(Pocket-lint) - The Fiat 500 is no stranger to the road. In fact, this little number has been whizzing around the streets since 1957, first by the name of Cinquino, before it was redesigned and relaunched on its 50th anniversary in 2007.
Eight years on and the Fiat 500 as we now know it has had some work done, a face-lift should we say. The new model might remain the same in terms of dimensions, but it adds more personality to its exterior, better connectivity to its interior and all-in-all more meat to its slim and slender bones.
The 2007 model of the Fiat 500 was the epitome of cute and the range of colours and styles it came in, from the Gucci model to the GQ model, made it the car of choice for more than 1.5 million drivers. The new Fiat 500 redefines the word cute however. It is still an adorable little car but it brings a slightly more masculine feel, an angrier, grumpier look to the happy, smiley 2007 Fiat 500.
The Fiat surgeons have made 1800 changes, altering 40 per cent of the old Fiat 500 in order to create the new model. Make no mistake though, you will still recognise this little car tearing up the streets as the Fiat 500 - you might just be less inclined to play chicken with it.
Masterpieces don't need restoring
Fiat told us it wanted to modify the Fiat 500 but without changing its spirit. The company calls the Fiat 500 a masterpiece and whether you agree or not, there is no denying it's been a popular car. The design changes made to the new model are what Fiat is calling hyperstyling because a "masterpiece doesn't need restoring."
Five areas have been worked on comprising design, sustainability, entertainment, safety and personalisation. The front is where the majority of the design changes can be found starting with the circular headlights adopting new polyelliptical modules that Fiat claims will improve night vision and offer extra safety. The upper cluster features the dipped-beam headlamps and turn signals, while the lower cluster has the main beam headlights and LED daytime running lights.
More chrome detailing has been introduced, both above the front grille and around the perimeter of the fog lights (on the Lounge model) following onto the front bumper. The bonnet has the same distinctive clamshell shape, but the grille below has been beefed up to three-dimensional with chrome brightwork, giving the new model a far meaner look.
On the rear of the new Fiat 500, the foglight and reversing light have been moved to the edges of the redesigned bumper trim and the rear lights above are more rectangular in shape, featuring body coloured centres.
Fiat has also introduced new alloy wheel designs for the new model with Pop Star and Lounge models coming with 15-inch glossy silver alloys as standard, and 16-inch matt diamond black alloys as an upgrade option. Both help add to the more masculine appeal of the new model, while also making it appear as more of a little force to be reckoned with. It might be small, but it won't be taking any stick from its bigger road buddies. Fiat said up until today, the 500 won over the female base but it believes the evolution of design now makes it a unisex car.
Between two choices? My favourite is the third
One of the best things about the Fiat 500 is the choice of colours available, which is arguably one of the most distinguishing features about it. How many cars come in mint green or with Gucci stripes? Fiat's story of the original Cinquino was that it wanted to bring colour to all roads in the world and it's fair to say it has certainly done this, and will continue to with the new model.
Two new colours have been introduced including Glam Coral and Avantgarde Bordeaux, both of which look great in the flesh. There are a total of six pastel shades, five metallic options and one tri-coat finish but Fiat doesn't stop there when it comes to customisation.
The new model launches with what the company is calling Second Skin as an option, meaning you can not only pick a whacky colour but you can make it stand out even more with one of the five patterns. Ethic is a geometric pattern, Lord is classic tartan, Comics is pop decoration, Navy is nautical patterns and Camouflage is fashionable military. There is the option to have the pattern on the belt line only which is a £140 option or a cover of the upper half of hardtop models, which is a £780 option on the Pop and Pop Star or £460 on the Lounge.
We went for a test drive with the Glam Coral colour featuring the Lord print on the upper half. It won't be to everyone's tastes but the point is that the options are there and that's great.
Bye bye CD player, hello streaming
The interior of the new Fiat 500 also takes things up a notch. There are little changes such as a revised centre console that has new cup holders, relocated USB and AUX-in ports, a better positioned 12V power socket, more ergonomic-shaped seats and new electric window switches. Plus, you can also choose between 10 colour combinations of interior upholstery and three leather options, but it's the new infotainment system that's the most interesting.
Firstly, you can say bye bye to CDs because Fiat claims they are now obsolete and therefore has removed the ability to play them entirely, meaning the only thing you can do with them in the new 500 is put them inside the new lidded glove box.
The Uconnect system has been integrated across the entire new Fiat 500 range and there are wheel-mounted audio controls and the ports mentioned above on all the models. The Lounge model comes with the Uconnect 5-inch Radio LIVE system built in, while the Pop and Pop Star models have this system as an option for £250.
The system features a 5-inch touchscreen that offers Bluetooth hands-free calling, music streaming via TuneIn or Deezer, voice recognition and an SMS reader for reading texts. There is also the ability to access Reuters news feeds, Facebook and Twitter through the system, although UK availability is still to be confirmed.
Along with updating your status or sending a tweet, the LIVE system can be used to access eco:Drive, which aims to help you improve fuel consumption by giving you real time driving tips and my:Car, which gives you real-time warnings and service deadline memos. Additionally, there is the option to add TomTom satellite navigation to the system for £600 on the Pop and Pop Star, or £350 for the Lounge. This option includes TomTom's IQ Routes function, an advanced lane indicator and turn-by-turn instructions that are displayed on the touchscreen and digital dash.
Yes, that's right, it has a digital dash. Although the Pop and Pop Star models will keep the same analogue dials for speed and engine revs with a digital section in the middle, a 7-inch TFT display has been developed in collaboration with Magneti Marelli as a £250 option on the Lounge.
The digital dash integrates with the Uconnect system so the media player, phone and navigation instructions appear on the display, although we found the navigation instructions were around a second too slow, which meant we ended up looking at the Uconnect touchscreen more often than necessary. The digital dash isn't a cheap option but it makes the new Fiat 500 look as good on the inside as the outside.
Not just about the colour green
The new Fiat 500 comes with a range of Euro 6-compliant engines, some with five speed gearboxes and others six, as well as dualogic robitised transmission, depending on the model. At launch, the engines available will include the 1.2-litre 69hp, the TwinAir 0.9-litre 85hp and the TwinAir 0.9-litre 105hp.
For those interested in emissions, the 1.2-litre has CO2 emissions of 110h/km, while the TwinAir 0.9-litre 85hp comes in at 90g/km and the 105hp at 99g/km so it's clearly a car designed for efficiency, as well as good looks. Fiat also mentioned a diesel version of the new 500, which it claimed would be the only category A car to offer this option, although we didn't get a chance to test its performance.
We took the new 500C Lounge 0.9-litre TwinAir Turbo 85hp E6 automatic out for a spin and while it was happy enough about going about town, it seemed a little sluggish on the hillier parts of our test drive. There wasn't much go in it, and although it looked great, we were less impressed performance wise than we were with the other model we tested. Auto is great for convenience, but in this little car, we found we preferred the manual to give us the extra oomph. This car did have a CO2 emission of 88g/km though so if you're looking for super green, it's a consideration for sure.
The second model we took out was far more impressive. The manual gearbox certainly helped provide a little more get up and go, but the 1.2-litre 8V 69hp E6 engine also helped. It feels very much the same as the 2007 Fiat 500, but that's not a bad thing. This little number will whizz around town without any issues, as well as get you up those steeper hills. While it is still eco-friendly, the CO2 emissions bump up to 115g/km in this model.
We can't deny that we have a soft spot for the Fiat 500 - it's an adorable little car with tonnes of personality, even without all the possible customisation options. The new model certainly brings more masculine features to the range but it does so without ruining its charm.
The customisation options are great and if you're after a car with character, or the ability to add character, the new 500 should certainly be somewhere on your list. It's eco-friendly, charming and a little fashion icon in its own right.
It may not be to everyone's tastes, but the Fiat 500 does brighten up the roads and the new model has the power to bring even more life to the tarmac. Based on our first drive, we wouldn't opt for automatic over manual, but the convertible was great and we loved the Glam Coral colour that we tested. Lord probably wouldn't be our first pattern choice, but the Second Skin itself looks fab on the car and anything that is a little different gets points in our book.
The new Fiat 500 will go on sale in September with prices starting at £10,890.