Fiat's 500 is a pretty little citycar but why fit a diesel engine? The experts at Car & Driving investigate the improved 1.3 MultiJet model.
Ten Second Review
At this stage it's safe to label the Fiat 500 a runaway success. Such an outcome was never really in doubt from the moment the covers first fell from its retro bodywork. MINI had shown what was possible with an old classic updated for the modern era and Fiat had both the perfect design and the ideal platform to pull it off. With Fiat's 1.3-litre diesel engine, it can even turn in some of the best economy figures you'll get this side of a solar-powered moped.
Some cars suit a nice sensible diesel engine but you wouldn't really group the Fiat 500 amongst them. Would you? This sweet citycar isn't a vehicle usually bought following an exhaustive analysis of the facts and figures: it's one that people glimpse and fall in love with. From that fateful nanosecond, a purchase is almost inevitable. So why would you choose an object of desire like the 500 and equip it with an intensely sensible diesel engine? It will probably be something to do with its potential for fuel economy of over 83mpg, but that's hardly in the true spirit of this Fiat. Is it?
The 1.3-litre MultiJet II diesel engine we're looking at here took over from the 75bhp unit originally launched with this car and is amongst the best small diesel engines about. In the 500, it can reach the 62mph barrier in a reasonable 10.7s, so it's faster than the 1.2-litre entry-level engine. It will also reach a 112mph top speed. In comparison to the other 500 engines, it fares even better around town where torque of 200Nm, the strongest of any non-Abarth 500, gives it useful muscle. There's still a flat spot at the very bottom of the rev range while the turbo gets going but it's brief and can be negated by staying on top of the gears. The driving experience will be a virtual irrelevance to lots of Fiat 500 buyers. They'll have already fallen in love with the car in a brochure, on a TV ad or upon seeing one in the street. Nevertheless, the car promises to be fairly adept on the road with the same basic set-up as the hard-topped 500, a chassis that's also shared with the Fiat Panda and MK2 Ford Ka. A rear-anti-roll bar stiffens things up and the electric power steering is shared with other 500 models. Fiat's fuel saving Start&Stop technology is included.
Design and Build
Fiat would've been unwise to mess with the 500's shape too much, so sensibly, they've kept exterior styling tweaks to the minimum with this improved model. As before, there's a single three-door bodystyle, though you can order it in soft-topped '500C' form if you like the idea of having an electric fabric-folding roof. As for those design changes, well up front, there's a sleeker chrome grille that sits below revised headlights and is positioned at more of an angle than before. Between these two elements are smarter daytime running lights, with a shape that echoes the zeros of the '500' logo. Rounding the front off are updated chrome trims and a ribbed bonnet that that looks a little more stylish. At the rear, there are smarter tail lights that incorporate a body-coloured panel in the centre. This has meant the reversing and fog lights have moved from the clusters to the lower rear bumper. Your Fiat dealer will also offer you a more fashionable choice of wheels, graphic packages and paint colours to round off the updates. Inside, the biggest change is the inclusion of 'Uconnect' infotainment systems on all models, although only the top 'Lounge' variant is fitted with a touchscreen as standard. Redesigned air vents flank the screen, leading to a much more integrated feel than you'd get in many more expensive cars. Drivers will also appreciate the smarter steering wheel with its chrome-plated switches. Plus, if they're in a plush 'Lounge' model, they've the benefit of an optional 7" TFT instrument cluster. The 185-litre boot remains as before, no bad thing as this still trumps many rivals.
Market and Model
As usual, there's a choice of fixed-top and convertible 500 models. The open-topped 500C variants require a premium of around £2,500 over their standard counterparts. This diesel 500 model isn't available in entry 'Pop' trim, but you can get it with the next level up, 'Pop Star' as well as in plusher 'Lounge' guise. Prices start at just over £14,000, so you're looking at a premium of around £1,100 over the TwinAir 0.9-litre 85bhp petrol turbo model. So what do you get for your money? 'Pop Star' trim has air conditioning, 15-inch alloy wheels and heated mirrors with body-colour caps. Top 'Lounge' spec meanwhile, gets you a panoramic glass sunroof, rear parking sensors, a chrome front grille, front fog lights, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and a Uconnect 5" LIVE touchscreen infotainment system with smartphone integration. If you want to go further, then your dealer will want to tell you about the latest range of so-called 'Second Skin' decal packages. 500 models are safe too, with a five star Euro NCAP safety rating, seven airbags, ABS with electronic brake distribution, electronic stability control, a Hill Holder clutch to make pulling away on an incline easier and hydraulic brake assistance to help with emergency stops.
Cost of Ownership
You couldn't class those upfront costs for the 500 in this form as cheap but the 1.3-litre diesel will be good for those looking to keep running costs under control. The Multijet diesel version gets 83mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of 89g/km, so is highly tax-efficient. In comparison, a TwinAir petrol model manages 74.3mpg and 90g/km. Buyers can also bank on decent residual values with a look that's stood the test of time since the 50s unlikely to go out of style. Residual values are better than you might expect them to be on a small, affordable Fiat, if not quite as good as you'd get from a rival MINI: expect most 500 variants to hold around 40% of their value after three years - provided you don't go too mad with options of course. Finally, a word about warranties. You get two years of manufacturer cover with this car, plus a further year from the dealer. Plus there's no mileage limitation, which makes this Fiat deal better than the restricted three year/60,000 mile package you get with rival MINI Hatch and DS3 models. There's also a year of roadside assistance cover, a reasonable three year paintwork warranty and an eight-year anti-perforation guarantee.
People are going to want the improved Fiat 500. That much was certain from its launch. Will they want a diesel though? The answer to that will largely boil down to the running costs and high mileage drivers will get the real benefit of the oil-burner's superior economy. Totting up your annual mileage and collecting fuel receipts aren't very Fiat 500 things to be doing, but each to his or her own. Regardless of the engine, fun should be guaranteed. In summary, this car remains as likeable as ever in 1.3-litre MultiJet form. Choosing a 'fashionable' little runabout can often be a risk. Here though, is one you can enjoy without a worry.