FIAT'S recently refreshed 500 may be only a very small car in size but it has become a gigantic sales success for the Italian company by helping Fiat UK to achieve their best monthly sales in almost 12 years writes Bryan Longworth.
Since the iconic 500 city car was launched in the UK nine years ago it has notched up sales of almost 258,000 and the 8,304 sales in March helped Fiat establish their best UK sales figures since September 2004.
When I first drove the 500 on the Press launch in 2007 it was obvious that Fiat had developed a cute small fun car that was something really special and after taking another look at the updated model the 500 still has big appeal in this market sector.
Fiat has made 1,800 changes in the refresh but to most admirers the 500 looks very much the same as before which is not surprising with it being such a big seller and the company would have been foolish to make big changes - I recall another manufacturer making major changes to a popular model when it was replaced years ago which proved to be a sales disaster.
Most changes are at the front which does look better and they include the lighting clusters and the new grille which are all very subtle but have resulted in an improved face to the fast selling Fiat. My test car was the 500 Lounge 1.2 69hp costing £12,800 on the road which was powered by a 1.2-litre four cylinder petrol engine driving the front wheels through a five speed manual gearbox with a top speed of 99mph and a zero to 62mph time of 12.9 seconds with a combined fuel consumption of 60.l mpg and CO2 emissions of 110g/km.
The interior has been enhanced and is arguably now the best and most user friendly of any small car but the feature I really appreciated was the large digital speedometer because when the original 500 was launched the only feature I disliked was the speedometer which was extremely hard to see in certain light conditions.
I found this particular engine to be adequate for all driving conditions especially up some of the steep roads in the Peak District and the gearbox provided slick and smooth changes that helped to make the driving experience so enjoyable.
With the 500 being a three door model entry to the rear seats via the two side doors can be a bit of a squeeze for larger passengers but the boot was quite sizeable for such a small car and I noted there was a spare wheel under the load area floor which is much better than a puncture repair kit.
The Lounge spec provides a lot of impressive kit but the one feature that the 500 lacks is a steering wheel that adjusts for reach so the driver can find a really comfortable position and I was quite surprised to find that this adjustment facility was not available especially on a top spec model. As mentioned earlier the changes to this latest 500 are so subtle many people will find it hard to spot them but Fiat has done just enough to keep the model at the top of the sales charts. The refresh should now ensure that the big selling 500 retains its popularity and could establish more sales records until an all new model is launched possibly some time next year but this 500 will be a very difficult act to follow.
Model: New Fiat 500 Lounge 1.2 69h.
Engine: 1.2-litre four cylinder petrol.
Output: 69hp @ 5500rpm.
Transmission: Five speed manual.
Top speed: 99mph. Acceleration: 0 to 62mph seconds.
Fuel consumption: 60.1mpg combined.
C02 emissions: 110g/km.
Price: £12,800 on the road.