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Fiat 500 TwinAir Road Test – A “Zesty” Eco Car

Fiat’s tiny 500s have always been cool; poverty spec cars that revel in their minimalism with no hint of piousness. Functional, stripped-bare and a hoot to drive, the 21st century reincarnation has been welcomed by a generation for whom style and functionality are inseparable.

The TwinAir engine that I’ve been driving this week is, according to Fiat, the cleanest quantity production engine in the world. The turbo-charged 875cc twin-cylinder engine produces 23 per cent more power than their best-selling 1.2-litre petrol engine yet uses 15 per cent less fuel. Have they managed to defy the laws of physics?

Well, no. Driven carefully and with a light right foot the TwinAir has the lowest CO2 emissions of any production petrol engine at 95g/km whilst sipping fuel cautiously at the rate of one gallon for every 68.9 miles covered (4.1 l/100km) apparently. However, driven in a more spirited fashion the 500 gallops up to 62mph (100 km/h) in 11 seconds onto a top speed of 108mph (174 km/h), which means that real-world fuel consumption is likely to be around the 40mpg (7.06 l/100km) if you enjoy flexing the twin-cylinder engine.

And you will. The TwinAir engine is wonderfully zesty and revs with an intoxicatingly refreshing buzz. Fiat’s engineers haven’t dulled the sound of the engine, allowing their customers to embrace and revel in the small engine’s characteristics. It sounds like an angry 2CV but is considerably faster.

In town you can press the ‘ECO’ switch, which changes the engine mapping (and increases the assistance for the steering) allowing you to drive more frugally without having to concentrate on doing so. The Start&Stop system works well and the Gear Shift Indicator on the dash prompts you to change up earlier than you might otherwise do. It all works well and doesn’t make you feel like a cheapskate. Driven like this 50mpg+ (5.65 l/100km) is easily achievable.

Inside the 500 features bare metal and plastic surfaces made virtuous by careful design and colour. The thick-rimmed steering wheel and other major controls are fashioned from toy-like plastic and are all the better for their honesty. The gear knob is a fine piece of design too; bulbous and comfortable to hand it urges you on with unnecessary gear changes, just to hear that twin-cylinder roar…

My car had the ‘Ivory ambiance’ colour scheme, which I liked, but others that I spoke to felt that the alternative black looked a bit more, er, serious. But the 500 isn’t a serious car, it’s a fun way of saving money and doing your bit for the environment.

That is, I think, the biggest advantage that the Fiat 500 TwinAir has over its competitors and the reason that you should consider buying one. It can be a petrol-sipping city car when you want it to be but it comes alive on the open road and is genuinely fun and peppy to drive. I didn’t ever feel that I was driving second-best, a cheaper alternative to the car that I really wanted to be in. That’s quite some trick to pull off.

Pricing is competitive and the TwinAir range starts at just £11,100 ($17,573, €12,365) on-the-road in the UK. No matter which model you buy you’ll appreciate the honesty and integrity of the engineering, so you might as well stay as basic as possible.

About Carlton Boyce

Carlton Boyce
Carlton Boyce is a freelance journalist and photographer covering all aspects of the motoring industry.

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