IT’S been stretched, transformed into a convertible, toughened up, turned into a growling little firecracker and stylised to the max. Now the focus for Fiat’s lovable 500 city car is electrification.

The first stage on this particular journey is to fit new petrol mild hybrid technology. It is not alone in the Fiat stable to get this treatment. The Panda – which alongside the 500 is a European leader in its segment – has been given the same technology.

For the buyer, the key points are new three-cylinder engines combined with a 12-volt motor that delivers 70bhp. The effect is to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 30 per cent and improve fuel efficiency.

The 500 pulls off the trick of combining modernity with retro like no other car, and in the Launch Edition of the hybrid the combination is even more pronounced.

Slip into the driver’s seat and all seems simple to use and readily at hand. Behind the steering wheel is a large bezel housing the instrument cluster rather than the traditional horizontal display.

Look to the centre console and there you will find a seven-inch HD touchscreen offering DAB radio, navigation, Bluetooth and USB connection. Climate control is automatic, audio controls are built into the height-adjustable leather steering wheel and there are rear parking sensors, but no camera.

The door mirrors are electrically heated and adjustable, there are LED daytime running lights and plenty of other nice touches in the launch edition pack that go a long way to ensuring that you feel you are driving a special version of what is essentially a very simple and intuitive little car.

Don’t expect great performance. It takes nearly 14 seconds for the 500 Mild Hybrid to reach 62mph from standstill, with the only consolation being the addictive thrum of the three-cylinder unit as you work through the six gears.

It might be stating the obvious, but the mild hybrid cannot travel on electric power alone. Look elsewhere if performance is high on your shopping list, but stay with it if charm and heritage-inspired retro is what you really seek. The small electric motor and battery will just lend a hand in certain situations to improve fuel economy.

The Fiat 500 and Fiat Panda are the first FCA models to adopt the group’s new hybrid technology, ahead of 100 per cent electric models.

Compared to the outgoing 1.2-litre 69hp petrol engine, the mild hybrid version improves fuel efficiency, reducing CO2 emissions on the road by up to 30 per cent without impeding performance. It also ensures a high standard of driving comfort thanks to a system that allows for a quiet, vibration-free restart of the internal combustion engine in Stop&Start mode.

Fiat’s BSG system recovers energy during braking and deceleration, stores it in a lithium battery and uses it to restart the engine in Stop&Start mode and to assist it during acceleration.

This technology allows the internal combustion engine to switch off by shifting into neutral, even at speeds below 18mph. The dashboard, which displays information on the hybrid system, prompts the driver when to shift.

The mild hybrid propulsion unit used in the 500 receives a six-gear manual transmission (transverse gearbox, front-wheel drive), aimed at improving fuel economy in out-of-town driving. The new system also involves lowering the entire power unit 45mm so the car behaves better on the road thanks to the lower centre of gravity.

Next step for the 500 will be the arrival of the full electric version. For now, the hybrid will do nicely in its evolution. And it is still great fun to drive.


Fiat 500 Launch Edition 1.0 Hybrid 70HP

Price: £17,150

Engine: Three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol combined with 12-volt electric motor producing 70 bhp

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Performance: 0 to 62mph in 13.8 seconds; top speed 104mph

Economy: 53.3mpg combined

CO2 emissions: 120g/km


Performance: ***

Economy: ****

Ride/Handling: ****

Space/Practicality: ***

Equipment: ****

Security/Safety: ***

Value For Money: ***