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First Drive: Fiat 500 and Panda Hybrid

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Fiat has been late to electrify, but the first steps are being taken along its electric path, discovers Jonathan Musk.

SECTOR City car   PRICE £12,665-£16,795   FUEL 49.6-53.3mpg WLTP   CO2 88-89g/km (NEDC Correlated)

Keen to make up for lost time, Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s (FCA) first wave of electrified vehicles is with new Hybrid-branded models of the 500 and Panda.

There’s just one problem: neither is a full hybrid. Instead, they are more accurately described as mild hybrids. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing, however, with Fiat promising reduced fuel and tax bills. 

To achieve this, the ‘Hybrid’ is fitted with a new 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine outputting 70hp and 92Nm torque, which emits 88g/km from the 500 and 89g/km from the Panda.

The new engine favours frugality over performance and is naturally aspirated, despite Fiat selling the same ‘FireFly’ engine elsewhere in the world with a turbo. Performance is adequate, with a good punch of early torque that aids city driving and belies the 0-62mph time of 13.2 seconds.

Other than that, there’s not much else new to report with either car aside from a few novelty trim items in the launch edition, such as “seaqual” seats that are partly made from recovered sea plastics. There is also an added hybrid powertrain display in the 500 that’s sadly absent from the more basic Panda’s dashboard. And, at present, the Panda has to be bought in Cross form to get the Hybrid, with as yet no word on when the rest of the range will be hybridised.

That’s fine though, as both cars are still wonderful little characterful city cars in their own right. Despite their relative age, it’s no wonder the little Fiats are Europe’s best-selling A-segment cars, with the 500 in particular having notched up an impressive 2.2 million sales since 2017. 

Thankfully, the new mild hybrid system isn’t a let-down either. It’s genuinely peppy and fun to drive. Improvements to the six-speed manual also make for an entertaining slick drive, making the most of the low-down electric torque boost that ensures it’s easy to drive in a city environment. 

Further efficiencies include Coasting and Sailing modes whereby the car actively encourages slipping the car into neutral before coming to a halt, stopping the engine in the process. Select first gear and the engine doesn’t kick into life per se, but instead rolls into existence as the belt-driven starter/generator makes the whole process very smooth and vibration-free. 

After a relatively brief test of both vehicles, economy wasn’t quite as good as promised on paper, but the good news is it is much better to drive than the old twin-air (which tended to drink the juice whenever the turbo was employed… which was often). 

Overall, the new mild hybrid Fiat’s are fun cars with an added element of surprise with the versatility of the engine and gearbox setup. For sure, compared to the recently renewed Hyundai i10, the Fiats benefit from a more refined drive and nimbler handling (in the 500 at least), but suffer from nowhere near as much modern technology – engine aside.

Pricing starts from £14,395 for the Fiat 500 Hybrid in popular Lounge trim, with the Pop starting less at £12,665 ranging to the top-spec Launch Edition from £16,795. The Panda ranges from £13,885 to £14,485 for the top-spec Trussard, with the Launch Edition costing just £100 less.

The Verdict
The lasting point is the price, with a premium of only £250 over the non-mild hybrid, these are a simple no-brainer for fleets.

The Lowdown 
Key Fleet Model: Fiat 500 Hybrid  Lounge
Strengths: Surprisingly smooth drive
Weaknesses: Not particularly economical

FW Star Rating

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.