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New Fiat 500 Mild Hybrid 2020 review

The Fiat 500 Mild Hybrid adds electric assistance for the first time, but is it a success?

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

Fiat hasn’t played too much with the 500’s multi-million-selling recipe in coming up with this mild hybrid. The system is well implemented and so mild that it’s near-imperceptible for most of the time. Plus Fiat’s figures say it’s economical – although the CO2 emissions will change when WLTP testing is introduced in April. For buyers wanting more practicality and comfort, the 500’s Panda sibling is available with this drivetrain too.

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The Fiat 500 is still doing Italy’s biggest brand proud 13 years into its life. After a major refresh in 2016, mild-hybrid power is the city car’s big news for 2020. It’s the first step in Fiat’s efforts to cut fleet tailpipe emissions ahead of a new, all-electric 500 that’s coming later this year.

The 500 Mild Hybrid is powered by a new three-cylinder petrol engine that doesn’t follow the modern trend for turbocharging, creating an unusual combination of naturally aspirated power and electrified assistance.

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The latter is made up of a 12-volt belt-driven starter motor and a tiny 11Ah battery. Fiat is yet to confirm WLTP CO2 emissions but claims this powertrain delivers a 30 per cent reduction over the outgoing 1.2-litre model; average WLTP economy is 53.3mpg.

The system achieves its savings through quick start-stop functionality, electrical assistance under acceleration, and an ability to switch off its engine at speeds below 18mph. Shifting into neutral kills the engine but keeps the car’s ancillaries functional, although there’s no all-electric drive mode. 

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The set-up will arrive first on a high-spec Launch Edition car before appearing across the 500 range, and our initial impressions of the system are positive. There’s no arguing with the appeal of the car’s retro styling, which is complemented here by unique alloys and ‘Dew Green’ paint, intended as a nod to the car’s eco-friendly credentials.

The colour scheme continues inside, where the only immediately obvious change is limited to seats trimmed in fabric made from recycled ocean plastic.

A central screen sits in the dash, while the smaller screen behind the steering wheel remains; the former can be used to track eco driving data, while the latter now includes information like battery charge and gear recommendations.

On the move, the three-cylinder engine requires plenty of revs to deliver its best and although it doesn’t feel quite as laboured as the old 1.2-litre, the new motor is not very refined.

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Performance is adequate but falls short of what’s offered in 83bhp 0.9-litre turbocharged TwinAir models; although it’s fine around town, it feels a little breathless on the open road.

The snappy stop-start system works well in its natural urban environment, while using the coasting feature is as simple as slipping the six-speed gearbox into neutral as you approach a set of traffic lights. It’s a strange feeling if you’re used to working your way down through the gears as you’re coming to a stop, so it’s likely that some motorists will need to adjust their driving habits to benefit from the electrical assistance.

The 500 charges its battery under deceleration and braking more or less imperceptibly, and you don’t get the strange brake pedal feel that can be found in some of the more aggressive systems.

Otherwise, the overall driving experience in this new Mild Hybrid is familiarly 500; a slightly firm ride that can verge on crashy over larger imperfections, a high driving position and good all-round visibility are perhaps the most obvious features.

The steering is well weighted but lacks feel, and doesn’t offer much feedback, although it can be made lighter at the press of a button for low-speed manoeuvres.

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