Our Cars: FIAT 500 1.2 Lounge

19 May 2011: The past six months

A visit to Autoglym earned Noo Lek a full professional valet in the hands of Nigel, plus some useful tips to me to keep his paintwork in good shape. Autoglym High Definition wax is definitely the way to go, but it’s a wax, not a polish, so you have to clean the surface perfectly before you use it.

At the end of October 2010, the chance for another comparison came up. This time with the super low CO2 FIAT 500 TwinAir that offers 85PS and 145Nm torque from just 875cc, together with no VED and no London Congestion Charge by virtue of its 95g/km CO2 output. Under the new rules that also qualify it for full first year company write down. So I was definitely primed for a part-ex.

However, though the TwinAir is almost as much fun to drive as the Abarth 500, its real world fuel economy of 68mpg is probably pie in the sky. I got a mere 34mpg, against the 54mpg the computer in Noo Lek was showing. Now filming singlehandedly means a lot of stop starts and is very fuel inefficient. But everyone else I spoke to on the launch had got the same, and when Autocar tested it properly the average was only 35.7mpg.

I suspected the real reason was that though the TwinAir develops bags of torque above 1,900rpm, it’s got nothing much beneath it. Press the economy button and maximum torque is actually less then my 500 1.2’s. That means that while I can trickle my 500 at 30mph in 5th on V-Power no problem at all, if I tried that in the TwinAir the engine felt like it was going to jump through the bonnet. 30mph needs third. And that’s why its economy in town is so bad.

I figured that on a 600 mile run would be better because the engine is smaller, it’s more efficient and the overall gearing is the same as the 500 1.2. So that’s something I put to FIAT to try. By December I’d got the use of a garage, so Noo Lek was snugly ensconced in it before the really bad weather hit. But a family tragedy dragged me back from Thailand and with no other car available I had to make two 600 mile round trips to Northumberland.

As I mentioned before, that kind of distance is no problem in the 500. I stepped out at both ends both times without a twinge, and the last run was non-stop because even doing 300 miles in 5 hours a 500 doesn’t require a refill.

And even the slightly quicker pace hadn’t harmed the fuel economy. At 11,750 miles it was sitting at 48.83mpg. The two long runs in the cold had actually brought that down from 49.17 and on the runs themselves it averaged 46.91mpg. Then, over 5th/6th February I did the same 600 mile run in a 500C TwinAir. Averaging the same speeds and calculating very carefully on a brim to brim basis, over 610 miles I averaged 48.03mpg.

So, the TwinAir is capable of being slightly more economical. But it’s so much fun to drive that few people will actually drive it more economically. By April 2011 my 500 had clocked up 12,867 miles at an average og 48,74mpg and was due for its third service and first MoT.

That set me back the grand total of £173.49, including VAT, with no faults found and 6mm left on all four tyres. It was then stashed in the lock-up for 3 weeks while I tested a Citroen C4, various Peugeot 508s, a Jaguar XJL and the new MINI Clubman SD Hampton. On top of which, my new long-termer, a Mazda 5 1.6D TS2 arrived.

I pulled the 500 out today for a 15 mile run to self service the aircon and charge the battery.  I’ve run FIATs and Alfas before. More fool me, you may think. But more relevant than anything else during my 34-month tenure of RO08 DZJ is that nothing whatsoever has gone wrong with it. Not a single thing. Not even the Blue & Me hands free phone system. How may Volkswagen owners can say that?

Good points

Great looks, wonderful retro styling inside and out, combined with high tech Blue & Me. Completely non-threatening to other drivers. Excellent fuel economy, Sensible non-dazzling separate DRLs.

And not so good points...

Feel-free steering made worse by pressing the ‘City’ button. Bouncy suspension. Tendency to hop across the road if it hits a bump on a roundabout (all cured from 2010 model year). Rear seats don’t double fold. No ball of fire, of course.

« Earlier: The second year     Later: Winter tyres arrive »

Updates
HJ's 'spare' FIAT 500 doesn't get out much and barely covers 500 miles a year. Now approaching its 11th birthday it sailed through its MoT, got treated to a service and also a new set of Continental AllSeasonContact tyres.
After a mammoth 1,248 miles, HJ's FIAT 500 gets its 8th Annual Service
HJ's FIAT 500 spends most of its life locked away in a garage, kept in case it's ever needed. Well, last week it was needed.
After not quite 400 miles over the last year, HJ's 'spare' Fiat 500 goes in for its annual service and MoT.
Another year and my 2008 FIAT 500 has spent almost all of it locked up in a lockup, emerging only for 30 mile runs to charge the battery.
HJ's FIAT has been busy recently and has now covered 17,234 miles
FIAT 500 on 15,000 mile tyres complately unfazed by torrential rain on the motorway.
Honest John's little used 500 gets its fourth year service and MoT and in that time nothing at all has gone wrong with the little Fiat.
Took the opportunity of a mild day to get the winter wheels and tyres fitted.
HJ's FIAT 500 finally gets to use its cold weather tyes.
HJ goes looking for snow in his Fiat 500.
HJ cleans his paintwork then coats his 500 with Autoglym High Def wax
Fiat 500 starts its Winter Tyre test.
Winter wheels arrive, winter tyres ordered.
FIAT 500 gets some winter tyres on its winter rims, and turns in a summer fuel economy of 56.2mpg.
19 May 2011: The past six months
Most recently I've had the opportunity to compare my 500 with the new, super-eco TwinAir version. On paper the TwinAir is much better, but what's the reality?
During my second year with the little Fiat 500 I drive the newer 500C cabriolet and the hot Abarth 500, both of which had their suspension improved over my older model.
My company bought the car for me in March 2008 for £9,470, including side bump strips and Italian Tricolor side stripes. Because it emits 119g/km of CO2 I was immediately able to write down 100% of the purchase price.
 

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