I promised this blog wouldn’t be about fuel consumption but one of the first things people ask you about the twinair, if they’re still around after I’ve bored them senseless telling them how innovative this engine is, is ‘what will she do mister’ not in the traditional sense of speed but just how economical is it?

Fiat official figures suggest 69 mpg on the optimal cycle, but lets cut to the chase we all know that manufacturers figures are almost always impossible to obtain and obtain consistently. My first proper journey was a trip to my Mum’s in the West Midlands about 140 miles from my home in Essex, filled with regular Tesco 95 Ron unleaded, and with a few stints at about 10% above the national limit I achieved 44.0 mpg according to the on board trip computer. Not bad for a brand new engine I thought.

Some words now about the performance. Firstly, yes for possibly the smallest mainstream petrol engine in production, the twinair is not just a town and city car. It happily cruises at 70mph and slightly above with performance in reserve if required. Don’t get me wrong it’s no AMG Merc or large diesel cruiser drunk on pints of torque, but it is not dangerously underpowered as some people assume of small engines; in fact it’s not underpowered at all full stop. funny I should mention diesel torque, because it’s torque that is the twinair’s trump card 107lbs p/ft delivered in the low to middle of the rev range. This is more than a fair amount in a car that weighs just over 1000 kg and means that the twinair feels more than good for it’s claimed 10.7 0-62 sprint. Happily, with less than 1000 miles on the clock, more performance is to come.

Getting the best mpg is also dependent on the use of the ECO button, unlike the sport button fitted to…er… sport models of the 500 with the 1.2 or 1.4 engines that sharpens up throttle response and other inputs; the twinair has the ECO button. Placed to the left of the hazard lights in the centre of the dashboard a press of the ECO button effectively re-maps the engine in an instant curtailing a percentage of the engine torque. it makes perfect sense to leave the ECO button on when cruising on the motorway (the word ECO is displayed permanently on the digital display when in operation) and most of my current consumption figures have been achieved using it, including the 44.0 above. You only really need deactivate ECO when you need full power e.g. to overtake something safely or tackle a steep incline. The only slight criticism I have of the ECO button is, well, the button itself or rather the placement of it. It’s too much of a left arm stretch away a far better idea in my opinion would have been to integrate the function on one of the stalks, or perhaps a steering wheel button, so that if you needed full power again quickly, it would only be a finger flex away rather than an arm movement away. Just a thought.

Once in the Midlands a mix of A and B road driving was enjoyed and the mpg actually crept up a little to the higher 40’s. don’t write the West Midlands off if you’ve never been, yes it’s an urban conurbation purely man-made with the UK’s second City at its heart, but its edges and the surrounding Counties, particularly Shropshire hold some stunning sites. The beautiful town of Ironbridge, perhaps birthplace of the industrial revolution is just one of them.

Nearly a week later and no fill up needed since leaving Essex it was time for the trip back. The tank was nearing empty and a full fill with Shell Fuel Saving Regular unleaded was selected and the trip computer reset. The return journey yielded exactly 52.1 mpg for an identical route and near identical conditions, an improvement of 8 mpg. Too early to tell, but could this point toward what I’ve suspected for a while, that Shell’s fuels really are the best on the market? Another week has passed with purely urban driving and the trip reading dropped to around 49mpg.

I filled up again on Friday (missing an awesome Audi R8 V10 Spider spot) as those who follow me on twitter will recall! I decided to try Tesco’s Momentum 99 Ron, so far in purely urban driving this is returning a very disappointing 36.5mpg with ECO mode on. It does seem to have smoothed out the engine’s slight hesitance at the very bottom of the rev range just above idle speed and it does feel more eager even with ECO engaged, but these aren’t reason enough to stick with this fuel and its increased cost, unless consumption drastically improves.

next post – some early driving impressions. Thought’s and comments always welcome please.


First Impressions

At time of writing, almost to the hour, I’ve owned my Fiat 500 just over a week, so I guess now’s the time to start writing about it properly. I suppose that I should also explain why I came to sign on the dotted line for another new car; well the over-riding reason was that I’d fallen well and truly out of favour with my then current Fiat a Grande Punto T-Jet (120) Sport. I’m sad to say that the Grande Punto is the first and hopefully last Fiat that I did not enjoy owning. I’ve owned five Fiats all later than model year 2000 and one Alfa Romeo, I’ve also been lucky enough to drive other Alfa’s and Fiat’s too, so while I’m not presumptuous enough to call myself an expert, I’m also not new to the brand. Since I got into Fiat’s I have seen their quality in all areas increase markedly and bought the Grande Punto (GP) with no reservations or worry, but I think I got what I’ve heard described as a lemon or a friday afternoon car. Within the first year it needed a new wheel bearing and drive shaft and it was discovered that an engine mount was missing, that meant the whole engine was shifting when turning making a very unpleasant and disconcerting noise. In its third year, outside of the comprehensive manufacturer’s warranty, it needed new front suspension components and worst of all and quite unbelievably an entire new clutch assembly and gearbox. Had I covered 100,000 or possibly 40,000 to 50,000 miles I would not have batted an eyelid regarding maybe the clutch if not the gearbox, but I’d done less than 25,000 miles in a car that had not had its third birthday. The bill would have been well into four figures, but the dealership got in touch with Fiat who sent one of their what I imagine to be men in black suits to assess the problems. Thankfully this mysterious man from Fiat UK signed the cheque for the work, quite rightly too. I must say the dealership D Salmon of Colchester was very supportive throughout, even when I was getting quite stroppy with them because of the stress these sort of problems bring. I got the my Grande Punto back and it ran fine, but I felt I’d always be waiting for the next thing to go wrong and it was for this reason on the off-chance that I went into D Salmon one day looking at the used 500 and Panda’s. I’d owned a Panda and my Mum also has an 07 plate and I loved the fact that you could drive it on its door handles or just potter about, either was fun. There were plenty of tasty Panda’s and 500s to choose from, including a lovely red Panda 100HP, this blog could have been about another car entirely! After falling for said Panda and a couple of 500’s, I uttered the words “what about a brand new 500?” and a couple of days later some different finance figures had been put together. The figures themselves were very reasonable and coupled with the next to nothing running costs of the Twinair, the deal was done, bye-bye Punto

I ordered the Twinair at the end of February and was told there would be about a 12 to 18 week wait, so I was surprised to get a phone call at the end of March to say my car had been built and shipped and would be ready for me early April – result. The specs are in a previous post so I won’t repeat them again, apart from to say that a worry over my colour choice did creep in during the wait for delivery. I thought that I had ordered one of the dark metallic greys only to realise at too late a date to change that it was actually a special pastel paint. Now, the 500 can be a girly car and is driven mostly by women, but I’m sure enough in my masculinity for this not to put me off a 500. I bought one because they are an excellent town and city car and just a good car full stop. Nevertheless, the word pastel did make my stomach turn slightly, so I just hoped it wouldn’t be too insipid a colour in the metal; thankfully as my 500 came into view driven out of D Salmon’s workshop I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It didn’t look like a girls car, not in my opinion anyway.

The hand over by D Salmon, my second car from them, was relaxed, efficient and overall a very pleasant experience. I got a very good deal on fitted 500 logoed car mats, an iPod spool lead and a model car for my son all for less than the price of the mats alone. A healthy amount of fuel was also in the tank. How that Dominic Littlewood ever got free mats and a full tank of fuel out of any dealer on that TV programme he used to host, the name of which escapes me now, is beyond me! Already being familiar with the 500 and the placing of all its major controls, it is of course near identical to the Panda on which it is based, I didn’t have to hang around for long having things explained. What I did get a demonstration of, however, is the stop/start feature, this being the first car I’ve owned or indeed driven with this fitted. It’s pretty simple and works thus; if stopped in traffic or at perhaps a set of red lights that you know won’t change for some time, you knock the car into neutral and the engine stops, with a symbol illuminated on the dash to let you know the start stop technology is in operation. As soon as you touch the clutch to engage first gear again the engine restarts. Of course it starts much quicker than a normal start as you don’t touch the key and the fuelling and ignition is already pre-primed. The other clever thing about this is that, as long as conditions allow, all ancillary functions will continue when the engine cuts out, so your iPod track, CD or radio is not interrupted and perhaps more importantly neither is the air conditioning. Note, if conditions allow – like anything else on a modern car a myriad sensors and the ECU have the final say if these electronic guardians think there is a danger of not having enough juice to run all ancillary functions and start the car again, the feature will disable itself. In real terms, having not been stuck in any really heavy traffic yet, the start/stop works just as expected i.e. most of the time. Only today in temperature of 25c when I had the radio and the air con on cold fan speed three, did it not engage and I don’t think that was unreasonable. The whole idea of this of course is to cut emissions and improve fuel economy and I’m sure it’s this that helped Fiat’s engineers achieve CO2 g/km of 95 and around a 60mpg consumption figure. It’s too early yet to try to form a realistic opinion of how this helps in real world ownership, but of course that’s why my blog is here.

So, I hot-foot it home, where I knew I could relax with the car and check out all the little details. Within in metres of leaving the forecourt and its speed bumps, I knew that one thing was a vast improvement over my Grande Punto, ride quality. The suspension and chassis set-up in the GP was quite frankly abysmal. It crashed over the smallest bumps as if it had no damper or body control at all; it was ok at medium to high-speed on smooth surfaces but of course those are becoming fewer with the state of UK roads, so in real world ownership it was almost embarrassingly uncomfortable. The 500 on the other hand absorbs and isolates the driver from those imperfections and while not in the league of Citroen or Jaguar for ride quality, it is the best riding small Fiat I have owned or driven yet.

The other thing that I felt good about was the sound. I would describe it as a gruff buzz, which in print doesn’t sound appealing but trust me it is, unless your familiar with two-cylinder engines in cars and lets face it who is as there hardly common, you won’t have heard anything like it. Some sound clips will grace a later blog.

At home my attention turned to admiring my choice again and noticing how the subtle two-tone alloys really complement the tech house grey paint option.

I’m also chuffed with the grey/black check cloth (no cost) interior option, which again makes this quite a mature and stylish looking 500.

Next step was to ensure my geeky but functional ‘life-style’ stuff worked – in other words my iPod and mobile phone. Fiat launched blue&me a few years ago, a joint venture with Microsoft it is basically an entertainment and telematics technology that allows you to play music via USB memory sticks, MP3 players, iPods and to synchronise with any mobile phone via bluetooth for seamless hands-free calling via the steering wheel controls. While all Fiat’s with blue&me I’ve come across work, there were problems in the early days with some makes and models of mobile phone and also, perhaps not surprisingly for a Microsoft product, Apple iPods and iPhones. However, each iteration improved and this is the best yet. My iPod plugged in and played perfectly and is controllable via the steering wheels controls. My Windows Phone 7 based mobile (Samsung Omnia7) also synched perfectly and copied my contacts to the blue&me memory. It did this too for my wifes Sony Ericsson and can tell the difference between the two – simples as the meerkats would say.

First impressions were good and I did not do much else with the car that day, other than to fill the tank ready for my trip to the West Midlands the next day, about a 140 mile journey. I will experiment with different brands and RON ratings of petrol, to try to ascertain what difference if any they make to engine performance and consumption, but for the first fill it was regular Tesco 95 RON.

Details of the first week of driving soon…

Less Than 24 Hours to go

Ok, so I pick my 500 twin air Lounge up tomorrow lunchtime, here is the spec:

Lounge trim comes as standard with air con, fixed glass roof, chrome detailing, steering wheel tele/audio controls, blue&me etc

Optional extras include:

15″two tone alloys
Tech House Grey
Chrome Mirrors
Grey Check Cloth w/ Black Ambiance

Love getting a new car and the whole experience, I haven’t poured over brochures this time either and have managed to keep anticipation in check! but I know I’ll wake up early tomorrow thinking about it like my six-year-old on Christmas morning. I’ll post pics as soon as possible and my first proper trip will be a visit to the West Midlands, so I will see how it copes with a motorway slog almost straight away.