Fiat has unveiled its new Fiat 500, exactly 50 years after the quintessential city car made its debut.
Employing the design fundamentals of the original 500 the new model features diminutive dimensions (3.55m long, 1.63m wide and 1.49m tall), disarmingly cute styling and clever interior packaging.
The 500 is intended to serve as a chic urban runabout, negotiating claustrophobic city environments with consummate ease and style. Powered by a range of three engines, the new 500 drives through a choice of five- or six-speed manual gearboxes.
Petrol power is provided by either a 1.2-litre, 51 kW/102 Nm or 1.4-litre 73.5 kW/100 Nm four-cylinder engines.
For the especially frugally minded there is a 1.3-litre turbodiesel producing 55 kW/145 Nm and returning a particularly miserly average fuel consumption figure of 4.2-litres per 100 km's.
With a low kerb weight of well under the one ton mark, all three engines provide spirited performance. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h for the petrol models is claimed to be 12.9- and 10.5 seconds for the 1.2- and 1.4-litre versions respectively, whilst the diesel does it in 12.5 seconds.
Ensuring the 500 is as wieldy as possible in the taxing urban traffic environment it was designed for the suspension set up is hardly small car simple.
With independent MacPherson-struts at the front and a semi-independent torsion axle set-up at the rear, the 500 can handle even the tightest turning circles with ease.
Both dynamic and passive safety features have not been glossed over either and the usual active safety acronyms are present.
The brakes have both ABS and HBA, whilst ESP and ASR combine to keep the handling package as neat as possible when cornering at the limit. Passive safety features include an incredible seven-airbags specification, a first for a vehicle of this size.
Echoing the contemporary exterior styling the interior features deftly integrated technology with unmistakable Italian design flair.
Fiat 500 drivers can choose between different levels of the new Blue&MeTM cabin communications package which features a combination of MP3, text message interpretation, voice recognition, all-round Bluetooth compatibility and USB port insertion points.
Making the most of its compact dimensions the 500 features a detachable luggage rack which can be mounted on the rear window and convenient storage units which allow you pack items of various sizes on the load bay floor.
McLaren F1 road car stylist Peter Stevens once called the original Fiat 500 one of the greatest automotive shapes ever conceived.
The new model enters a market fraught with high fuel prices and beset with taxing environmental legislation, perfect terrain for a frugal car of small dimensions with big ambitions.