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Fiat’s 500 TwinAir surprises

20.09.2016

When I first heard that Fiat would finally be introducing its two-cylinder engine to the South African market, I was quite excited.

Being partial to performance the whole drive to ‘Zero Emissions’ had me worried, but the automotive world has taken the idea of downsizing and made huge strides in terms of efficiency and performance.

I recently had a go in the little turbocharged 500 TwinAir and came back surprised in some ways pleasantly, and in other ways not so much.

What is TwinAir?

You may have read about TwinAir before from Alfa Romeo products (called MultiAir) and the like. This little Fiat employs the same technology. As we know, an engine needs a mixture of air and fuel to create the combustion process that propels us in the direction of our choosing. The air that enters the engine is traditionally controlled by a throttle valve.

However, this little 875 cc turbocharged motor instead makes use of an electro-hydraulic valve actuation system using a high-pressure system between the cam and intake valve. The oil inside that valve can be controlled electronically by a on/off solenoid. Basically this means that the air mass and pressure in each of the two-cylinders is carefully controlled at each stroke of the pistons.

With that out of the way...

Now that we understand how the little engine works, let’s examine how it works when put in to operation. The model that I had on test wasn’t the most powerful version of this engine. However, the five-speed manual Pop Star variant I drove still had 63 kW /145 Nm on tap in a vehicle that weighs 970 kg. This makes the little Fiat very lively. I was really impressed with how well the car went. The little motor also produces a grin-inducing soundtrack.

What also surprised was how well the 500 has aged and how refined it still feels by today’s standards. The downside is consumption; Fiat claim that the little motor will do 3.8 litres/100km but even after trying my hardest, I could only muster figures close to 7.0 litres/100km, while my overall average was 7.8 litres/100km. That is a far cry from the claimed figure.

The rest of the package does provide what you’d expect from a city car though. It is really easy to park, with a turning circle of 9.3 meters and compact dimensions that make urban driving a pleasure. The cockpit provides a familiar airy feel while the driving position still gives the impression that you’re sitting on the car more than in the car.

The infotainment set-up and general fit and finish is impressive though. With my test unit finished in a light blue with beige interior accents, I felt as though I was in the automotive equivalent of a Smeg product.

Verdict

The Fiat 500 might be an ageing product in our ever-evolving automotive landscape, but with the TwinAir motor it feels right up-to-date. I do take issue with the fact that car isn’t as efficient as its makers claim, despite the fact that most cars these days cannot achieve their claimed consumption figures.

The other problem that I have with the little Italian is its price. The unit I had on test was far from range-topping yet still cost R234 900, while the flagship model with an automatic gearbox and folding roof, will set you back R273 900. That being said, the Opel Adam and Mini One aren’t exactly affordable city cars these days either.

Article written by Sean Nurse
20.09.2016
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