As you know, the purpose of our new-vehicle reviews is to provide you with a heads-up preview regarding equipment and service access. However, this was a fun little ride, so I’ll share my thoughts. The first thing you notice (aside from the minuscule size), is the quick response of the steering. A quick-ratio rack coupled with 195/45R16 Pirelli tires make this a street-legal go-kart. The steering is very immediate, so anyone who is unskilled (the majority of drivers) will find themselves darting within their lane with every twitch of their hands.
Once you become accustomed to the steering, you begin to appreciate just how nimble this thing is. Along with the fairly quick revving 1.4L four-banger engine and the very positive five-speed gearbox, the new Fiat 500 is a hoot to drive, especially on twisty roads. The overall driving experience somewhat reminds me of the original British Mini Cooper. Yes, it’s small, but light on its feet and agile.
It was probably an aberration on our sample vehicle (luck of the draw), but the only glitch I experienced (on two separate occasions) was a “limp” mode operation, where the engine would refuse to rev, all information center warning lights illuminated, and the speedometer went dead (tach continued to work). After shutting down the ignition and restarting twice, all systems went back to normal operation, and with no constant check-engine light.
At the same time, a message was presented on the info center that said “engine heater recommended.” After plugging in a scan tool, the only DTC present was U0121 (lost communication with ABS). At the time of the two limp-mode incidents, ambient temperature was about 36 degrees Fahrenheit. It was interesting to note, if ABS communication was lost, that this would cause the engine to go into a fail-safe mode.
The 16-inch wheels and hubs feature a four-bolt pattern. Wheel bolts (not nuts and studs) secure the wheels. The wheel bolts feature a conical (tapered) seat and require the use of a 17mm wrench. Wheel bolt thread diameter is 12mm x 1.25. Bolt thread length is 20mm. Bolt length from the top of the conical seat to the tip of the threaded shank is 35mm. In years past, when dealing with a wheel-bolt mounting system, it was common source of frustration during wheel installation, since you’d need to hold the wheel flat against the hub while rotating the wheel to gain bolt hole alignment.
Fiat thoughtfully provides two tapered locating pins on the hub. Simply position the wheel onto the hub while engaging the locating pins into the dowel holes in the wheel. Once these pins have been engaged, the wheel bolt holes align with the hub’s threaded holes. No more fishing around. This was definitely a good idea.
Our test vehicle was equipped with the 1.4L twin-cam 16-valve MultiAir engine. Cylinder bore diameter is 72mm, and stroke is 84mm (1368cc displacement). Compression ratio is 10.8:1. Fuel injection is via MPI electronic phased sequential injection system.
Engine response is reasonably quick, with no troublesome lag-time. Performance is surprisingly good, despite the relatively small displacement (again, the small size/weight of the car contributes to this). Coupled with a five-speed manual transmission (on our test car), the Fiat 500’s fun-factor should be enough to put a smile on any driver’s face.