2014 Fiat 500S 0.9 TwinAir 105hp Review – Good Things Come in Small Packages

Fiat 500?

Fiat 500S 0.9 TwinAir 105hp review Jason Fanthorpe-7703

If you don’t know what a Fiat 500 is by now, then frankly, you must’ve been dwelling in a cave. The original super-tiny 500 came about as far back as 1949, but burst onto the scene fully with the ‘Nuova’ (New) Fiat 500 in 1957, and ran through ’til 1975 in various guises. This was a car to get the masses in Europe moving cheaply and economically, and it was a successful car.

Two years after the launch of the Fiat 126, the 500 was sadly dropped, and remained so for fifty years until 2007, when the new model was launched to great hype. Since then, sales of the 500 have been extremely strong throughout Europe, and it is a massively popular city car. With that in mind we wanted to find out why, and were sent the 2014 Fiat 500S 0.9 TwinAir 105hp to review.

Exterior. Butt ugly or beauty?

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If you’re one for individualism, then the 500 will suit. Yes, they’re everywhere now, but there are so many different variants that it’s rare to see one the same as the next. Aside from the the 500L or 500X, you can have a cabriolet, an Abarth tuned version, a super-cool GQ edition, and you can choose from a wide range of colours and wheel choices to make your 500 look retro, sporty, or just plain cute.

The overriding feature of the Fiat 500 is just that: it is endearing, cute, fun, playful, and unique amongst rival city cars. Its big round headlights and foglamps stare out from a stubby bonnet like some Japanese Manga cartoon character, and its rounded bubble body makes it look like a toy car that you could pick up and pop in your pocket for safekeeping. In short, the exterior is about as characterful as you can get.

While an adorable design is all good for some, should you want your 500 to look more meaty then you’ll want either the 500S, the GQ, or an Abarth. In our case the S version arrived looking cool in a modern-looking Electronica Blue (£460 extra) and optional 16″ alloy wheels.

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The 500S features a sports bodykit as standard, which (on the exterior) includes a top rear spoiler, side skirts, rear tinted windows, and a chrome exhaust tip, as well as 15″ rims. The larger sixteen-inch wheels look better, and at just £180 extra, they’re well worth considering.

What makes the 500S more aggressive-looking than the standard version are front three large grilles, bigger air intake slot (above the registration plate), jutting lower lip, a sharper side sill, a larger rear bumper with again three grilles, plus the aforementioned chrome tip and upper spoiler.

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With the 500S’ appearance more on the fast side and less on the fluffy, I noticed the Fiat getting approvingƒ looks from a fair amount of blokes, and they’d spend more time taking in the car than I’d hazard they would the commonly-spotted 500. Perhaps it’s because there are familiarities to the mad Abarth version, or simply because the the colour and wheel combo were spot-on. Either way, throughout the week-long test the car was gawked at by many a person, male and female.

The great thing about the Fiat 500 is its appeal to a wide audience, and the fact that there is a version for all of us. Looks are massively important to sales, especially in the highly competitive city car field where style attracts, and Fiat have got it absolutely right with the 500.

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

2014 Fiat 500 S Twinair review blue interior front driver seat dashboard heating radio

 

As with the exterior, you can customise the 500’s interior a decent amount too, with different seat fabrics and colours, as well as selecting from various dash and door trim colours too. While in standard ‘Pop’ form the 500 has a fairly bland approach to cabin colours (black, grey, and silver), you can spruce it up with free colour options, such as cream console and steering wheel trim, and red-edged seat and doors, for example.

Still, it’s got a basic look to it, with run-of-the-mill large dials for the heating, plasticky stereo controls, a couple of buttons on the thin steering wheel, and a large analogue speedometer with LCD display. While the differences between the standard 500 and the 500S interior aren’t huge, it makes a massive difference to the way you feel about it.

2014 Fiat 500 S Twinair review blue front cloth seats steering wheel interior

What differentiates the two are that the S has (at least on our Electronica Blue coloured version) deep bucket seats at the front, sporty red-stiched gear gaiter and ‘500’ badge which contrasts against chunk of dark grey dash, buttons for the heating controls instead of dials, a chunky Abarth Sports steering wheel with red inner stitching, and most notably a 7-inch TFT (thin film transistor) display in place of the analogue speedometer.

It also benefits from comforts such as automatic climate control, Blue&Me hands-free technology for phonecalls, with voice recognition and USB port, but no DAB and you have to plug your smartphone/MP3 player in to play your music through the system. A slight gripe I have is that the stereo display in the centre is still the same as the boggo standard 500, and uses a tacky, outdated and blocky LCD display. It’s not nice, and I expected better considering the 500S isn’t exactly cheaply-priced.

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Going back to the 7″ TFT screen – which has graphics similar to those in the Fiat-owned Jeep Grand Cherokee – in front of the steering wheel, this is possibly the coolest bit of the 500S. In the very centre it shows your speed, plus fuel economy stats, and the outer edges show the engine rpm one side, and either an ‘eco’ or turbo gauge the other, depending on what drive mode you select. For all its coolness though, myself and others had an issue with the temp and fuel displays on the inner ring, which were too similar in colour to the rest of the display making them slightly harder to read at-a-glance, and messier too.

Comfort-wise, up front the 500S’ sports seats are decently supportive and comfortable, but on the driver’s side I found the rounded centre console – where the gear stick is situated – to intrude on leg room where your knee naturally sits and can be annoying. The two rear seats aren’t so bad if you’re not doing a long journey, or are particularly tall, but the Fiat 500 is one of the smaller city cars and you’re going to get more leg and bum room in something slightly larger, such as the Kia Picanto.

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The cabin actually feels more light and airy than I imagined it would, as the bubble-like shape gives reasonable headroom, and there’s plenty of light coming in through the windows to ensure the rear isn’t claustrophobic. Storage room in the boot is rated as 185 litres seats up, and 550 with them folded. It isn’t a lot, and less than rivals like the Picanto and Citroen C1 have, but then I wouldn’t expect anything more from such a small car.

All said, the Fiat 500 offers an interior with a little more character than the average city car, plenty of ways to individualise it via colour schemes, and the 500S version puts a neat sporty slant on things, and gives a higher sense of quality over the standard model. If you can do with less room in the rear than some

Engine and gearbox

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There are a total of four engines available with the Fiat 500: 1 diesel, 3 petrol. The 500S sent had the spectacular petrol 0.9 TwinAir. This is a two-cylinder (in-line), 875cc, turbocharged unit producing 105 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, and 107 lb ft (145 Nm) of torque at 2,000 rpm. The power is put through the front wheels, and there’s a 6-speed manual gearbox.

0 – 62 mph is done in 10 seconds, and it’ll go on to 117 mph. Official UK mpg stats are: urban: 51.4, extra urban: 80.7, combined: 67.3, with CO2 emissions of 99 g/km.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

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The Fiat 500 has a kerb weight of just 940 kilograms (2,072 lbs), including its lightweight TwinAir motor – the same as the one in the Alfa Romeo MiTo – which takes up a mere 85 kilos (187 lbs) of that. Fire the wee two-cylinder engine into life, and you’re greeted with a sound unlike any other engine. There’s a distinct rumbling, like a low, quick put-put-put noise. It’s not tinny or weak-sounding, and it’s actually a very quiet thing once warmed up.

A blip of the throttle sees the exhaust produce a satisfyingly sporty rasp that grabs attention from out side the car. Pressing the ‘Sport’ button on the dash makes this even more obvious, plus it gives a sharper throttle response and a more weighted feel to the electronic power steering. Acceleration from the TwinAir 105hp is pleasantly surprising, and it put a huge grin on anyone in the car when I gave the go-pedal the lead-foot mode.

There’s a degree of old-school turbo lag feel here, as when you change up a gear early, there seems to very little happening, and then all of a sudden the turbo will kick in, the gauge in from of the ‘wheel shoots up, and the 500S flings itself forward with gusto. First gear is very short – as it was with the MiTo, but not to quite the same extremity – and you have to change up swiftly before hitting the limiter at around 6,750 rpm.

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On from there though, and the little Fiat flies along. Indeed, if you’re not paying attention you can very easily hit 50 mph without effort, as you push through the gears. I believe it’s because your mind assumes because it’s such a tiny engine that it’ll be slower – but you’re mistaken. The TwinAir gets you up to motorway speeds with zero issues, and thanks to the 6th gear it cruises well at 70+ mph, and overtaking at those speeds isn’t an issue either.

The engine at the above-mentioned speed is strangely calm and quite, far less than I expected it to be. Yes, there’s a fair amount of road and wind noise to contend with, but it’s not unpleasant by any measure. The chassis is taut, the steering tight, and the suspension is well sorted too, making sure the 500S really sticks to the road beautifully and giving you a go-kart like drive. Brilliant fun! As with most of the city cars out there, the 500 has a firmer ride than most average larger cars, but it really isn’t that bad and the comfortable seats soak up the majority of the roughness anyway. With all-round disc brakes, stopping power is no issue and pushing the pedal sees the 500S quickly and positively.

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As standard, the 500 packs 7 airbags, and good electronic driver aids too: ABS with EBD, ESP, ASR, MSR, HBA, and hill-hold. If those letters mean nothing to you, see Fiat’s glossary here.

Overall, the Fiat 500S is a very decent city car. There’s some stiff competition out there, and what the TwinAir 105hp offers is a fun drive with good power, surprisingly good motorway cruising capability, and handling that’ll put a big ol’ grin on your face.

Price

(Figures correct Dec. ’14) Starting at £10,420, the Fiat 500 is not as affordable as some of its rivals. In fact, that start price is well over £2,000 more than the lowest-spec Kia Picanto,  Citroen C1,  MG MG3, Suzuki Splash (soon to be replaced by the Suzuki Celerio), Peugeot 108, Seat Mii, Toyota Aygo, and more pricey than the Hyundai i10, Renault Twingo. In other words, the majority of the competition is cheaper.

Going to the top-of-the-line 500 QG, and you’re looking at over £16,000, and that’s a hefty amount for a tiny city car. Even our 500S TwinAir 105hp cost £13,750, but with a few options pushed upwards of fifteen thousand pounds. Ooof. So, why do so many buy a Fiat 500? After all, some less-expensive rivals have just as nice interiors with perhaps higher quality materials, and more space in the rear and boot.

I believe a lot of it – but obviously not all – is down to the 500’s individual and characterful looks. This is a car that appeals to the heart first, and then the head. Rivals without that character might be compared by potential buyers to two or three other rivals purely on price, fuel economy, and roominess, amongst other rather dull things. A shiny new little Fiat 500 sat on a brightly-lit sales floor with its animated face, big eyes and bubble-body is guaranteed to pull the heart strings though, and that, dear readers, is what’ll sell it.

Fiat 500S 0.9 TwinAir 105hp verdict & score

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Negatives first: The interior on this particular version looks great, and the front seats are comfortable. However, there are a few things that I thought need looking at: the blocky LED stereo display is awful and outdated, the centre console takes away some knee-room for the driver, and there’s a fair amount of hard plasticky trim dotted about. Even in standard spec it’s much higher-priced than many rivals, and they tend to offer more room as well.

Now for the positive stuff: With its cool body-kit add-ons, lively, capably-rounded and fuel-efficient TwinAir 105hp engine, plus handling that scores high on the grin-factor rating, the Fiat 500S makes living with it a fun experience. There’s no denying it appeals to the eyes either, and I never really tire of its looks whenever I see any of the 500 models. The 500S TwinAir 105hp is an enjoyable car to drive overall, and it’s certainly the one I’d recommend going for, budget allowing. Aside from an Abarth version, that is…

Do you own a new-generation Fiat 500? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  8.5
Interior  8
Engine (TwinAir 105hp)  9
Gearbox  8.5
Price  6.5
Handling  7.5
Drive & Ride  7.5
Overall Score  8.0 / 10

Read more of our Fiat reviews here

Specs

Model (as tested)  2014 Fiat 500S 0.9 TwinAir 105hp
Spec includes  15″ alloy wheels, sports body kit, tinted rear windows, sports seats, Abarth Sports steering wheel, Blue&Me Bluetooth hands-free system (phone calls only) with CD/MP3 player + USB, & AUX ports, automatic climate control, electric windows, start&stop engine, electric adjustable & heated wing mirrors, ABS, EBD, ESP + ASR/MSR, HBA, hill-hold See website for more details
Options you should spec  16″ alloys: £375
The Competition  Kia Picanto, Suzuki Alto, Toyota AYGO, Volkswagen up!, Seat Mii, Skoda Citigo, Hyundai i10, Chrysler Ypsilon, Alfa Romeo MiTo, Nissan Micra, MG MG3, Citroen C1, Peugeot 108, Renault Twingo
Price  (Nov. 2014)  £10,420 – £16,000
Engine & hybrid  Petrol, 875cc (0.9), two-cylinder (in-line), turbocharged
Power, Torque  Engine: Power: 105hp @ 5,500 rpm | Torque: 107 lb ft (145 Nm) @ 2,000 rpm.
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Front wheel drive | 6-speed manual
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed (limited): 117 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 10 seconds | Euro NCAP rating: 2007 model: 5-stars (adults in front score)
Fuel economy (UK mpg), CO2   Urban: 51.4, Extra urban: 80.7, Combined: 67.3 | CO2: 99 g/km
Weight (kerb)  Kerb: 940 kgs (2,072 lbs)
Websites  Fiat UK, Fiat Italy, Fiat USAFiat Worldwide

Words: Chris Davies | Photography: Exterior: Rollin’ Photo’s. Interior: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

2 responses to “2014 Fiat 500S 0.9 TwinAir 105hp Review – Good Things Come in Small Packages”

  1. Colin Lloyd

    Hi, I agree with your 500 twin air review apart from one thing, fuel consumption. This engine, when worked, consumes more fuel than the 1.2 or diesel. As your tester comments, it tends to lag, so working it becomes second nature. Fine for an official low CO2 figure, but pretty hard on your wallet compared to the claims, and somewhat disingenuous!
    I regularly get very low 40’s to the gallon – nudging toward 50% of the official figure.

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