NEW FIAT 500 DOLCEVITA

The enduring 500 returns in new configurations before it goes fully electric and moves upmarket.

The style-forward Fiat 500 has long traded on its retro good looks and compact car advantages. And it remains as relevant as ever on crowded Auckland streets, especially with fuel costs soaring and parking at a premium. Best of all, the 500 can be fun to drive in a city environment, and even a short hop to the local café carries a sense of occasion when you jump into the funky cabin.

The current 500 has been in production for 15 years now and a subtle refresh sees it looking as appealing as it did in 2007, especially in upmarket Dolcevita specification. The eagle-eyed will note the new body-coloured dashboard surrounds, eye-catching chrome details inside and out, a fixed glass sunroof, intricate 16-inch alloys and signature badging. Our pick from the broader colour palette was an unmissable pastel colour called Passione Red.

In only our first afternoon of driving, there were several occasions when we were thankful for the small dimensions (length is just 3.65m) that make a 500 so easy to place on the road and child’s play to park without endangering one of those alloys. The outstanding visibility from an expansive glasshouse is equally welcome and allows a high seating position (which will be too perched for some) but still with ample headroom for tall drivers. In fact, there’s enough width in the cabin to give you an airy impression up-front while keeping all controls and the seven-inch touchscreen within easy reach.

The steering wheel with audio controls is leather-wrapped, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard fare, and the premium cloth or optional leather seats support a large frame and have more lower-back support than some cars in the next class up. Cruise control and automatic climate control lend meaning to the Dolcevita badge.

Funnily enough, less can sometimes be more at this end of the auto spectrum and some buyers will happily forego some of the test car’s embellishments and settle for the entry Fiat 500 Lounge model, better value at $22,990. It features all the essentials and the modest 1.2-litre engine with lurching Duologic transmission that satisfies drivers who like the simplicity of an auto or prefer to work five gears manually. And its round town ride promises to feel less compromised on standard 15-inch wheels.

Later this year, Fiat will enter the electric age with a completely new (read ‘much more modern’) 500e that will offer a range of 300km-plus with even cooler design cues. With the outgoing car being off the pace dynamically and lacking competitive refinement, the EV is overdue.

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