The arrival of an all-new MINI clearly hasn’t escaped Fiat’s attention. Hence why, from mid-April, you’ll be able to buy the ‘model year 2014’ Fiat 500 Cult, which is a new top-spec version of the supermini.
Fiat claims the 500’s fanbase is so strong it’s almost cult-ish, so it’s used the name Cult for the new car. It also hopes to add new fans of the model by including plenty of equipment as standard, from a panoramic roof to seats clad in soft two-tone leather.
But the big change is that you now have the option of a more powerful, 104bhp version of Fiat’s two-cylinder TwinAir engine, which suits the car well. The powerplant makes a distinctive noise, so you’d better be charmed by its breathy, off-beat tone, because it accompanies you everywhere you drive.
There’s a fair bit of lag before the turbo bursts into life, but once it does, the 500 has plenty of punch, and that extra 20bhp you get over the current TwinAir engine really helps when you’re negotiating city traffic.
As you’d expect from a city car, the Cult is very manoeuvrable, although a high driving position and thick A-pillars make it tricky to see out of at junctions.
Out of town, the 500 will cruise along at the motorway limit with very little fuss – the new engine giving plenty of in-gear flexibility as long as the turbo is spinning. The ride is a bit softer than the likes of the Vauxhall Adam. However, while it has the edge on the Vauxhall in the handling stakes, it’s not a patch on the latest MINI, even though the Fiat’s ride is not as harsh as its rival’s.
The new engine is a worthy addition, especially when you consider its claimed economy figure of 67.3mpg and the effect this has on running costs. But it’s backed up by new features that help set the range-topper apart from the rest of the 500 range. For a start, there’s extra chrome trim on the door mirrors and front bumper, plus a new alloy wheel design. The minty green exterior colour, called Lattementa Green, is also new.
Inside, you get Frau Italian leather on the seats, plus a seven-inch digital dial pack (standard on the Cult, optional on lesser models) that does a good job of mixing the old-school design of the dials with modern tech. The display is very clear and easy to see, too.
But even though Fiat has added equipment and a few new touches of flair, it can’t disguise the fact that the 500 is beginning to show its age, and not in the retro way it was designed to.
Sit in the driver’s seat, and the steering wheel and front seats don’t have a particularly wide range of adjustment, so getting a comfortable driving position is tricky, especially if you’re tall. It’s made worse by the fact that the standard-fit panoramic sunroof eats into the headroom, meaning the heads of taller drivers will be in constant contact with the roof lining. The optional sat-nav, stuck on the dash on a wobbly plastic stick, doesn’t feel very sturdy or as well integrated as the Adam’s Intellilink touchscreen, either.
The 500 is as much as a fashion accessory as it is a car. While it still has appeal, time has moved on. The 500 is better in its more basic form, where you don’t notice some of its foibles quite so much, whereas the Cult costs just £250 less than an all-new MINI Cooper, which has more space, a better engine, and offers a much better drive.
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