Fiat 500 TwinAir review

Two cylinders and 900cc - is that really a recipe for fun? First drive of the groundbreaking Fiat 500 TwinAir

Evo rating
Price
from £13,000
  • Frugal engine tech doesn't equal less fun
  • Noise not to all tastes, potentially pricey

What is it?

It’s a Fiat 500. Not the sort of car that normally gets us excited. But like so many things in life, it’s what’s inside that counts. In this case, because it has the Italian firm’s new 900cc single turbo two-cylinder engine under its retro bonnet.

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Technical highlights?

The engine, obviously. Fiat calls its new TwinAir unit its ‘manifesto for its latest engine tech’. So as well as being physically downsized, the all-new unit has been designed to make the most of Fiat’s MultiAir system.

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It uses electro-hydraulic control of the inlet valves, rather than a conventional camshaft, to manage the amount of air entering the engine. This allows more precise management of combustion, reducing fuel consumption.

As well as boosting efficiency, the managed air flow improves low-down torque, while the more constant flow of air keeps the small turbocharger spinning, pushing power up to 84bhp, and just under the magic 100bhp-per-litre mark. Not bad for such a small, yet refined engine.

What’s it like to drive?

Just like a normal 500. The engine weighs 14kg less than the naturally aspirated 1.4-litre four-pot, and there haven’t any significant changes to the car aside from tweaks to the suspension and engine mounts.

Around town, if you keep below 3000rpm, the engine doesn’t feel greatly different to the 1.4. But once you breach that rev threshold, you get an interesting motorbike-esque thrum from under the bonnet. The noise can be a bit tiring on the motorway, but it keeps up with traffic. On a more interesting road, it’s actually pretty good fun, thanks to the 107lb ft of torque, as long as you keep the engine buzzing away under the bonnet.

How does it compare?

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At around £13,000, the 500 won’t be cheap when it goes on sale in September. It will be well specced, but it makes the £11,005 Fiat charges for the Panda 100HP seem like even more of a bargain; it offers a keener drive for starters. But we’d be more interested to know how much you’d actually save in fuel if you ran the cars against each other in a real-world road test. And which one would end up putting a bigger smile on your face.

Anything else I need to know?

Like it or not, engines like this TwinAir unit are the future. It forms part of a three strong range of two-pots ranging from 64bhp to 104bhp, which will be joined by a hybrid version in 2012. And while mpg is the new mph for the mainstream makers, it’s nice to know that these innovative new engines are actually pretty good fun.

Specifications

EngineIn-line 2-cyl, 900cc, turbocharged
Max power84bhp @ 5500rpm
Max torque107lb ft @ 1900rpm
0-6011sec (claimed 0-62mph)
Top speed107mph
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