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This is the lowest-emission petrol-only car on sale, and one of the first pure petrol cars to offer sub-100g/km emissions.
Fiat's 500 has gatecrashed the club that had previously been the preserve of the efficient diesel, the electric vehicle and the petrol-electric hybrid, save Toyota's iQ, the Smart Fortwo and, very recently, the Hyundai i10.
Fiat has come straight in with a fuel consumption figure of 68.9mpg, thanks to its new Twinair technology that consists of turbocharging an ultra-lightweight two-cylinder 875cc engine, along with various other measures to keep emissions down.
The turbocharger lifts power to 85hp, which for such a light car is plenty. At start-up, the pop-pop noise from the two-cylinder engine is broadly reminiscent of a go-kart, but on the move there's plenty of performance on-tap. Once you mentally get past the tiny two-cylinder engine, on the road it feels quicker than a lot of larger-engined cars, although there's frequent need to drop down a gear to increase speed when on the move (good job the big round gear lever offers a decent shift action). The ride quality, traditionally a bit jumpy thanks in part to the 500's short wheelbase, also seems improved.
The 500's sub-100g/km petrol rivals can't muster anything within 13hp of the Fiat, so it's leading the field in power and emissions terms at this level. Even Fiat's 500 diesel can't get below 100g/km, so this is the first time the Italian brand has ventured into this two-digit emissions territory. The bonus is that from April 2012, subject to Government meddling in the next year, only drivers of petrol and petrol-electric cars below 100g/km will be able to sit in the lowest 10% benefit-in kind banding for company car tax. There will also be 65hp normally aspirated and 105hp turbocharged versions of the Twinair engine coming from Fiat.
The downside is that the Twinair 500 is not cheap, coming in at £1200 more expensive that the 75hp 1.2-litre Fiat 500 that's only at 58.9mpg and 113g/km itself. And the 500's status as a fashion icon means that it's already near the top of the price lists in the city car segment, compared with more budget-orientated rivals from the likes of Hyundai, Peugeot and even the Ford Ka that the 500 shares its underpinnings with.
The 500 does claw some of that money back with the excellent residual values expected of a fashion icon, and 35.8% retained proves it hasn't gone out of style yet. The standard 1.2 petrol 500 Lounge does even better though, at 38.6%. However, the higher P11D means the 500 loses out on whole-life costs to most of its competitors, but not dramatically.
The only other concern is that there seems to be a growing swell of opinion that the 500 is one of the cars on sale least likely to achieve its official mpg figure, which in this case is 68.9mpg combined. The testing process's scientific nature means it's highly unlikely that any car will return the combined figure in the real world (about 80% is par for the course in BusinessCar's experience), but in the 500 we really struggled to break 40mpg across more than several hundred varied if mainly motorway miles, which does seem to back up that theory. But nonetheless, the CO2 figures mean a reduced tax bill, and the Twinair is promising new technology that is another step in reducing average emissions. Downsizing works, but maybe not by quite as much as the official figures would suggest.