Fiat 500 TwinAir Pop17 | 02 | 2011Scotcars rating

    Fiat's two-cylinder 500 TwinAir may be small on horsepower, but it packs a mighty big punch

    NOW I'M NOT sure about you, but as someone who makes their living driving new cars — no, that doesn't mean I'm a taxi driver or a car dealer — I've become somewhat punch-drunk on the subject of emissions, the environment, and our favourite mode of transport; the car.

    Now don't get me wrong, I'll do my bit to help save the planet. I carefully, under the ever-watchful eye of my wife, recycle almost everything — well everything which meets the criteria for squeezing into the huge green recycling wheeliebin we have from the council.

    The 500's titchy length and lightweight means it changes direction rapidly and will bring a smile to the face of anyone who drives it not only in town, but also out on the open roads.

    But what about cars and fuel emissions? Again, I try to do my bit. If I get the chance to take the train, I will, though personally I question just how green that actually makes my journey.

    The big problem with so-called green cars is, generally speaking, they're insipid creations which have all the oomph of a wet flannel sliding down the side of your bath. That, allied to the fact they're either over-ladened with some form of petrol-electric machinery or, worse still, are simply electric-powered, doesn't make for happy motoring. That is, until now.

    A cheeky, affordable little runabout

    Step forward Fiat. No don't laugh; Fiat has delivered something of a little cracker in the form of the 500 TwinAir. In many ways though it's a case of back to the future for the Italian manufacturer.

    The Fiat 500 of 1957 — 12 months before I entered a world still thick with the smog and fumes of a Britain which had an industrial heart beating within it — was a cheeky, affordable little runabout powered by a half-litre two-cylinder engine. Now, 53 years later, Fiat has plonked another two-cylinder engine into the 500, and it's a revelation.

    Consider this; over the past 15 years a raft of engine improvements in the industry have reduced the CO2 output in cars across Europe by 15%. Such is the technological advancement of the TwinAir that it delivers the same improvement again, but this time in a single step.

    This isn't a science lesson, so I'm not going to bamboozle you with facts, figures, equations and formulae. Sufficient to say the tiny 875cc, eight-valve, turbocharged parallel twin produces a healthy 85hp at 5500rpm along with a very useful 145Nm (107lb/ft) of torque at just 1900rpm. In simple terms, it whizzes along with gusto.

    Its top speed of 108 mph and 0-62 mph time of 11.0secs is comparable to the 1.4-litre Fiat 500; but the coup de grace is it delivers an amazing 30% improvement in economy; that's a spectacular 69mpg combined, with a CO2 output — aided by its Stop/Start technology — of just 95g/km when the gearbox is the five-speed manual, or 92g/km with the Dualogic automated manual.

    Time to jump on the green bandwagon

    On the road the TwinAir is a hoot, and here the effect of the briefcase-sized engine — 23% shorter and 10% lighter than the existing 4-cyl 500 motors — is felt. The 500's titchy length and lightweight means it changes direction rapidly and will bring a smile to the face of anyone who drives it not only in town, but also out on the open roads.

    My test route took me from Reading city centre out through some of the Thames Valley's most picturesque villages; but I also had a stretch on the M40 and here the TwinAir mixed it with the rest at true motorway speeds. It's a real little buzzbomb of a car. I have to admit I had my reservations when I set off in it. I found it noisy, irritable and harshly-sprung. But once I'd reset my personal receptors, I first warmed to it, then fell head over heels for it. I never thought I'd hear myself saying it, but I'd have one in a minute.

    A 64bhp version, and what promises to be an Earth-shatteringly fast 104bhp turbo version, will follow at the end of 2011. For now though the 85bhp is plenty fast enough.

    The little TwinAir engine has continued the evolution of the Fiat 500 which has become such a common site on our roads. Small it may be on the outside, but there's more than enough room for the two front occupants, and those in the rear will be surprised at just how much space they have.

    If there's one grumbling about the TwinAir, it's price. At £10,665 for the entry-level TwinAir Pop, it's £1200 dearer than the £9465, 1.2-litre 500 Pop. Fiat argues that's the price of technological innovation, but in this financial climate it's a significant sum to ask the prospective owner to fork out.

    That said, Fiat — which already has the lowest-polluting small-car range in Europe — has shown what amazing advances are possible in the efficiency of small cars. Now just might be the time to jump on the green bandwagon and have some simple fun in the process.

    CLICK HERE to see the Fiat 500 TwinAir in action.

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    Jim McGill

    Quick Stats
    Price OTR/As Tested £10,665 / £12,300
    Engine / Power: Two cylinders, 875cc, turbo, petrol / 84bhp
    How fast?: 0-60mph 11.0secs,  Max 108mph
    How big/heavy?: H1488mm W1627mm L3546mm / 900kg
    How thirsty/CO2?: Combined 69mpg / CO2 95g/km
    InsGP/Road tax: / £0.00
    Alternatives: VW Polo Bluemotion, Toyota IQ, Ford Fiesta Econetic

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