Fiat 500 TwinAir

New two-cylinder engine claims peerless blend of pace and efficiency

Bosses at Fiat have looked to the past for inspiration once again. The chic 500 has always traded on its retro lines, but the addition of a new efficiency-boosting two-cylinder engine is yet another nod to the famous Fifties original. So, can the TwinAir live up to the legend?

Unlike its painfully slow 13bhp predecessor, the newcomer aims to add decent straight-line performance to impressive fuel-saving stats. The inclusion of a turbocharger and Fiat’s clever electro-hydraulic MultiAir variable valve timing means the tiny 875cc unit produces 85bhp, yet returns 68.9mpg and emits only 95g/km of CO2. This, Fiat claims, makes it the world’s cleanest petrol-powered engine.

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Externally, there’s little to distinguish the new TwinAir from other models in the 500 line-up. Apart from a sporty oval exhaust pipe, the car is unchanged – and that’s no bad thing. The Fiat’s friendly face is three years old now, but its visual appeal is undimmed. As before, there’s a host of customisation options. Our car featured an eye-catching new £260 Volare Blue paint finish and gorgeous 16-inch polished alloy wheels – a £170 extra over the standard 15-inch rims.

The retro-inspired styling is carried over inside, with a body-coloured dash and large cowled dials. Lounge trim adds a panoramic glass sunroof, which gives the Fiat cabin a brighter feel than its sombre Toyota rival. 

The Italian has the edge on practicality, too. There’s room for two adults on the rear bench, and a boot capacity of 185 litres – a huge 153 litres more than in the iQ. However, there’s little to separate the two in terms of standard kit and build, as both are solidly screwed together and packed with plenty of big-car features. The Toyota has climate control rather than the Fiat’s manual air-con, but gets Bluetooth connectivity and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.

At the test track, the TwinAir engine gives the Fiat a decisive performance advantage. It covered 0-60mph in a brisk 11.7 seconds. But it’s the mid-range pace that impresses, with the 500 completing 50-70mph in 13.8 seconds – that’s a full 3.2 seconds faster than the iQ.

On the road, the two-cylinder powerplant feels punchy. With its offbeat idle and thrumming engine note, the eager and smooth-spinning 875cc unit suits the cheeky 500 down to the ground. There’s a healthy 145Nm of torque available from only 1,900rpm, meaning the Fiat never feels out of its depth in fast-moving traffic. A slick five-speed gearbox completes the excellent drivetrain. 

Direct steering and compact dimensions result in nimble handling, particularly on busy city streets. But big bumps upset the Fiat’s composure in corners and under heavy braking, while there isn’t much feedback through the major controls.

And on long journeys, the newcomer isn’t nearly as refined as the Toyota. Yet despite these failings, it’s hard not to be won over by the TwinAir’s boisterous character.

At £12,065, the Fiat costs £827 more than the equally well equipped Toyota. However, it delivers much stronger pace, has a more practical cabin and an extra dose of style.

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: New hi-tech two-cylinder petrol powerplant promises strong performance and diesel economy. But latest 500 retains cute, retro-inspired styling.

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