Steve Cropley
8 July 2010

What is it?

It is right, in this era of rising economy consciousness, that the Fiat 500 should be the first among Europe’s modern small cars to feature a bespoke twin cylinder engine, and thus to reap improvements up to 30 percent in low fuel consumption and CO2 output.

The company has always had the courage to use radical technical solutions first, and the 500 has two-cylinder heritage, too: its ancestors have often featured low-priced twin-cylinder variants.

However, this new super-economical TwinAir is different in one key respect. This time, two cylinders don’t mean lower prices. When the 500 Twinair hits the market this September its price will be similar to that of the present 99bhp 1.4-litre version, pitched around £1400 above the entry-level 1.2 litre petrol four.

Fiat's argument is that TwinAir is packed with technology, and brings spectacular economy. It delivers similar performance to the 1.4 (a top speed of 108 mph and a 0-62 mph time of 11.0 seconds) with an amazing 30 per cent economy improvement.

Its tiny engine features the MultiAir electro-hydraulic valve propulsion system the company has been rolling out with other engines, which cuts pumping losses and improves efficiency by around 10 percent. Maintenance is low: TwinAir has both hydraulic tappets and long-life spark plugs, so ordinary servicing should be cheap.

The 500 TwinAir also features a standard stop-start system. What is more, its tiny internals cut friction to new lows, and its tiny turbo allows quick throttle response and practically eliminates turbo lag. It also promotes low-end torque, which amounts to an impressive 107lb ft at 1900rpm. Even more amazing is the fact that it produces fully 25 per cent more torque at that speed than the 1.4-litre.

This, surely, is the way of the future.

What’s it like

To put TwinAir’s achievements into perspective, Fiat engine guru Paolo Martinelli explains that a suite of engine improvements over the past 15 years have delivered about a 15 per cent average cut in European cars' CO2 outputs.

The new TwinAir offers the same improvement again – in just one step. Eventually, the TwinAir will be come in three power levels: 64bhp, today's 84bhp and a 104bhp variant. Together, they could replace the entire 500/Panda engine range, though Fiat doesn't suggest they will. But it does say production at the Polish manufacturing plant will hit 400,000 units, very soon.

As well as being 23 per cent shorter than a normal four, this tiny 900cc, eight-valve, turbocharged parallel twin (which features a balance shaft to damp the first order vibration) is 7kg lighter than Fiat's current 1.2-litre non-turbo FIRE four, and 13kg lighter than the 1.4-litre. It is, in effect, a briefcase-sized powerhouse, which drives through the owner’s choice of either a five-speed manual gearbox or Fiat's two-pedal semi-automatic gearbox, called Dualogic. Ours was a manual.

On the road, the 500 TwinAir is deeply impressive. Only at idle and under full acceleration are you truly aware of the engine's twin-cylinder format, and even then the noise is gruffly enjoyable and the balancer shaft keeps things four-cylinder smooth. We were able to cruise quietly at 90mph, more conscious of wind than engine noise, though other testers complained of a 'drone' which suggests some variability among early-build cars.

Despite its high specific output the car seemed relaxed, right up to its relaxed 6000 rpm redline, which you're encouraged to visit regularly. At an even 90mph (measured by sat-nav) the engine was pulling just 4000rpm in fifth. Fiat engineers claim there is 25 per cent more torque at 1900rpm than in the 1400, and it certainly felt that way. But the slightly odd sounds and vibes suggest that owners that will need slightly longer than we had with the car to get the best out of it.

Should I buy one?

Well, it looks pricey. And a twin-cylinder engine is unconventional. Early adopters will need to be open-minded to choose this model over a conventional 1.4-litre. But the economy is a spectacular 69mpg combined, with a CO2 output of just 95 g/km when the gearbox is the test car's manual, or 92 g/km with the Dualogic automated manual.

As well as saving the planet, such economy has the virtue of increasing the 500's marginal touring range by 60-80 miles. There’s a twin-clutch TwinAir about a year away, which should be even better.

In summary, the TwinAir shows that amazing advances are possible in the practical efficiency of small cars, and it makes an invaluable addition to Fiat's small-car range — already the lowest-polluting in Europe — that other manufacturers must surely envy. For potential customers it’s a great ownership proposition, and a lot of simple fun.

Fiat 500 TwinAir

Price: £12,000 (est); Top speed: 108mph; 0-60mph: 11.0sec; Economy: 69mpg; CO2: 95g/km; Kerb weight: 1030kg; Engine: two cylinders, 875cc, turbo, petrol; Power: 84bhp at 5500rpm; Torque: 107lb ft at 1900rpm; Gearbox: 5-speed manual

Join the debate

Comments
88

Re: Fiat 500 TwinAir

4 years 3 weeks ago

I rather save £12,000 and have a pair of rollerskates. Same amount of room, better built and more environmentally friendly.

Re: Fiat 500 TwinAir

4 years 3 weeks ago

crashbangwallop wrote:

I rather save £12,000 and have a pair of rollerskates. Same amount of room, better built and more environmentally friendly.

Add a couple of cans of red bull and i'm sure the performance will be similar too.

Re: Fiat 500 TwinAir

4 years 3 weeks ago

Back to the future. This is how Fiat made its name with the Topolino, a cute car with a tiny engine, a ton of character, and great miles per gallon, only this time technology has advanced the engine a hundred fold. Congratulations!

Re: Fiat 500 TwinAir

4 years 3 weeks ago

Autocar wrote:
its ancestors have often featured low-priced twin-cylinder variants.

No they haven`t. The Topolino always had a 4 cylinder engine and the 500 Nuevo always had a 2 cylinder engine, there were never any 2 cylinder VARIANTS. Instead of just writing something you think might be so, why not check?

Re: Fiat 500 TwinAir

4 years 3 weeks ago

It is typically Italian maddening behaviour. Fiat now surely produce the best small engines in the world - 4cyl and below. They have sprinkled some real magic here.

Now surely it can't be that difficult to sprinkle some of that same magic on the rest of their cars i.e. chassis and interior - and to Alfa as well - the Guiletta is still dividing opinions - I would still choose a Golf 6.

Come on Fiat you can do it.

Re: Fiat 500 TwinAir

4 years 3 weeks ago

Lanciaman wrote:
Autocar is wrong: The Topolino always had a 4 cylinder engine and the 500 Nuevo always had a 2 cylinder engine, there were never any 2 cylinder VARIANTS.
The Fiat 500 (a 2-seater) was Fiat's engineering marvel, brilliant engineering, brilliant packaging, nicknamed the Topolino after Mickey Mouse, brought out in 1937, roughly the same time as the VW Beetle during times of severe austerity.

It had a five gallon tank, and offering 40 mpg could take its driver 200 miles between fills, a great plus in its day.

The engine is a 514 cc, 4 cylinder flat head. Top speed was about 58 mph, (some claim 65 mph) all a cool Italian needed to get from A to B. The generator puts out all of six-and-half amps! It's compact 13.5 litre engine must be the only one in existence where the generator is almost bigger than it! Engine and car are very simple, very basic.

For Fiat to install in its current model two cylinder engines but with superior horsepower and mpg than the original car is an inspired move - by doing so the company really is going back to its roots as a great builder of small cars.

Re: Fiat 500 TwinAir

4 years 3 weeks ago

Lanciaman wrote:
No they haven`t. The Topolino always had a 4 cylinder engine and the 500 Nuevo always had a 2 cylinder engine, there were never any 2 cylinder VARIANTS. Instead of just writing something you think might be so, why not check?
Woah - someone got out of bed on the wrong side this morning. Surely there are less aggressive and gratuitously unpleasant ways to point out something that might be factually incorrect. Courtesy costs nothing, sir.


Enjoying a Fabia VRs - affordable performance

Re: Fiat 500 TwinAir

4 years 3 weeks ago

Los Angeles wrote:
It's 13.5 litre engine
I just tried to imagine what this must have been like - very funny !! I think you got the decimal point in the wrong place, maybe.


Enjoying a Fabia VRs - affordable performance

Re: Fiat 500 TwinAir

4 years 3 weeks ago

Amazing what you can do with such a small one said the actress to ...

Re: Fiat 500 TwinAir

4 years 3 weeks ago

FIAT moving further ahead of the competition. I'd have this over a hybrid system any day.

Competance executes, character inspires

Please register or login to post a comment.

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

Driven this week