Matt Saunders
23 February 2008

What is it?

City cars are normally at their best when best-suited to the stop-start torment of urban traffic. So is the new Fiat 500, recently showered in glory in not-one-but-two Autocar supermini group tests, even better with two pedals, rather than a five-speed manual gearbox? Also, are its charms diminished by Fiat's 69bhp 1.2-litre motor, in place of the 99bhp 1.4 we've already tested? We were among the first in the world to find out, at the 500 Dualogic’s Japanese launch last week.

First, a technical distinction. This five-speed Dualogic auto-shifter isn’t actually a proper torque converter auto: it’s a robotised manual. Proper auto ‘boxes rarely appear on cars like the 500, as they’re expensive, they would sap power from what’s a small engine anyway, and they’re reasonably difficult to package in one so diminutive.

What’s it like?

Like the ‘box in the Smart Fortwo and the BMW M5, this unit doesn’t creep forward when you engage ‘D’: it picks up drive only when you press the throttle. It also refuses to engage at all unless you’ve got your foot on the brake; in the hustle and bustle of the city, that can slow you down and frustrate you.

Although it makes for slower getaways from a standstill than the manual, this ‘box swaps cogs reasonably quickly and smoothly on the move. In our test car it developed some extra vibration and harshness on the overrun, but only after a very extended drive. For the most part, it’s evidence that robotised manuals are getting better.

Unfortunately, the 1.2-litre engine it was mated with in our test car wasn't the ideal partner. Its 75lb ft of torque is marginally more manful than its 69bhp, but neither make this car relaxing or effortless to drive in urban rush hour. You have to be quick on the throttle to make sure that you don't get left behind at traffic lights, and often have to work the engine hard to keep up with the flow. And as the noisy thrash of pistons once you get about 3500rpm bears testament, that's something that isn't particularly quiet, or pleasant, to have to do.

Should I buy one?

Probably not. Fiat’s Dualogic ‘box may improve with every installation we test, but it’s still not good enough overall to warrant paying £700 extra for.

If you spend absolutely all of your time in nightmare traffic, or just find the idea of a third pedal too repellent to contemplate, it may be a better option for you than a 500 manual - just. However, most of us can still do a better job of swapping cogs, and responding to the cut-and-thrust of metropolitan commuting, ourselves than this gearbox can on our behalf.

Opting for the 1.2-litre manual 500 would be a more sensible course of action, given that it would be quicker off the mark, more refined, and it would bring the price down to £7900. At that level, this is a stylish, desirable and cool supermini that's yours for less than the price of the cheapest Citroen C2 - which is none of the above.

Join the debate

Comments
6

Re: Fiat 500 1.2 Dualogic

6 years 22 weeks ago

865kg is quite impressive for a modern car!

Re: Fiat 500 1.2 Dualogic

6 years 21 weeks ago

No city car and few superminis should aim to be anywhere near 1000kg.

Where has all Japanese design went to?

Fiat's Dualogic

1 year 21 weeks ago

Don't agree with the quick dismissal of the dualogic. It deserves more detailed examination. I have a Dualogic Panda with 1.2 petrol engine which I bought new for my dad in 2006 and subsequently took it over with around a 1000 miles on the clock. 6 months ago I bought a new Qubo 1.3 Multijet (diesel) and chose to have the Dualogic box even though it limited me to the 75hp engine. When designing a gearbox with electronic controls, safety is paramount - which is why the brake has to be pressed when initiating drive or changing direction. I know from personal experience that people can be killed if designers get it wrong. When you have driven a Dualogic car for a while you realise just how competent it is. Fiat's problem in the UK is that their dealers see it as a feature for Motability cars and don't market it for what it is. In Italy drivers love the Dualogic gearbox. The only issues I have found are that it can be caught out in slippy conditions. If the wheels spin the clutch will engage fully when you might not want it to, e.g. if you are backing down the drive - you have to be quick to dab the brake pedal to disengage drive. Similarly setting off at  roundabout in slippy conditions can result in wheelspin and if you back off on the accelerator to try to restore grip the gearbox changes up leaving you floundering in everyones way in too high a gear. I think that this could be overcome with a speed sensor on one of the rear wheels and ECU software to suit. Even with these criticisms I still believe that the Dualogic gearbox gives an enhanced driving experience where total control of the engine and gearbox lies with your right foot. Back off on the accelerator and you get super smooth lazy gearchanges, give it more throttle and you get sportier performance - simples!

BL

Fiat Dualogic

1 year 14 weeks ago

I have just started driving my new Fiat Dualogic. I love it, once you get used to depressing the brake pedal each time you need to move from neutral to auto or manual. The system seems very similar to the system used in the Mitsibushi Colt. While the Fiat is far too new to develop any faults or hiccups I have found the gear change very smooth. A lot depends on driving styles I for one do not care if the car is sluggish at traffic lights after all I am not  in pole position on a FI racing grid. I have read quite a lot of reviews about this latest automatic car..and the results have been mixed. I am enjoying driving this little mini car and look forward to many miles of stress free safe driving. Well done Fiat the 500 is a great looking colourful car better than most of similar size and price..Smile

kevin

Entertainment

1 year 13 weeks ago

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Big let down.

1 year 10 weeks ago

I am a very experienced fiat dualogic driver and have had many hours driving the fiat 500 and 500L duallogic, I have to say that this is the only thing letting the almost iconic 500 down, The gearbox doesnt respond quickly enough in almost all driving situations, and cant handle quick changes in speed for example in most overtaking situations wether that is on a motorway or going around parked vehicles in the city, turning what is normally a nippy city car into a sluggish tank, there is no such thing as a kick down in this car, if you do try a kickdown to overtake, it simply screams at you then there is a loss of power as the gear changes, sometimes leaving you in a dangerous position, in auto mode the car lunges forward when changing gear so much so you actually feel your seat belt tighten, manual mode is better as it is said that you should anticipate the gear change and ease off the accelerator, how can you anticipate an autobox changing gear??? This is Such an idiotic thing to say........and the gearbox is designed to be intelligent and adapt to your driving style so the point the car changes gear can be different depending on which type of road you are travelling on, hence manual mode offering a little more control, paddle shift works ok also but becomes a problem if you need to change gear when turning or on an island.....Overall dont even think about purchasing a 500 with this gearbox unless you only drive in the city for 5 minutes each day, you will just ruin what would have been a great car had you have chosen the cheaper manual.

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Our Verdict

Fiat 500

The Fiat 500 is a deserved success story for the brand, offering bags of style, a fine drive and low costs

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