I remember when the “new” Fiat 500 first came out. I loved the way it looked, but I always felt strangely unsatisfied by the way it drove. In fact, the same could be said of most small Italian cars. I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t have the same flair and vigour of larger Italian cars.
But then I spent a week with the least powerful 500 of the time and discovered the secret to driving small, low-powered Italian cars and have loved them ever since.
So will this low-price entry into the Fiat 500 family have the same appeal? Possibly more, to be honest…
Likes: Utterly LOVE the retro styling of the exterior of the 500. That is all there is to say.
Dislikes: See above.
Likes: Utterly LOVE the retro styling of the interior of the 500.
Dislikes: Except it is a pain in the arse of the highest order. It demands you conform to a particular, distinctly upright seating position and is blatantly, wilfully ignorant of modern ergonomics, or common sense, for that matter. The Blue&Me audio/voice control system is utterly mental and completely infuriating. Still love it though…
Under the bonnet
Likes: The little 51kW/102Nm 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine is a real little trier that loves to be thrashed and sounds great doing it. The 5-speed manual transmission is a little bit notchy, but is still quick and easy to use.
Dislikes: Really does NEED to be thrashed to get decent forward motion going and maintained, but then that is part of the fun of it.
On the road
Likes: Thinks it is a Ferrari and demands to be driven like one. Nimble and light, it turns in sharply and tracks through corners with wonderful accuracy. Just screams for more all the time. Hangs on with grim determination.
Dislikes: It will eventually understeer, but just backing off the throttle will get it happily back on line again. Of course, by then you will have lost too much momentum to keep up pace…
Now, I love Italian cars. I love the way they look, I love the way they sound, I love the way they drive and I love the way that even the really crap ones still think they are Ferraris and demand to be driven like one.
And that is the key to driving small Italian cars that I discovered a few years back. They NEED to be driven like an Italian, living in Italy would drive them – by that, I mean ruthlessly hard. At full noise. Everywhere. All the time.
Popping down to the shop in your Punto to pick up some milk? It must be attacked like it is the Monaco Grand Prix. Every gear change must be punctuated by the engine machine-gunning against the rev limiter and every corner a tyre-howling symphony of opposite lock.
Dropping the kids off at school in your Mito? The drop-off zone at the front of the school needs to be treated similarly to a pit stop at Monza. Heel-and-toe downshifts must announce your arrival as you swerve wildly amongst the scattering children and the kids MUST be poised to leap from the car in record time to minimise the amount of time standing still before your tyre-smoking departure.
Driving to work in your Thema? After weaving your way through commuter traffic with unnecessary aggression like you are lapping backmarkers at Spa, your arrival at work must be preceded by a valve-rattling roar as you downshift for the Scandinavian-flick into the tight entry of the car park and the final parking manoeuvre simply has to be completed with the hand brake.
And once I understood this single fact about small Italian cars, it was love again.
And the Fiat 500 Pop has more to love about it than most by providing less for a lot less. The littlest Fiat costs a mere $19,990, comes on 14-inch steel wheels and boasts a mighty 51kW/102Nm 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine hooked up to a 5-speed manual transmission. Now, in any other car this level of power/specification might be seen as a negative, but not here. Here it makes the 500 Pop a brilliantly positioned little fun machine at an remarkably affordable price.
In every logical sense the 500 Pop is, well, slow. But it doesn’t know that. It demands to be driven like you are qualifying for the Italian GP and is an absolute blast when you do. Chances are you won’t actually be breaking any speed limits, even around town, but by God is it fun. If a car could smile, then the 500 Pop would have a huge grin plastered across its cute little retro face every time you thrashed it down to the shops.
And, by coincidence, so will you.
Engine: 1.2-litre inline four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Fuel consumption: 5.1L/100km
CO2 emissions: n/a