The Fiat 500 handbag finally gets a brick to give it some clout

 

A car with a 1.4-litre turbo engine has no right to be this fast. But because the stripped out Biposta weighs just 997kg, Fiat would claim it can provide enough thrills to justify costing more than a BMW M235i.

Less is more in this case. Which explains the lightweight Oz alloy wheels and carbon-fibre shells for the two seats. There’s even a titanium frame where the back bench normally sits in a Fiat 500.

Sadly, our May test car isn’t fitted with the track-inspired, dog-ring gearbox. That’s an option enthusiasts would go for. Me? I prefer a gearstick that actually works properly on the road.

The best bits so far? Overtaking a bemused Golf GTI driver and the sound from the Akrapovic exhaust. Especially meaty when the ‘Sport’ button is pressed.

Why would you buy a tiny car costing this much when there are better options out there for the same money? Simply – it’s bloody great fun.

 

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Monday – Lounging About

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The original Fiat 500 was launched in 1957 – I think my father was involved in the Suez Crisis a few months before that! One of the crazy facts that resulted from the launch of the new 500 is that prices of the original have gone sky high. I recently saw one advertised for £7,000!

And while change isn’t always for the better, the new version has brakes that actually stop the car and airbags from all angles. It also boats hazard warning lights that are activated automatically when the brakes are applied hard. Clever.

I genuinely like the 500 and if I could find an excuse to to buy one as a city car it would beat the Mini and the Vauxhall Adam (also tested on this site). The styling and interior are just a cut above and give the 500 a genuine feel-good factor.

My choice would be the top-of-the-range Lounge version because it adds alloy wheels, glass roof and Bluetooth connectivity. The Colour Therapy has neither and even with air conditioning and electric windows, it does seem a little expensive compared to some other city cars out there.

An example? Well, if you can live with the styling, the brilliant new Hyundai i10 starts at around £8,200 and is superbly equipped. It just won’t put a smile on your face, that’s all…

 

 

Saturday – Buzz Bomb

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Wiltshire was gridlocked last night. A major downpour in this country and everything comes grinding to a halt – not much fun in a little motor like the Fiat 500.  We arrived at the exquisite Pembroke Arms in Wilton (www.pembrokearms.co.uk), parked the car in a puddle and dashed in.

The hotel has a first floor ballroom that comes straight from the pages of a Jane Austen novel. In the nineteenth century guests would have arrived by carriage, which made our entrance in a brightly coloured supermini even more comical.

However, don’t be fooled by the size of 500 or the TwinAir’s 875cc engine. What it lacks in stature it makes up for in style and performance. It’s the only retromobile that has an interior which puts a smile on your face – every time you get in. Much more exciting than a Mini.

It’s quite simply a masterclass in cool, even if our Colour Therapy model lacks steering wheel-mounted control buttons for the entertainment unit, plus a seat height adjustment lever mounted on the left of the seat that could easily be grabbed instead of the handbrake!

And if two-cylinders and 85bhp don’t sound much, in the lightweight 500 it adds up to a whole lot of fun. The engine note under acceleration sounds like a World War Two bomber coming into land – it would be rude to say sewing machine.

You have to work through the five-speed gearbox a bit but the results are amazing. The TwinAir just loves a sound thrashing and responds with loads of heart. Not only that but we’ve driven 65 miles around Wiltshire today and the fuel gauge hasn’t moved yet!

So what’s missing? Well, just a trip computer to tell us what the economy is – we have to be averaging more than 60mpg and I’m not exactly holding back with the right foot! More tomorrow…

Thursday – Don’t Call Me A Hairdresser

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Jeremy Why is it some people still think the MX-5 is a hairdresser’s car? I just told a male friend on the telephone that I was taking delivery of the Mazda today and his first response was ‘hairdresser’s car’. Just because he drives a butch 5 Series BMW – he’s probably never been in an MX-5 in his life.

The MX-5 is probably useless for hairstylists anyway. Drop the folding hard-top and all that coiffure is going to be blown away in an instant. I would imagine that hairdressers would much prefer a Fiat 500 cabriolet, or a Audi TT Roadster…

For me, the MX-5 is something of a legend. I owned one back in the 1990s and it just had that rare ability to always put a smile on my face. It loved being driven hard, especially around corners and along twisty backroads. It just set the benchmark for other convertibles to follow. Although nobody ever made anything quite so good for the same sort of money.

Our Roadster Coupe offers the best of both worlds. You can still buy an MX-5 with a soft top but the hard-top makes for quieter high-speed motoring and safer overnight parking.

Just what Mazda will do to improve the car when it is updated in 2014 remains to be seen. Let’s hope they don’t ruin a winning formula because this current version is still as good as it gets. More words tomorrow when I have had a proper drive…

 

 

 

 

Wednesday – Tech Savvy

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Jessica I have taken the Adam to a Polo match in the rain where it got fantastically muddy and was mistaken for a Fiat!  It seems 21 year old polo players think it is cute, even with the ‘Autumn leaves’ dash trim… It was raining and they can be excused for poor taste as they were being very polite, they though it was a new purchase of mine.

I actually like the little car inside, well laid out, chunky steering wheel, easy to operate touch screen sound system, but that is where it all ends.  What is it with the youthful dashboard trim and the option to have dead fly print on the wing mirrors?

When I started to drive the Adam I was disappointed at the lack of power ( and yes, I know it is better not to let our young folk loose with a powerful car) to the point where I was reluctant to overtake a 1950’s vintage car going up a hill as I did not have the zip. I dont know if any one has ever ridden a tricycle but it does corner in a similar fashion.

All of that aside, this car is sold as one that is fun and can be bought in a range of personalised options.

I must say I was very exited at the thought and rushed to the website once I knew an Adam was on the way – only to be utterly disappointed and fustrated by the set up, the lack of actual choice and the snail pace of the site. What are Vauxhall thinking?

Why sell a car on the basis of choice ( which can only mean a sophisticated interactive website) and not get even close to delivering that claim?

In my fustration I did visit the Fiat 500 website and easily put myself together a little blue car with smart wheels and a choice of trims and additions.  I also (to prove a point that it must be possible to have the software to manage car customisation) went to H Modder and had a fantastic time making myself a hot car with spoilers, trims, lights, and more.

Move over “pimp my ride” and catch up Vauxhall!

Tuesday – Cute But Flawed

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Jeremy – It’s been an interesting week behind the wheel of the Adam – the upmarket city car that Vauxhall hopes will compete against the Fiat 500 and Ford Ka.

On the one hand, I really like the styling, the funky interior and the range of options available but the Adam is let down by lifeless engines and mediocre handing. Get those right and this really could be a great little car.

As it is, the Adam doesn’t match the expectations I had when it first turned up at Car Couture. So much work has gone into getting the image right that the actual driving experience has become secondary.

I’m really hoping that the next time I drive an Adam, it will have a range of new engines, a sportier gearbox and, perhaps, a ‘hot’ version that brings it to life. For now, it is going to struggle against the established opposition which have style and drivability in abundance….

Saturday – Big on Style

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Jeremy ‘It’s not an Audi A1!’ A point I have made to a couple of interested onlookers as I drive the Adam this week. I think it’s mainly down to the contrasting roof colour – a popular options on the A1 – which gets the Vauxhall plenty of admiring glances.

The styling of the Adam isn’t retro cool – just modern cute. There are none of the old style buttons on the dashboard like the Mini or the Fiat 500, just a neatly laid-out look that works very well on the eye AND from a functional point of view.

I’m just back from a major Saturday shopping trip and had to use the passenger footwell for a few of the bags because of the lack of bootspace in the Adam. If I hadn’t had a back seat passenger I would have dropped the rear seats. Vauxhall should consider a more family-friendly stretched Adam – just like Fiat has done with the 500.

So, the little Adam is starting to grow on me. If I lived in London it would be a great city car. If only it was ore fun to drive on the open road…