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New Fiat 500 Mild Hybrid 2020 review

A new mild hybrid powertrain will help prolong the old Fiat 500’s life alongside the all-new electric 500 model, but age is not on the Italian city car’s side…

Overall Auto Express Rating

2.5 out of 5

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Verdict

The mild hybrid powertrain in this updated Fiat 500 brings a useful efficiency gain, and while the car isn’t all that fast or refined – nor is it particularly good to drive or all that comfortable – there’s still a likeable charm that’s always been present in Fiat’s famous city car. CarPlay and Android Auto just keep it up to date enough when it comes to tech, but at £16,795, Launch Edition trim probably won’t be the range sweet spot. Go for a more affordable model that still benefits from electrification if you love the style the 500 offers.

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The all-new, all-electric Fiat 500 might be grabbing headlines, but what if you don’t want to make the jump to full EV ownership yet still fancy something with the style of the small Fiat? Well, the Italian brand has also released a lightly electrified version of its best-selling city car, the 500 Mild Hybrid.

The simple facts are that this electrically assisted 500 uses an integrated Belt Starter Generator in conjunction with an 11Ah lithium-ion battery, with the system helping to run the car’s auxiliary functions. It’s mounted directly to the 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and gives a very small boost under acceleration for a total of 69bhp and 92Nm of torque.

Those figures aren’t a lot, and the 0-62mph time of 13.8 seconds highlights how slow the 500 is, but it’s a car that’s designed to be used at half that speed.

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From a standstill to the urban speed limit it feels much keener. The clutch is light and indistinct in terms of its biting point so you need plenty of revs to get the car off the line, but it zips along well enough despite a hesitation sometimes when pressing the throttle.

The six-speed manual transmission’s gearshift is light, not very precise and feels notchy, while the ride is also on the bouncy side. The chassis could certainly do with more control as you get thrown around in your seat on bumpy streets, but there’s still a retro charm to the way the 500 drives.

It feels at home in urban environments and its compact dimensions give you confidence to thread it through gaps and park quickly and easily, but out of town, despite an extra ratio to help keep revs down and efficiency up, the Fiat feels less at home and its flaws are more obvious.

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Efficiency is what this powertrain has been designed to achieve though, with claims of 53.3mpg and 88g/km CO2 emissions, the latter figure a 30 per cent reduction over the old 1.2 500.

The mild hybrid model can switch the engine off at up to 18mph when slowing down to help maximise fuel economy. You’ll need that help as well, because you do have to thrash the engine hard to get up to speed on more open roads.

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There’s a new screen for the digital display in the instrument binnacle that shows the flow of energy either back into the battery when slowing down or to the wheels when accelerating, but the reality is that you actually never feel the system operating.

There’s nothing wrong with this because, as the name suggests, the hybrid assistance is mild at best – remember, this car can’t run on electricity alone.

Despite its new powertrain and some styling tweaks throughout its life, the 500 is feeling its age. The infotainment, for example, looks small in the dash and is fiddly to operate – we’d use the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity packages that come as standard on our £16,795 Launch Edition car.

This spec also features ‘Seaqual’ upholstery, which is derived from recycled plastic to back up the 500 Mild Hybrid’s environmentally friendly credentials. This powertrain will be available across the rest of the range of trim levels, too.

It actually adds to the style focus inside, and that’s one thing you can’t fault the Fiat for.

Model: Fiat 500 Mild Hybrid Launch Edition
Price: £16,795
Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl petrol MHEV
Power: 69bhp/92Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 13.8 seconds
Top speed:104mph
Economy/CO2:53.3mpg/88g/km
On sale: Now
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Sean’s been writing about cars since 2010, having worked for outlets as diverse as PistonHeads, MSN Cars, Which? Cars, Race Tech – a specialist motorsport publication – and most recently Auto Express and sister titles Carbuyer and DrivingElectric

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