3 + 1 = 500

Fiat introduces a Quattroporte – well, sort of. 

(c) topgear

As the year that wasn’t continues to limp towards an ever decreasing conclusion, and our plaintive requests to the authorities for a refund continues to fall upon deaf ears, the short-lived product offensive which briefly appeared to be taking place within the auto industry earlier in the Autumn appears to have sputtered and popped, rather like a badly misfiring internal combustion engine. Those infernal devices, which it seems are no longer to be mentioned amid polite company have become as much yesterday’s news as last week’s C-19 statistics.

But while Porsche’s Taycan suggests that electrification doesn’t necessarily mean the elimination of engagement, at the other end of the price spectrum, Fiat’s fully-electric nouva³ 500 lends equally optimistic voice to the notion that the new electric world order does not have to be as po-faced as some might have feared.

DTW has covered the e-500 – at least twice before – but earlier this week, Fiat announced UK pricing and specifications for their EV debutant, most of which you can read at will in the weekly comics, or indeed, on the FCA/Stellantis press release – which may or may not amount to the same thing, depending on how much coffee has been imbibed.

My own personal takeout from said press release was the following gem; “Since its debut in 1957, it could be said that the ‘clean face’ of the 500 can be linked to an electric car’s, a true one-off in the automotive landscape.” Which goes to prove that marketers can spin just about anything. It’s easy to see how they get on…

(c) topgear

The more prosaic highlights however appear to be that production of the electro-Cinquecento will take place at Fiat’s Mirafiori plant in Turin, home also to centro stile, where the car was (we’d imagine) designed. Launch edition aside, the 500 will be available in three trim levels (Action, Passion and Icon) and two battery pack options (24kWh and 42kWh). But in addition to the two body configurations shown at launch earlier this year (hatchback and cabrio), FCA/Stellantis have now added a third.

3 being the magic number in this particular incarnation, the new addition is termed the 500 3+1. A standard Nouva³ 500 body dimensionally, but on the portside, the B-pillar has been removed and a small (make that very small indeed) rear hinged coach door has been added, “Just like the first 500 in 1957, which featured doors hinged to the rear,” according to Fiat’s deft, (or perhaps something that sounds like deft) PR.

Other points of reference to which FCA/Stellantis PR could have mentioned of course were the (R55) Mini Clubman of 2007 and Mazda RX8 of 2002, both of whom tried something similar to varying degrees of visual and commercial success.

Fiat claim the revised bodyside adds 30kg to the car’s weight, while aiding practicality. It remains to be seen how useful this will prove to be in the real world, especially since the aforementioned Clubman, which most closely resembles the 500’s arrangement wasn’t exactly a ringing success, but Fiat ought to be given credit for trying something, if not exactly new, at least novel – especially at this end of the market.

(c) topgear

Of course, what this arrangement screams to some of us with longer memories is the ever-present ghost in the henhouse that is Lancia, who at one point in their history made something of a feature of pillarless body construction. Which quite naturally leads one to think Ypsilon and future thereof. I think it’s fair to say that we can now envisage the pale pullet’s nemesis made flesh.

According to FCA/Stellantis, “the 500 3+1 will firstly be made available for left-hand drive markets“, suggesting a right-hand drive model may follow. I wouldn’t be so sure. But please don’t take my word for this (or much else for that matter), FCA/Stellantis after all having form in confounding any or all tea-leaf predictions in the past. Meanwhile, UK (and Irish we assume) order books open in December, with first deliveries set to arrive in March 2021. Floormats will be available in September – allegedly.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

21 thoughts on “3 + 1 = 500”

  1. Other points of reference BMW i3 and the decades ago proposed DAF city taxi which had sliders on one side and coach doors on the other!

  2. Good morning Eóin. Nothing better illustrates the dead-end nature of retro design than the progression (I use the word advisedly) of the 500 since its introduction in 2007. The first iteration was a brilliant reinterpretation of the 1957 ‘Nuova’ 500, which looked best in its simplest ‘Pop’ entry-level form:

    The 2016 facelift simply ladled chrome highlights onto the front end and made it look fussily multi-tiered:

    It also added those odd rear lights with a body-coloured insert, again an unnecessary garnish. Otherwise, the exterior was unchanged, but overall the facelift was not an improvement.

    Now we have a completely new model, launched in electric form first:

    Again, more visual clutter, like the chrome ‘ears’ below the rear side window and on the edge of the bonnet and the highly stylised front lights. The Fiat badge has disappeared from the front end and now seems to be subordinate to ‘500’. Is this the first step to dispensing with Fiat altogether and making 500 into a stand-alone brand?

    And don’t get me started on that horrible four-door abomination…

    (Oh dear, don’t I sound grumpy this morning?)

    1. I hate to agree with you on this subject… but I agree with you. Though preferring the Panda, I’ve always found the 500 a charming thing visually, and don’t think the facelift is particularly egregious, but judging by the pictures you’re right about the new electrified version. The first thought that springs to mind is that it’s rather like a sci-fi film would have imagined a new car being in the futuristic 2020’s (excepting superior fare such as ‘Gattaca’, which simply added an electric-drive noise to a lovely Rover P6).

      It’s better than average for new car design these days of course… but that’s just damning with faint praise.

    2. Well, it is a Fiat facelift, so we should be grateful for small mercies.

      The front of the latest one has gone a bit ‘Audi’.

      I rather like the 500 L. I suspect that’s a minority view.

    3. Hi Charles. The 500L is not for me, but I have a sneaking regard for the 500X. In my alternate reality, it would have been marketed without the faux off-road addenda as the 600, replacing the Punto:

    4. Agreed – look at the peculiar evolution of the Beetle and the Mini. Rover had nowwhere to go after the 75. Even if Callum has not got it right at Jaguar, he is correct on spotting that the Lawson era was a dead end. I think there is a role for retro but it needs to be understood as something of a special case. Now and again a retro car is okay but it should not be a long term policy.

  3. All that complicated aperture engineering for so little gain.

    We are told that Fiat are “targeting young families” with the two and a half door 500. Don’t they know that such social entities can only function with an enormous suv?

    And what has become of the promised 500 Giardiniera? That could have made better use of the “Clubdoor” although Gerd Volker Hildebrand’s original never saw the sales success it deserved.

    1. The old Mini Countryman wasn’t the first comparison car that came to mind as I read the first couple of paragraphs. Surely the Hyundai Veloster three plus one door “coupe” has far outsold the old Mini Clubman on a worldwide basis? The Veloster has been on sale worldwide since 2011 and birthed Generation 2 in 2018. This 500 is but a stunted copy. Hyundai puts the big door always on the driver’s side; i.e. the location depends on right-hand or left-hand markets. I don’t suppose Fiat had the budget for that.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyundai_Veloster

      The 500 was a spent force years ago in the volume sales race, being a bit of an anachronism, and was completely defeated by North American market realities. I found the Abarth version entertaining as a playtoy, but the Veloster turbo for the same money was much more of a car, and quicker while generally being of much higher initial quality, reliability and durability. Built for “style”, perhaps, not outright passenger volume, but anyone who thinks a 500 a real four passsenger car has a loose grip on reality anyway!

  4. Would they swap the aperture for RHD markets? I doubt it.

    Fiat have considered this sort of door opening, in 5-door form, before – in 2002, with the Lancia Y.

  5. Isn´t it odd and perplexing how one model has come to take over an entire marque? What does that say about the weakness of the teams at Fiat? Are they really asked to fit everything into a 500 sized box? Five cars in their range are 500 related. The others are the Panda and Tipo. I see the roadster is now gone from Fiat UK´s listings.
    We´ve been here before and I am awaiting the point where someone writes to say that Chrysler keeps Fiat afloat.
    I went to Chrysler Canada (the US site would not let me in) and found four minivans and a saloon, the 300.
    That led me to Lancia and I found the Ypsilon now only has two types of cloth trim interior, neither of them all that lush.
    Alfa´s range is also rather diminished: the Giuia, Giulietta, Stelvio and Tonale concept. The poor old MiTo is gone, of course. I haven´t seen a Stelvio in ages; I see the odd Giulia but not as often as I see its peers. Is it really so much worse than a base model 3? And at the same time I see loads of Mondeos and Insignias who also occupy a similar price range.
    Working at Fiat must be rather miserable. I presume many there in the white collar jobs would like to work somewhere else.

    1. I fear Ford may be about to drift the same way. In the US the idea seems to be to emphasise the Mustang and Bronco nameplates above the Ford brand. I suspect the only thing stopping them doing the same in Europe is the fact that different countries feel affection for different models. The UK might lap up a Capri sub-brand, but Germany? I doubt it…

  6. Surely the biggest Fiat news is the reveal of the first facelift* of the Panda, after nine years? And it’s not even a facelift, just the bumpers and body kit from the 4×4.

    Therefore, I’m hoping the Fiat with therefore facelift the ICE 500 by reinstating the original fascia and saving money on tooling.

    *Let’s not talk about the Panda Cross.

    1. Are we in a phase akin to late stage Rover? I have a Car magazine from 1988 and it shows the splendid interior of the Mk1 Croma. That was when Fiat had a Punto, Tipo, Tempra and Croma and were nominally a competitor for Ford and Opel and Renault.

  7. I’m starting to feel a desperate need to defend Rover and the ill-fated 75 here… probably a non-starter.

  8. Fiat as it stands could do with more Lapo Elkann than John Elkann. I have no doubt that this 3+1 chassis was prepared in a hurry on management request to counter the negative press coverage of a regular 3-door car amongst the EV-evangelist community, but it was probably by the same managers that requested a 3-door retro car in the first place.
    Now adding Peugeot to the mixture will have unimaginable results – on paper it sounds good, but I must admit I still like any reiteration of the Fiat 500 more than any current PSA product. Even this new Trepiuno.

    1. Just for balance, I would like any current PSA product more than any reiteration of the Fiat 500!

  9. Richard

    Callum vulgarised Jaguar. He was never right to do as he did. He really was a one trick pony whose best work was already behind him.

    As far as design direction is concerned, it is possible to work out what a brand’s themes are and evolve them. For example, Porsche tried to do this with its rear engine cars (911 onwards) and to an extent still do- some iterations better than others. Mercedes were good at it until they decided to dilute their brand and go cheap (towards the end of the Sacco period- don’t blame him it was not his fault). Similarly BMW, until the arrival of a notorious self-promoting bungler who managed to bungle his way through the range. Far from being a dead end, sticking to certain design themes and gradually evolving is the way to go. That way it is possible to build up reputation on a recognisable identity. Know who you are and make sure your people do as well by avoiding arbitrary changes being made each cycle.

    Regarding Fiat and Chrysler, yes, you are correct. Chrysler supported Fiat. In particular it was Chrysler’s trucks which were the cash cow to help Fiat stagger on. Fiat lost money on its cars. Lancia, all but dead, lost money. Alfa Romeo lost money. Maserati lost money. The growing issue for Chrysler (and GM and Ford) is that trucks have become expensive to buy. They feature so much electrical nonsense (not to mention government mandated idiocies) that they have become expensive to maintain. Right-to-Repair is becoming a major issue, as manufacturers attempt to expropriate any income they can get in any way they can mulct it from customers. Reliability is steadily falling. People are noticing.

    There is an argument made that just as the big manufacturers ruined F-1 motorsport (now accelerating a multi-year decline) they also managed to ruin the private motorcar. It is quite possible they will not survive in their present form and with their present structure and size. Indeed, they may not survive. Meanwhile something important is happening over at Czinger. There is also something interesting with Local Motors.

  10. Porsche seem to be following a similar product strategy – the new Macan will apparently be electric only, and will go on sale alongside the existing model. It will then be left to the market to decide how long the older one continues on sale, so I suppose another facelift might be on the cards, but an all-new ICE Macan won’t happen.

    The reinvented 500 has been an astonishing success for FIAT and it’s not done yet. But, over time, this 500 e will gradually replace it. The +1 door doesn’t look very practical (it seems like the front passenger not only needs to open their door first but also undo their seatbelt to allow rear passengers out) but as a marketing gimmick it brings intrigue and a point of differentiation.

    Personally I’m more taken with the cabrio version – all that fresh air without the engine noise or exhaust fumes.

  11. I seem on my own by welcoming the minor improvement and innovation of the extra passenger side door. No doubt they won’t transpose it to the other side for the UK market (MINI didn’t, so why would FIAT), but it adds a bit of practicality and functionality to the new design.

    The entry point price of the 500e (agree about the badging on the front and steering wheel hub) is attractively lower than the MINI, Honda e and others.

  12. I started typing a comment the other day and never got round to pressing submit. Now I find myself- late to the party admittedly- typing a completely different comment. A good example of how the comments thread introduces evolving ideas.
    FCA strikes me as the worlds first major post-car car maker, in that they haven’t launched a genuinely new model for years and there is nothing to suggest when they might. The range has gaps in it, which I aught to welcome as I found the 1990’s- 2000’s need for every manufacturer to creep out of their niche and cover all bases with an MPV, SUV and a softroader very annoying, whilst the non-500’s look like anachronisms. Particularly the Tipo that could almost have climbed over the fence from a related marque, in the right trim and colour it has real Lancia potential on the outside although I believe dynamics and NVH are way off what a Lancisti would expect.
    The overall impression I get is of managed decline, had their been no PSA merger, I could imagine Fiat’s long term strategy to be to service their employee pension scheme, redevelop their sites and provide parts support for just long enough to look willing. And not make cars.

  13. https://www.autoexpress.co.uk/news/353585/fiat-500-31-could-be-set-uk
    An Auto Express interview with Olivier Francois of Fiat is more realistic about a UK-specific 500 3+1 (504? Don’t upset Peugeot) in an interview: “[The +1 door] will clearly be on the driver’s side,” Francois told us. “It wasn’t well received with the MINI [Clubman], so it has not been developed on the other side and we won’t… we could do it in the UK relatively fast – it would be some investment, but I don’t want to invest and upset my Fiat 500 customers. The car is iconic in the UK as much as it is in other countries and I don’t want to do any mistakes.”

    I’m not sure what he means by the last part of that – it seems like he is implying that an RHD 3+1 would ‘upset’ the UK customers, which is a curious thing to say. It suggests that fitting a child seat will be easier in this car, which could explain the thinking a little better – whereas the Veloster customer is probably less likely to be doing that. Credit to Hyundai for making a second generation of it, though! As Mini seems likely to shrink/expand, and (it seems) to lose its 5-door variant, perhaps the 500 3+1 will have a certain niche filled: https://www.autoexpress.co.uk/mini/353576/mini-plans-triple-strike-rivals-model-shake

    I had forgotten about this -nice work for Musk’s firm: https://www.topgear.com/car-news/electric/will-electric-500-stop-fiat-paying-tesla-co2-credits

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