New Fiat 500 In Depth  

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Page 1: Manifesto
Page 2: In brief
Page 3: Joint effort
Page 4: Engines
Page 5: Gearbox
Page 6: Safety
Page 7: Experiencing the 500
Page 8: Standard features
Page 9: Specifications

The result of a ‘joint effort’

Ever since the ‘3+1’ concept, from which the new Fiat 500 was developed, was first presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 2004, the enthusiasm and interest of the public have shown that the shape created in the mid Fifties by Dante Giacosa has not exhausted its extraordinary appeal over the years: even today, the empathy, familiarity and distinction it communicates is unchanged, and iconic. And the Fiat Style Centre has shown an equally extraordinary ability to recreate the same shapes in an updated, ultramodern form without detracting in any way from the original content.

To develop such a special car, Fiat decided to adopt a revolutionary approach, which placed the concept of ‘involvement’ at the centre of the development process. For the first time in automotive history, the many fans all over the world were involved directly, through the ‘500 wants you’ website, and invited to express their wishes for the new car. These suggestions were then collected by Fiat Automobiles designers and engineers and converted into targets to be reached, with solutions and equipment that were as close as possible to the expectations of potential customers. So the Fiat 500 really is ‘a car created for the people, with the people’s ideas’.

A car created for the people, with the people’s ideas

In order to involve the public in the design of the new 500, Fiat Automobiles launched a communications project known as ‘500 wants you’, an interactive multimedia platform which, in advance of the official launch, touched all sectors of communication: from advertising to viral marketing, fashion and photography. But it was on the web, thanks to the site that the ‘500 wants you’ project really came into its own. And the figures confirm that it has been a huge success: since it went online on May 3, 2006, the site has been visited by over 3,700,000 users, with over 51,700,000 pages seen, and it boasts a community of 76,000 fans.

‘500 wants you’ was a huge online laboratory, where users were able to discover the stylistic concept of the new car for themselves, expressing their preferences, proposing ideas and contributing to its creation, in a combined, active manner, for the first time ever. The site collected the suggestions and expectations of the public, who thus contributed directly to the development of the product. And through the Concept-Lab, the virtual laboratory where visitors could model the Fiat concept car, over 275,000 configurations, suggestions for accessories and means of customising the new model were submitted.

But, as so often happens on the Internet, the ‘’ site was a constantly evolving project, which continued to incorporate new contents, activities and initiatives. They have included the DesignBoom international competition, divided into the ‘accessories’, ‘everywhere’ and ‘lifestyle’ categories, which involved over 5,400 users, and received about 1,060 projects. 38 videos were also submitted for the ‘500 take you’ competition, 1,263 proposals for the ‘500 wants a mascot’ competition and about 600 ‘Faces for the 500’, a game that invited people to associate a facial expression with a chosen part of the 500. And people showed the same enthusiasm and participation for the ‘500ology’, the largest online encyclopaedia of stories and pictures dedicated to the 500, written jointly with the users, ‘Speak 500’ (a multimedia archive containing over 50 audio files of how the word ‘500’ is pronounced in languages and regional dialects around the world) and ‘Jingle Box’, a music player that collected almost 8,600 soundtracks composed by users, which they could save as MP3 files and then use on their mobile phones or MP3 players.

And finally, to celebrate the first anniversary of ‘500 wants you’, on May 8, the ‘500x500 online booking’ operation was launched on the site. This original initiative gave people a chance to book one of the 500 examples of the ‘500 wants you edition’, an exclusive version of the Fiat 500 dedicated to the site Community, the people who have collaborated, invented and participated in the birth of the first car ‘created by the people, for the people’. Although neither the price nor details of the car have been communicated, bookings have reached the ceiling at a rate of one every 40 seconds: a sign of the trust that the people registered with the site have in Fiat’s capacity to translate their suggestions into reality.

An ‘appealing’ line that respects tradition

The Fiat 500 immediately conveys the idea of compactness, thanks to a lateral section made up of several superimposed layers and its ‘shell-like’ roof, whose measurements are decidedly smaller than those of the sides in the plane view. The proportions and a number of aesthetic features give it an ‘appealing’ air, but also convey solidity and robustness.

In a total length of just 3.5 metres, the designers have extended the passenger compartment to obtain a pleasant form that is extremely luminous in the side view, with a short bonnet and minimal overhangs. The bonnet folds down over the sides while the front combines the family resemblance of the latest Fiat models with the distinctive elements of the first Fiat 500 with great stylistic harmony. For example, the strongest reference to the historical car is the combination of the circular upper headlights together with full beam lower lights and the ‘whiskers and logo’ unit.

From the side, the waistline slopes slightly at the front to highlight the robustness and dynamism of the design. The lateral section proposes a modern interpretation of the look of the historic 500, but with more essential, modern surfaces, interrupted by the generous shape of the wheelarches. It is also possible to see the front and rear light clusters, because of the way the rounded side links up to the nose and tail. And finally, the roof pillar forms an arc which simplifies the design of the glazing which is continuous and hides the upper edge of the doors with black profiling.

The rear end of the Fiat 500 features a large shaped, chrome-plated handle which reiterates the motif of the registration plate light holder of its forebear that resembled a bicycle saddle. The rear lights are set between the edges of the tailgate and they are divided chromatically by function so that they appear more vertical and farther apart. The side view of superimposed volumes continues right to the tailgate, creating a striking wraparound shape. The rear window ‘cuts’ the tailgate at the sides, creating a simple modern look for the glazing while a small spoiler at the top of the tailgate enhances the contemporary look and improves the aerodynamic efficiency.

And finally, although there are plenty of references to the past, all the elements are only reiterated on the new Fiat 500 after their place on a modern car has been analysed in depth, reviewing their functions and materials, or even finding new uses for them. For example, the famous canvas roof of the past has now been replaced by a Sky Dome glass roof. This large roof continues the line of the windscreen, with a linear, luminous interpretation of the roof, highlighting the two arcs of the pillars (it is available in a fixed version, or with an electric opening mechanism).

Another example of a stylistic re-interpretation is found in the retro design of the front and rear light clusters which is now combined with the most sophisticated exterior lighting technology. Produced by Magneti Marelli Automotive Lighting, they are precious design elements, and the front light clusters offer DRL (Day Running Light) daytime lighting as standard: this function is activated automatically when the engine is started, with a beam stronger than that of the side lights but lower than that of the dipped headlights. The DRL system meets current legislation in some countries that requires motorists to drive with their headlights on, but makes it possible not to turn the rear side lights on, thus saving on consumption. The DRL daytime light is another innovative feature that the Fiat 500 introduces in this segment for the first time.

The styling of the new car is completed by the broad choice of metallic and non-metallic colours which creates a large number of possible combinations, some of which are inspired by the ‘vintage’ appeal of the original shades of the first 500, while others have a decidedly contemporary look, and the bodywork can always be chosen to match the fabric or leather of the upholstery, with a facia the same colour as the exterior.

And finally, the Fiat 500 is the first Fiat model to use its own name as a logo, positioning it on the wheel hubs and rims.

Elegance and innovation in a passenger compartment that will not age

The designers paid the utmost attention to detail, while focusing on simplicity, which is the leitmotif of the new model. Simple does not mean ‘bare’, but embraces a particular stylistic and constructive interpretation that strives for ‘simplified enjoyment’. The passenger compartment is airy and roomy, an environment where you can enjoy the time you spend in the car comfortably and at ease. It is also an embracing, protective environment thanks to the large ring that circles the entire space inside.

The structure of the Fiat 500 cabin sums up the comprehensiveness of the modern, ergonomic outfit, in a design inspired by the historical 500. Starting with the steering column, which is made up of steering wheel and instruments, grouped in a single panel which contains the speedometer, rev counter and trip computer, all concentric and perceptible immediately and simultaneously. These elements, together with the central console and the radio-air vent unit, can be ordered in ivory or black, a choice that influences the character of the car, making it more ‘vintage’ or sporty. The instrument panel on the Fiat 500 is an ideal blend of retro styling and modern technology which adapts perfectly to the interior of the car. Built by Magneti Marelli, it comes in two versions: ‘Comfort’ and ‘Matrix’, and the latter features a dot matrix monitor at the centre of the panel which displays the pictograms for the satellite navigation system incorporated in the Blue&Me™ Nav device.

If the upper part of the facia is designed to convey a sense of refinement and elegance, the lower part conveys functionality with capacious, open storage shelves, and small and medium sized drawers for more valuable items that you want to conceal. The gear lever, which is positioned on the facia, looks like a refined mechanical component, with chromed parts and a simple but efficient black knob that is shiny or chrome-plated depending on the version. The set of most frequently used buttons was inspired by the telltales and small levers of the old 500, and is very quick and easy to use.

The seats deserve a separate mention; the various versions copy those of the 500 F of the 1960s with the same ‘split’ effect: solid tone fabric at the bottom and the upper lunette and a head-restraint that match the colour of the steering wheel. The most lavish version of the new 500 also offers elegant Cordura fabric upholstery, finished with a tubular border over the stitching, while the seats and facia on the sporty outfit show the influence of the racing world, with leather coloured or black elements, a chrome-plated gear lever knob and a more encircling shape for the front seats. Fiat 500 customers can also order prestigious Frau leather upholstery, choosing from a traditional Black, a Hide colour that recalls the earlier 500 and an ultra-sporty Red.

The door panels feature a contrast between the part upholstered to match the seats and the plastic structure that incorporates a large oddment pocket and the speakers. The door handle has a chromed ‘hook’ shape that recalls one of the best remembered features on the door of the historical 500.

What is more, in spite of its small size, the new model is amazingly roomy, thanks to careful analysis of the distribution of the storage units, such as the two compartments on the facia for the driver and passenger, the hidden compartment on the passenger side, those in the door panels, another in the gearbox support and one above the passenger seat. And the luggage compartment is also quite capacious (185 litres, or a maximum of 550 litres right up to the ceiling), and the loading threshold is low to make loading easier; the rear seat squab can also be folded down.

The rear seat is very comfortable for 2 people, and on all versions it reiterates the same attention to detail that is evident in the front seats. To highlight the fact that the car really is roomy, the upper outline of the squabs is raised to support and clasp passengers’ backs better. And finally, a console positioned between the seats near the tunnel acts as a ‘docking station’, it can hold the usual small items (glasses and cans), and houses the 12V socket and USB port to connect a range of functional accessories, and telematic devices such as an iPod or PDA, or even a fragrance dispenser which offers the customer a choice of fragrances.

Engineering and Styling combined for record time to market

To create the heir to a veritable icon of our times: this was the goal shared by the engineers and designers who worked on the new 500. And with this goal in mind, the Fiat Style Centre and Engineering & Design worked closely together, applying the most sophisticated methodologies, and putting into their work all the passion that a similar project demanded.

Like the Bravo before it, for the new 500, Fiat Automobiles achieved a level of integration between the set-up, planning and virtual verification methods during the product development process that is the state of the art in the motor industry, comparable only with the aeronautical sector.

Intensive use of virtual checks made it possible to assess a virtually unlimited number of design solutions rapidly and early on in the process, guaranteeing the best trade-off of performance, and strengthening the entire project. As a result, as with the Bravo, this kept development time for the new 500 to just 18 months, from the specification “freeze” to market launch. This record is perfectly in line with the goals that Fiat Automobiles has already achieved, borne out, for example, by the fact that European customers have voted the Panda the best performer in terms of quality and reliability, thanks to the soundness of the project and processes. And with the Fiat 500 the reliability and perceived quality will be even better, due to the care that has gone into the choice of materials and design solutions.

As a result of the lessons learned from the Bravo project, the Fiat Group has drafted a plan to implement new methodologies, which synergetically embraces all the automotive sectors and revolves around further development of virtual analysis methods; in parallel, the use of standardised components was increased, and new design references were adopted to optimise costs and to curb weights.

One of the first important stages in the development process that also brings in the competent Engineering & Design centres, is the co-called ‘feasibility’ stage, during which the preliminary Styling work is analysed by Engineering, to assess any technical problems that may be presented by the ‘dress’ covering the mechanical parts, some of which already existed, and which aspects of performance may be affected by the styling. In practice, the first CAS (Computer Aided Styling) mathematical calculations, even without details such as cuts and mobile parts, seals, etc., are combined with already finalised platform calculations, so that the set-up and layout specialists can then ‘slice them up’ into specific sections zone by zone, to highlight the important dimensional parameters and decide how lines have to be adapted to house the components and to define the necessary operating spaces.

In the meantime, the aerodynamics team assesses the first Cd and air flow values for the engine cooling, deriving them from the fluid dynamic calculation, while the manufacturing team simulates component pressing in sheet steel, to highlight any problems related to the shapes. All the data from these calculations are filtered by the Performance Engineering team, which defines the trade off necessary if all the objectives set previously are to be respected.

One of the most critical areas of the 500 project, which demanded a great deal of creativity as well as patient refinement, was the nose of the car, which had to accommodate the mechanicals and the engine as well as meeting pedestrian safety standards (a problem that did not exist on the 500 of 1957 because the engine was mounted at the rear). So with the help of virtual reality, the specialists tried various combinations for the front components, until they obtained a new layout that was compatible with a smaller overhang, after having redesigned the radiator, widened the front air intake, and repositioned the foglights, verifying everything with the impact deformation calculations which confirmed the ‘feasibility’ of the compact nose (very similar to the one on the previous 500).

Another stylistic feature of the old 500 that caused problems for the feasibility of the new model was the characteristic curve of the roof at the rear. The interesting fact was that in the 1950s this line was established deliberately by the technicians to limit the roominess in the rear of the car so that it would not prove too competitive for its more expensive elder sister, the Fiat 600. The exact opposite to the new 500 of the 21st century, which was designed to accommodate 4 adults comfortably, without losing its famous rounded shape. The ergonomic experts got to work using simulations, and succeeded in lowering the rear H point, i.e. the reference point of a human body sitting on the rear seat, so as to improve headroom. But it was not enough, and there was also the risk that the foam of the seat cushion would be too thin, and that the passenger would be uncomfortably aware of the metal structure of the floor on every bump. Two types of calculation demonstrated that a solution to the problem did exist. On one hand, an increase in the ‘bearing capacity’ of the cushion foam was assessed, so as to absorb the vertical acceleration in less space, and on the other, a calculation of the structural rigidity of the bodyshell showed that the size of the rear crossbeam could be reduced, together with a ‘millimetric refinement’ of the tailgate hinges and the space necessary for the tailgate to open, and still guarantee a reasonable amount of headroom.

Still on the subject of the car’s rounded shape, the Fiat 500 has an excellent Cd, without the addition of a spoiler which would have ruined the car’s attractive line; so by infinite trial and error, experimenting with the shape of the tailgate (because in the meantime the first physical model had been prepared), a final sliver was removed that made it possible to obtain a Cd reading of 0.325 in the wind tunnel, an excellent result for a car that is just 3.5 metres long with a rounded shape.

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