: Uh?

          The main reason I have a bike is so I cant fit the family on it.

      3. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Uh?

        How is your motorcycle cargo space when you are four up?

        When you are two up in the Fiat the rear seats fold flat and you can get loads of stuff in there.

        And keep all the people inside dry. And warm. And have conversations. And a stereo. And stay alive.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Stop

          Re: Uh?

          "And keep all the people inside dry."

          And nauseated in a mountain road.

          " And warm."

          Gore-tex and electrical jackets, electrical grips and seats.

          " And have conversations."

          Bluetooth intercoms. If you don't like other people's music you can have your own. You can share music and phone calls. And even better, you can talk with your fellow riders riding their own bikes.

          "And a stereo."

          Read above.

          "And stay alive."

          When you take a shower do you use an helmet?

  7. RonWheeler

    Gopping

    Technically okay. But gopping ugly in a retro gopping kind of way. Like an ugly person wearing a curvy 50s corset is still ugly. I had one of the minicab huge mated-with-London-cab versions as a hire car in March this year in Jerez. Hated it. Steering all wrong, gutless unless you cane the ass off it.

  8. FreemonSandlewould

    Give me a break.....It's a panty waist roller skate. You poor Europeans.

    1. Ross K
      Trollface

      Give me a break.....It's a panty waist roller skate. You poor Europeans.

      Remind me again who owns Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge/Ram?

      Oh yeah, the poor Europeans...

    2. Getriebe

      Yes us poor EU people, with our taught suspension, decent brakes, accurate steering, much better interiors, more powerful engines and decent roads to use them on

      Over the past 20+ years I have visited and hired cars of all types in all 4 corners of the US, and whilst they get better, they are still beige.

      Couple of years a go, landed at LAX, hired a Hertz Mustang 500H, (black and gold thing) expecting something interesting. Took it my usual test route Laguna to Skyline drive. And laughed - Blancmange with throttle delay.

      FIAT over Stelvio wins

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        @Getriebe

        The last time I hired a Mustang in the States, the electric window fell out. A Japanese rental - I don't even recall the make now - in the same state... the fabric roof fell off, at speed. In both cases the automatic boxes weren't talking to engine management unit and would drop a couple of gears and boot like crazy for a 5mph speed increase on cruise control. There's probably a reason why all the bends in the road in the States seem to have 25mph limits.

        Meanwhile, my twenty-year-old Coupe Fiat still tackles Stelvio con brio!

    3. Peter 48

      I wonder how long your smug look will last once you are faced with trying to find a parking space or even navigate side streets in a Yank Tank here in Europe.

  9. Van

    "When I reviewed the Fiesta Black I spent the whole time with a nagging doubt that it was the car you bought if you couldn’t afford the ST"

    You seem to review cars mainly on their feel good factor. An ST would be too extreme for my local roads. for me there's no point having something heavily depreciate that's not being used anywhere near to it's potential. I looked at the Fiesta range due to finding a base model hire car interesting to drive. I'vs also driven the 500 and don't care how great the interior or motor makes you feel, the steering feedback isn't enjoyable.

  10. mccp

    Pricy spares

    My daughter's 2009 500 sport needed to have a new electric steering motor at 3 and a half years old.

    It cost about £1500. The most irritating thing about the whole episode was that the dealer had an offer on a brand new 500 for £8500. Not the same model admittedly, but definitely the same steering motor.

    Fiat's customer service didn't want to know, the dealership were embarrassed, but in the end, not very helpful.

    Nice car though.

  11. Tom_

    Gear lever

    When I test drove a 500 a few years back I cut my hand on the gear level. So it's nice that this comes with a different one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gear lever

      > When I test drove a 500 a few years back I cut my hand on the gear level. So it's nice that this comes with a different one.

      Whoever decided that putting a big chunk of aluminium on the end of the gear lever is "sporty" needs a dry slap. It does nothing other than burn your hand when it's very hot or very cold.

  12. 0laf Silver badge

    Real mpg?

    How did the real world mpg compare with the EU paper figures.

    I've heard unconfirmed stories of Fiat making Twin-Air owners sign a disclaimer that they understand the car will never achieve the lab figures on the road.

    1. Getriebe

      Re: Real mpg?

      The mpg is nowhere near what they claim. The TwinAir was designed for low emissions rather than low mpg.

    2. Peter 48

      Re: Real mpg?

      the disclaimer thing is utter nonsense, however, due to the small engine, unless you only drive on completely flat land it uses more fuel than normal. My 500S with 1500miles on the clock currently manages about 45MPG overall driving around Brighton and the south downs.

  13. James Cooke

    Hopefully this is a big improvement but I've had a 500 a couple of times as a rental car and found it really struggled to get up hills to the point that we nearly couldn't get up one twisty road even in first gear.

    1. NogginTheNog
      Thumb Down

      Twin-Air.

      I had a TA 500 hire car too a couple of years back whilst mine was in the garage. I liked the looks, liked the Stop-Start too, but the little engine just ran out of steam getting up the long hill westbound on the M62 past Brighouse, and there was only me in the car.

      I love the idea and the tech behind these little turbo engines, but sometimes there's just no substitute for cubes!

      1. Peter 48

        Re: Twin-Air.

        That was most likely because you had it on eco mode which drastically cuts back on the torque. Switch that off and even fully loaded it will happily skip up and down hills.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Twin-Air.

        Problem these days is that people have been driving DERVs for so long they have forgotten you occasionally need to shift down a gear. (Instead of just trying to plant your foot through the floor and hoping for the best.)

    2. Irongut

      You probably had the wrong model. All the basic smaller engined 500s are gutless except the TwinAir, it actually has higher bhp despite a smaller engine.

      I regularly drive between Glasgow and Liverpool and have no problem with any of the hills on the M74 or M6. Admitedly I sometimes drop to third and gun it a bit but that is all that is needed and I run with ECO on.

  14. Cuddles Silver badge

    Fuel economy?

    "67.3 mpg on the official combined fuel economy cycle"

    And yet the pictures of the display show it getting 27.9mpg, a number that would embarrass an American pickup. Talk of traffic lights and transporting things in the boot suggest you weren't hammering it around a test track, so is that actually the sort of efficiency that can be expected with normal driving? Kind of shit for a small car whose only reason for existence is to be small, efficiency, and cheap.

    And of course, if that isn't the actual fuel efficiency, showing two pictures of the dashboard, one with the wrong fuel efficiency and one with the wrong speed, doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the thing.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: Fuel economy?

      It was a review car, if reviewing a car isn't it customary to use the accelerator in an on/off fashion? Did you manage to set off in 4th in the end?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I need a new iron

    When will you be reviewing irons? Should I get one of those steam generators or just a normal steam iron?

  16. system11

    If I was in the market for a small car, I'd get a Fiat 500. All the rest are so boring by and characterless by comparison. I've lost track of what BMW think they're doing with the Mini, I realised they were on a different planet when my great big Jag was overtaken by a mini which dwarfed it.

  17. circusmole
    WTF?

    I have a...

    ... 3-litre diesel engined car from a well know German manufacturer which has returned an average fuel consumption of 38.4 MPG measured over the past 2 years. A friend has one of these twin-air Fiat things and has averaged 26 MPG over the past 8 months. We both drive a mix of shopping/school runs/motorway journeys.

    ...cannot compute... :-)

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: I have a...

      see, that's the thing. If the turbo hasn't spooled up then a big lump diesel is still pretty economical on start stops and with "hill start" you don't even bother blipping the accelerator (assuming it is a manual), something you probably have to do with the 500. Soon as you hit open road the 500 will need a bit more accelerator when again you can leave the turbo idling in a higher gear.

      1. circusmole

        Re: I have a...

        I forgot to mention my 3-litre diesel is an *automatic* (conventional auto with torque converter)... even more disappointing for the Fiat.

    2. 0laf Silver badge

      Re: I have a...

      I used to get 35-40mpg from a 2.0 Turbo petrol (197hp) Skoda Octavia on a mixed driving route. The EU lab combined average was 35.7mpg. Seems to be that the more eco the car the further away form reality the lab results are.

      I know plenty of people with "gas guzzlers" paying higher VED rates that get better mpg than others with eco cars.

      If nothing else it shows what a nonsense the current EU testing is.

    3. Wyrdness

      Re: I have a...

      My 2.7 diesel s-type Jag with an auto box reports an average of 35mpg. In contrast, my previous 2.0 manual diesel Mondeo would average 45mpg (and get up to 60mpg on motorways).

      It sounds as if the EU testing needs some rethinking.

    4. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: I have a...

      "... 3-litre diesel engined car from a well know German manufacturer which has returned an average fuel consumption of 38.4 MPG measured over the past 2 years. A friend has one of these twin-air Fiat things and has averaged 26 MPG over the past 8 months. We both drive a mix of shopping/school runs/motorway journeys.

      ...cannot compute... :-)"

      Change driving style. Brake-happy driving is expensive.

      My 7 year old old-tech petrol easily does better than 42MPG on the commutes, 49MPG on a long run.

  18. Neil@bondenglish

    Has anyone had a go on the electric version? Not sure if it's actually available in the UK.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gear shift indicator???

    Ok, you need one of those in an automatic car, specially one with paddle shift or something. I could expect that even in a bike.

    But in a freaking manual, stick shift car?

    Is the gear lever that innacurate that you can't tell which gear it is on? Why not a F40 gear change grill while you are at it? It makes no sense at all. Or is it also sequential, despite the diagram on the shift knob?

    I'm guessing you needed the 'neutral' sensor anyway so you could power the car down when parked, but really?

  20. Miss Lincolnshire

    Bird's car

    It's a Bird's car but pretty good none the less. Some of the cabin plastics below knee height are a bit cheap and being 6 foot I can't sit in the back because the roof is a bit low but it looks the part and it's easy enough to drive.

    Bought my wife one to replace her Corsa. She's happy with it and that's good enough for me.

  21. Yugguy
    FAIL

    Start-Stop

    The most pointlessly overrated piece of 'tech' ever. Saves NOTHING in the real world and is a just a complete ballache. Wife has it on her Yaris. You can't disable it permanently so you have to do it every time you first start the car.

    I like the 500 though.

    Apart from the 500L which is just a giant turd.

  22. Andy 97

    Fiat, do they make cars that last?

    £16k, that's a lot of cash to invest in a small car made by a company with a dubious history of build quality.

    As it's a Fiat, I wonder just how 'fabulous' it will be once it's had some wear.

    Has anyone here got a 5+ yr old 80,000 miler?

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Fiat, do they make cars that last?

      @Andy 97 - Coupe Fiat, from new, twenty years coming up, 170k miles. I know of some with almost double that mileage. Plus a kit car powered by a coupe engine, which is completely manic! And a diesel Bravo six years old that I've put a hundred thousand on in the last three years.

      'Dubious build quality' applies to so many cars these days; in reality they're *all* an order of magnitude better put together than the cars I knew as a kid... how often do you have to decoke the engine these days, or take the plugs out and stick them under the grill before the car would start in winter? How many are a pile of rust on the drive in three years?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    sigh

    we still can't get the 1L turbo here in California.

    but we can get the ridiculous "loud bark but still little dog" Abarth.

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