Two cylinders: one hot car

 
Ryan Borroff
FIAT’S decision to sell its 500 city car with a super-economical two-cylinder engine may not stem from sentimentality. But my desire to drive it does. How would it compare to the original iconic Fiat 500, a car that also had a two-cylinder engine and which I have driven and have a fondness for?

The original 1957 two-cylinder 500 had a power output of 13bhp. This new Fiat 500 TwinAir has a power output of 85bhp. I pull up next to an original 500 – a design that is now more than 50 years old – at some traffic lights, the first time I’ve seen one in London in years. Spookily it’s painted in the exact same colour as the TwinAir I’m driving – Volare Blue – and its driver nods at me in recognition. I figure this is high praise indeed.

So it’s credible then. The truth is there is something very cool about this car. Its 875cc two cylinder engine makes quite a lovely noise around town under acceleration (0-62mph in 11sec). And in fact it feels really quite nippy. One City friend commented that it sounded like a sit-on lawnmower but the sound reminded me of the noise the original VW Beetle’s air-cooled engine makes. Regardless it’s addictive and I loved it. On the motorway the engine makes more of a distant drone, like an aircraft engine but it is quite capable and comfortable at 80mph.

Fiat claim, credibly, that this engine is ‘the greenest petrol engine in the world’, and thanks to some clever engineering and a turbocharger Fiat has been able to squeeze as much performance as possible out of its two cylinders. To put this into perspective Fiat’s entry level 1.2-litre engine produces 68bhp, takes longer to reach 62mph (12.9sec), has a lower top speed of 99mph and emits 119g/km of CO2 with twice as many cylinders. Which makes this TwinAir engine – with 23 per cent more power and 15 per cent lower CO2 emissions and fuel consumption – quite remarkable.

And its timing is impeccable too. UK drivers want economical cars – especially commuters – and the TwinAir’s little engine is capable of 68.9mpg around town and on the combined cycle. In theory this means it is possible to travel 500 miles on a single tank helped by a stop/start system that seems to work well and an Eco button which remaps the engine so that it runs more efficiently, albeit at the expense of some of its pep.

The real world fuel figures we got were very different to Fiat’s numbers. We were unable to better 40mpg on a mostly extra-urban trip to Manchester and back. That said, we didn’t do the whole trip in eco mode so I would have to give it the benefit of the doubt.

But it’s still a charming car. For my money it is the most characterful 500. So what would I change? Well some of the plastic trim in the centre of the dash cheapens an otherwise perfectly satisfactory interior. But that’s really about it. There’s really not much not to like. Surprisingly we managed to get all of our weekend baggage into the boot including a baby buggy. I would have bet money that this wasn’t possible before driving the car.

Beyond economy the TwinAir’s CO2 figures are so low that there is no road tax and no Congestion Charge to pay. Which makes it an excellent option for the daily commute. Expect to see lots of them buzzing about the City.

THE FACTS:
FIAT 500 TWINAIR

PRICE: £12,265
0-62MPH: (0-62mph): 11.0 secs
TOP SPEED: 108mph
CO2 G/KM: 95g/km
MPG COMBINED: 68.9mpg