Fiat 500 Returns To Its 2-Cylinder Roots
By James Grahame
It has been 53 years since the arrival of the original Fiat 500. Now, Fiat wants to revisit the idea by installing a fuel-efficient 2-cylinder engine into their wildly popular Fiat 500 Nuevo. The old 500 had more than its share of quirks: It was powered by a minuscule rear-mounted 479 cc 2-cylinder engine that whipped up an equally minuscule 13 BHP. It featured a pair of reverse-opening "Suicide Doors" and offered a canvas top that rolled back the full length of the roof. A total of six models were produced until 1975, and at only about 3 meters in length the 500 was perhaps the prototypical City Car.
But let's not dwell in the past. The new TwinAir 875cc four-stroke power plant features 4 valves per cylinder, variable timing and a wee turbocharger. It also has stop-start technology to avoid wasteful idling at traffic lights.
Early reviews of the new engine suggest that its performance is on par with small conventional motors -- it'll do 0-62 mph in a shade under 11 seconds and tops out at about 108 mph, all while burning only 4.1L/100km (about 57 miles to the US gallon). The TwinAir motor is reasonably smooth at high revs, although it (understandably) sounds a bit like a motorcycle when wound up.
In the UK, the 875cc twin costs £1400 ($2100) more than the base 1.2L 4-cylinder petrol engine. At first blush, this doesn't seem like a great deal -- until you realize that it'll shave 30% off your fuel costs. With fuel prices hovering around £1.20/L in the London area ($6.90/US gallon), this frugal power plant has the potential to pay for itself several times over.
If the Fiat 500 TwinAir turns out to be reliable, it could turn the automotive world on its ear -- instead of wasting thousands on complicated and bulky hybrid drivetrains, the development of tiny, clean, fuel efficient 2-cylinders could result in less manufacturing waste, lower prices and happier motorists.