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First Drive: Fiat 500 mild hybrid

The story:
The first version of Fiat’s ever popular city car for the style conscious to get in any way electrified, albeit in a mild manner
Category:City car
Key rival:Mini Hatch
Fiat 500 Mild Hybrid Launch Edition
Price:£16,795
MPG:53.3mpg (WLTP)
Emissions:88g/km (NEDC2)
On sale:Now

Given its appeal to those who like to make a stand-out style statement, the Fiat 500’s technological evolution has been remarkably conservative in the 13 years since its launch in 2007.

The engines and the fit and finishes may have been tweaked, but until now it has only ever come with a relatively conventional combustion engine. This year, that will change, with this Mild Hybrid taking the first tentative steps into battery power, before a fully electric model arrives in 2021.

Indeed, this new engine is set to be the only one in the 500 from now on, although stock of old Twinair motors will be available for a few months.

First Drive-March 2020-Fiat 500 mild hybrid-Image 1The ‘mild’ element of the name is fairly crucial, though, because potential 500 owners that are fearful of change will not find their old favourite altered beyond recognition. It is a three-cylinder 1.0-litre unit that comes complete with a 12V electric motor and lithium-ion battery that produces 70hp all told.

One trick the new engine has for saving fuel is its ability to coast at up to 18mph. You do this by popping the car into neutral, and the dashboard will then display which gear you need to select for maximum efficiency when you want to get going again.

It is a slightly disconcerting, and counter-intuitive, approach, though. Taking your feet off all the pedals and taking the car out of gear for it to turn itself off will be odd enough in itself for some, but it is a trick that seems especially fiddly in town, where there are hazards all around. Remember that the law will require you to always be in full control of the car.

The gear change will take a little practice to get it operating as smoothly, but this is little different to all recent 500s. The fact it has a six-speed manual gearbox is welcome, though, so it settles down happily at higher speeds.

First Drive-March 2020-Fiat 500 mild hybrid-Image 2What is impressive is the comparative shortage of noise on the move. Using the battery to take the strain off the engine means that the overall cabin volume is reduced.

When the engine is pushed a little harder it sounds quite pleasing, but don’t expect that to translate into rapid performance. This is not a quick car – it takes 13.8 seconds to get to 62mph and it never feels swift during overtakes either.

The hybrid model arrives with a well-equipped Launch Edition. Kit highlights include ‘Launch Edition’ and ‘Hybrid’ badges, a new green paint, a glass roof, LED daytime running lights, a leather steering wheel and seats made of a new material made from recycled bottles.

What is reassuring is that the hybrid doesn’t command a huge price increase over the outgoing version – trim for trim it will cost just £500 more than the old 1.2-litre petrol, so it might not feel like a total leap in terms of tech, but neither is it a huge leap in price.

tom webster

The verdict

A welcome change to the Fiat engine range that brings economy boosts, but isn’t the radical leap forward that some might want.