Andy Palmer tells us more about the car Aston will race in Le Mans’ new top class
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£16,815 when new
What’s this then? At one end of the motoring spectrum sits the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, a ball of pent-up, 700bhp muscle car fury. At the complete opposite end is this, a little two-cylinder Fiat 500 with a retracting red canvas roof. If you’re hung up on old-fashioned gender stereotypes then we imagine your mind is already made up. But if your mind is open, keep reading. This is a fun car. How so? The 500 is very much not attempting to be a testosterone-pumped sports car, and that’s good. This is, unapologetically, a city car, so softish suspension, easily twirled steering and dimensions that allow you to sail through width restrictors should be far higher up the list than an adjustable diff and a thousand horsepower.
It’s a doddle to drive around in, and might even cause you to relish the hustle-and-bustle of gridlocked traffic. As we noted in our first drive of the new 500 hatch, there’s some satisfaction to be had in threading the wee Fiat through small gaps. And given its cheery appearance, you’ll often be let into them anyway. So what’s new? Fiat says 1,800 elements of the 500 are new and improved for this facelift, but you’ll need an engineering degree and an industrial-sized microscope to list even a fraction of them. The basics are a mildly tarted up exterior – note the new light designs, the rears particularly bold – and improved media stuff inside, with the all important social media access to keep the young ‘uns happy. Which all means the 500’s character hasn’t changed one jot. And that’s good. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a far more light-hearted way to thread your way through urban arteries than a number of its rivals. That’s especially the case if you opt for the thrummy little two-cylinder Twinair engine. Elsewhere in the Fiat and Alfa group, this engine can feel stubbornly parsimonious, but it feels more fitting in the little 500, which ends up more than fast enough thus equipped. Naturally we recommend its more muscular 104bhp tune, though.
How clever is the roof? It’s not a balletic folding hard top, rather a convertible on the sly; the existing 500 body shape and pillars are untouched, just a fabric roof rolling electrically back-and-forth in what’s known as a ‘sardine can’ motion. You can stop the roof at just about any point you wish, using it as merely a few inches of sunroof, pushing it all the way back until you’ve no rear visibility, or keeping it somewhere in the middle to suitably tan the top of your head while keeping the glass rear screen in place. All of this can be done on the move – handy for if the rain suddenly comes or you’re suddenly surrounded by the fug of double decker buses – and because the car retains its B- and C-pillars, it’s all fairly gale-free inside. It sounds like you’re fans. As we said at the beginning, with lazy stereotypes left at the door this is simply a good fun way of traversing town. It’s not particularly big inside, admittedly, and the driving position is a bit naff. But it’s as fit for purpose for injecting fun into a commute as a LaFerrari is for injecting adrenaline into a trackday. There’s just one thing we need to acknowledge; the 500C’s folding roof demands an extra £2,650 over a regular hatchback. Prices start at £13,540, but if you want the punchiest Twinair engine, you’re looking at more like £17,000. That’s closing in on a Mazda MX-5, an even better car that’s equally adept at not being a Hellcat…