Italy has given us many things – most obvious is wonderful food, but there’s also style, art, waste management techniques (that’s a Sopranos reference) and cars, Italians know their cars.
When car enthusiasts converse about the history of Italian automotive engineering, it’s generally all about prancing stallions and tridents, however, Italy was in the motoring game long before those brands were conceived.
Way back in 1899, Fiat was born. It’s nothing short of remarkable that it’s still with us today. Now Fiat isn’t necessarily the most desirable marque to hail from that part of the world, but that doesn’t diminish the contribution it has made.
In this day and age, the word icon gets thrown around very freely. Not many cars can mount a genuine claim to secure that sort of status. Our test car can, just walking towards the 2018 Fiat 500 offers a moment to consider its decorated history.
First introduced in 1957, the Fiat 500 is one of those rare cars that has never strayed far from its heritage. It’s a formula that has remained evergreen. The 500 was relaunched for a contemporary audience in 2007 and since then over two million have been produced.
Despite the apple-esque modernity we are now a slave to, retro is now cool and nothing is more retro than the Fiat 500 Anniversario. Limited to only 60 units, this is the ultimate tribute to the original with a dash of modern convenience for $23,490 plus on-roads.
Through the decades the design of the Fiat 500 has remained true to the original, it's taken the evolutionary path. This is a good thing.
From the outside, the Anniversario looks like it has been driven straight out of the 1950s. It’s not much of a leap to suggest Danny Zuko would have loved it as is (maybe a flame decal?). The lines, the curves, the chrome, the old-school wheels and the stunning Green Tea Leaf paint come together so succinctly it could be described as poetry. Keats couldn’t have done better.
In typical Italian style, the Anniversario is a head turner. Wherever it was parked, it proved to be an attention grabber.
While the exterior draws initial praise, it’s the fashionista cabin that donkey licks its competitors. Fiat has tastefully splashed the Green Tea Leaf colour across the dash and on the seats. The designers have shown a level of flair that is rarely seen in the city car segment. It makes a statement that Versace would take notice of. The interiors of the Anniversario’s competitors are bland by comparison.
It’s thoughtfully planned, the use of colour, texture and light (thanks to a generously sized sunroof) gives the cabin a funky and spacious feeling. There’s some genuine character here and a sense of occasion.
Perfection is hard to achieve and the little Fiat takes a hit when the subject of infotainment arises. The screen is a minuscule 5.0-inches. It did have satellite navigation but the latest smartphone mirroring tech is absent.
Also missing is a rear-view camera. Drivers have no option but to revert to mirrors and occasionally turn their head. For young readers, these are things motorists did back in the day. If this seems like a bridge too far, there are rear parking sensors to assist you.
Other than the underdone infotainment offering, the layout is well executed. The large dial that sits in the instrument cluster behind the lovely trimmed tiller is easy to read and logical to follow.
For a car of diminutive exterior proportions, the interior is surprisingly roomy. Even very tall drivers and passengers will have no problem feeling at home. Up front, the seats are excellent, the high roofline means they can be mounted slightly higher. It’s similar to what we experienced in the new Suzuki Swift.
With so much emphasis on styling, someone forgot to include a front armrest. Where is Vito Corleone when you need him?
The usability of the back seat is entirely dependant on the dimensions of those in the front pews.
Now the drive, the 500 is a city car so it doesn’t need to set any performance benchmarks. The 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol only develops 51kW and 102Nm. These are small numbers by any measure but it does the job.
At no stage during our test week did the engine feel short of breath. It produces more than enough oomph to move the car around, soaking wet, the 500 only weights 935kg.
Around town, the Fiat’s steering is crisp and nicely weighted. There is a slight bit of resistance that adds some feeling to the driving experience.
What lets the drivetrain down is the Dualogic gearbox. It’s trying to have a bet each way and appeal to buyers who want the convenience of an automatic with the driving engagement of a manual. This conclusively proves fence sitters get splinters.
In automatic mode, it takes what seems like an eternity to shift up. When you're trying to get off the line it’s incredibly frustrating. It’s never smooth enough to be considered modern, which will concern some buyers with this being a new car and all.
Regardless of the driving situation, the transmission works better in manual mode if you're happy to keep the revs up. There is absolutely no room for sentiment, you’ve got to give it a bootful!
In all honesty, this is one of those instances where a proper manual shifter is the way to go. Not only will it be more enjoyable to drive and save $1500, it will better suit the personality of the car.
Away from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne, the Fiat is comfortable to pilot on longer journeys.
We covered 447 kilometres during our time with the car and returned a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.3L/100km. At no stage did we get any closer to the claimed figure of 4.8L/100km. It should also be noted, like its countrymen, the little Fiat likes to drink the finest wine – 95 RON all the way.
In terms of ownership, the 500 requires fresh oil every 12 months/15,000km. Unfortunately, Fiat doesn’t offer owners a capped-price service program.
Warranty coverage is also off the pace, Fiat is sticking with a three year/150,000 kilometre warranty which is nothing more than average in the current market.
On the surface the Fiat is instantly likeable, however, the friendship is stretched when you consider the latest safety tech is noticeably missing. Autonomous emergency braking and blind spot monitoring didn’t make the spec sheet and can’t be optioned.
Despite the absence of safety kit and the Dualogic transmission, the Fiat 500 Anniversario is a very likeable city car. There’s something pure about it, the Anniversario is yet to be corrupted by contemporary society.
Nostalgia aside, few cars offer the individuality and bespoke style that the 500 delivers. It offers a unique throwback to history that should be embraced.
The 500 Anniversario is a wonderful tribute to an automotive icon, only the Beetle and Mini can lay claim to the sort of ancestry on show here.
Like most Italian cars, the 500 will never appeal to sensible people, but where is the fun in that?
2018 Fiat 500 Anniversario Specifications
Price from $23,490 plus on-road costs (auto) Engine 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 51kW @ 5500rpm Torque 102Nm @ 3000rpm Transmission five-speed Dualogic automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 4.8L/100km Tank Capacity 35L Performance 0-100km/h 12.9 seconds Length 3571mm Width 1627mm Height 1488mm Wheelbase 2300mm Turning Circle 9.3m Tare Weight 935kg Service Intervals 12 months/15,000km Warranty three year/150,000 kilometre
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