Fiat 500 review - fashion victim or stylish mover? - Engine and gearbox
Retro charm offensive that’s inoffensive to drive
Engine and gearbox
The 1.2-litre four-cylinder unit has been around for a while, but it’s still a decently refined, capable engine in the 500. It represents the entry point in the range, with just 68bhp. It might have twice the cylinder count of the TwinAir’s two-cylinder specification, but the smaller 875cc engine adds a turbocharger for enhanced performance.
The result is either 84 or 104bhp, with 106lb ft of torque. That peak torque is produced low in the rev range too, which should make for a tractable engine, but for the TwinAir to deliver anything approaching its promised performance it needs lots of revs. That’s fine, but it punishes fuel consumption, turning Fiat’s economy champion into a proposition that's far thirstier than it should be.
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There's a strange pleasure in extending the twin-pot, though. The automotive journalist's favourite onomatopoeic cliché of "thrum" barely covers the unusual noise it makes - it's more akin to the staccato thudding of a parallel-twin motorcycle, with a sprinking more refinement and an amusing burble from the exhaust. It's a characterful sound inside the car (without ever getting annoying) and it's a whole lot more interesting for passers-by than a diesely clatter.
The more powerful 104bhp TwinAir comes with a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, the rest making do with a five-speed transmission. If you’re after an automatic Fiat offers any of the petrol engines with the five-speed Dualogic auto, a robotised manual. We'd be inclined to avoid it unless you absolutely must have an automatic.