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New hybrid powertrain adds further allure to the funky Fiat 500

The fashionable Fiat 500 citycar has just received a new hybrid engine set-up. Here's the lowdown on the latest revamp to a special car.

What's new?

A new hybrid powertrain, that's what. Fiat has finally started the process of electrification of its range, with the 500 receiving a mild hybrid set-up first, followed swiftly by the Panda.

The hybrid 500 lands in showrooms this month, with the Panda following in March.

They are the first citycars in the giant Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) group to be fitted with new petrol mild hybrid technology.

Fiat says the new versions are giving customers "the first steps towards more sustainable urban driving".

They will be followed in the not too distant future by an all-electric 500e, which has already been spotted in tests in Italian cities.

Fiat says that compared to the outgoing 1.2-litre 69hp petrol engine, the mild hybrid version improves fuel efficiency and reduces CO2 emissions on the road "by up to 30 per cent without impeding performance".

The two-door Fiat 500 was launched in 2007, based on a legendary earlier 500 first made in 1957.

Fiat Chrysler is on the verge of merging with France's giant PSA Group, maker of Peugeot, Citroen, DS, Vauxhall and other brands.

What's under the bonnet

This is what's known as a 'mild hybrid' engine - so you don't plug it into an electricity supply and it won't drive around town on electric power only.

It still uses a petrol engine, but it also features a small electric motor and a lithium-ion battery to help provide extra power. This is what yields the better efficiency and improved emissions.

The 500 hybrid combines the latest 3-cylinder FireFly 1.0-litre engine family with a 12-volt BSG electric motor and a lithium battery. Stop&Start technology is included.

The new 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder engine has a peak power output of 70hp (51kW) at 6,000rpm and peak torque of 92Nm at 3,500rpm.

The powerplant includes a compact combustion chamber, high-tumble intake ducts and external Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR), providing better thermal efficiency.

The cars contain a special die-cast aluminium crankcase, developed in collaboration with Teksid, to reduce start-up times and contain the weight of the engine to just 77kg.

The system also recovers energy during braking and deceleration, storing it in the lithium battery with a capacity of 11Ah, and uses it to restart the engine in Stop&Start mode and to assist during acceleration.

Both cars feature 6-gear manual transmission aimed at improving fuel economy in out-of-town driving, thanks to new low-friction bearings and gaskets and the use of a specific high-efficiency lubricant.

What does it look like?

There's little change in terms of the car's looks and cabin apart from a celebratory hybrid Launch Edition, of which more later.

Superficially, not that much has changed from the 2007 car, however a well-executed 2016 facelift left it looking rather more modern.

Most changes were found at the front, the new model retaining 500 the "face" of its predecessors with headlights which are still circular in shape, but which adopt polyellptical modules for improved night vision and extra safety.

These clusters integrate the dipped-beam headlamps and turn signals, while lower light cluster integrates the main beam headlights and LED daytime running lights, which adopt the circular profile of the lamp to graphically reproduces the zeros of 500.

The bonnet retains its distinctive, traditional clamshell form, another nod to its legendary predecessor, while the trapezoidal nose gets more pronounced ribbing and the auxiliary air vent is now fed via a three-dimensional grille (with chrome-effect buttons on the Lounge version) flanked by chrome brightwork to give the car stronger visual presence. New alloy wheel designs are also introduced.

Specifically for 2019, there were changes to Star and Rockstar, which made their debut near the top of the range and featured more avant-garde styling. More of that later.

What's it like inside?

Charming, retro and rather funky. The cabin isn't to everyone's taste, but for those who do like it, it's a real heart-stealer.

So popular in fact that many of the features of the 2007 model - including the body-coloured dashboard - remained for the 2016 revamp (although the tech has obviously received regular updates) and has survived into the hybrid era too.

The circular instrument cluster, with analogue dials for speed and engine revs and digital secondary gauges, was retained for lower level models, while the innovative seven-inch TFT display, developed in collaboration with Magneti Marelli, is an option on the higher variants.

It also integrates with the Fiat's Uconnect and Nav so that the media player, telephone and navigation messages also appear on the screen.

The front seats were given a more ergonomic shape and the interior upholstery is available in nine colour combinations with contrasting "crescent" upper portions and head restraints in black or ivory eco-leather.

Trim levels and other models

Let's set aside the bigger cars spun off from the original 2007 Fiat 500 - cars like the 500L (for Large), and 500X (for cross-country, a sort of small lite SUV.)

The current citycar trim levels are Pop, Lounge, Sport, Star and Rockstar. Plus that Launch Edition.

Pop trim, currently costing from £12,665 for the hybrid version, comes reasonably well equipped with power steering, Start&stop, five airbags, ESP, and hill-holder.

There's more interest in the relatively-new Star and Rockstar trims. Star (from £15,895 in hybrid version) comes with some neat new paint options matched with chrome details, 16-inch alloy wheels and fixed glass roof as standard.

There is new upholstery available in two colour combinations, white sand and black, and in the new Matelassé finish with techno-leather details and bordeaux embroidered 500 logo. The dashboard, which until now was only available in matching body colour, can now be chosen in one of the two new shades; matt white or matt Bordeaux.

In the centre of the dashboard, the digital instruments present stand out with the standard 7-inch TFT screen with sat nav. You can even choose a convertible version.

Rockstar, as the name suggests, is brasher, and slightly pricier at £16,065 for the hybrid powerplant. It combines the bumpers and side sills from Sport trim, with details such as the fixed glass roof, 16-inch alloy wheels and satin finish chrome bodywork details. It can be specced in hatchback or cabriolet guise.

Fiat's latest Uconnect system is a foil to any previous grumbles about the 500's connectivity. The 7-inch HD LIVE touchscreen supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth hands-free interface, audio streaming, text reader and voice recognition function and USB ports with iPod integration and steering wheel controls.

What's the new Launch Edition like?

To celebrate the new hybrid powerplant, Fiat have introduced a Launch Edition (pictured) costing from £16,795, that builds on Rockstar trim and adds new stuff.

These include a special 'Hybrid' logo on the rear with an exclusive 'H' logo, formed by two dew drops, on the centre panel. A new and exclusive 'Dew Green' exterior with themes of nature and innovation that poshes up the cabin.

The Launch Edition seats are the first in the automotive sector to be made of Seaqual Yarn, the weaving of which produces a special material, certified by derived from recycled plastic, 10 per cent of which originates from the sea and 90 per cent from land.

The new Fiat 500 hybrid is on sale this month, with the price ranging from £12,665 to £16,795.

Belfast Telegraph