Technology Fails To Deliver
Even “Top Gear” Wonders How This Car Can Be Tax Exempt
Fiat’s 68.9 Mpg Claim Turns Out To Mean Barely More Than 40
rating ** out of 5
For – cute, economical, cutting edge technology
Against – fuel claims at least economical with the truth
Here’s a puzzle. My Honda Jazz does about 40 miles per gallon and costs £110 a year in road tax and I would have to pay the London Congestion Charge if I was stupid enough to drive into the capital. The Fiat 500 TwinAir two-cylinder also gets around 40 mpg, but it doesn’t have to pay London’s congestion charge or annual road tax.
How can this be?
Answer: Fiat, and most other car manufacturers, has found a way to game the system by persuading the European Union to allow their cars to beat a ludicrously unworldly fuel economy test, which allows them to claim huge fuel economy figures unattainable in the real world. The test includes a limited amount of driving over flat ground with the air conditioning and heating off. When challenged, the car manufacturers all claim that this makes sense because it allows us buyers to have a fair comparison across all cars of their relative economy. That’s great in a laboratory, but senseless and economical with the truth in the real world. And because countries like Britain use E.U. figures for much of their company car taxation it can’t be long before politicians start to take note of this dishonesty, because it is costing them money.
I’ve just been driving the Fiat TwinAir, which is powered by the twin-cylinder 875 cc petrol engine and was acclaimed as a cutting-edge piece of technology when it was unveiled last year. Some of us even said that this was maybe going to be the death of diesel, it was so good. After all, Fiat claimed the TwinAir Fiat 500 could manage an average 68.9 mpg.
Thankfully, I did say in my initial report that I would be seeking an early road test of the TwinAir to find out what it could actually achieve in the real word. I’ve just driven the car for a week. Answer? A record-breaking miss. In the real world, the TwinAir failed by a massive 40 per cent to fulfill its claims. Fiat claimed 68.9 mpg but delivered 41.8.
That is so far off the pace, you would think that the truth-in- advertising Gestapo might be soon on the case.
I drove the TwinAir 500 Convertible on a 228 mile round trip from the South Coast to Stansted. That was mainly motorway cruising at an indicated speed of around 80 mph with just me and my small carry-on suitcase. The little car performed splendidly, keeping up with the traffic with no problem, although you did need to use the gearbox sometimes to keep the speed up on gradients. Result? 42.2 mpg. Pretty good, but nowhere near the claims.
I thought that was probably an unfair test, so I then drove 124 miles, three up, in a more TwinAir-friendly environment. Much stopping and starting (the Stop Start system did its stuff) in Brighton town traffic, about two thirds of the trip poodling along country roads at between 40 and 60 mph. And a small rumble down a motorway. How much better would this be for the TwinAir? Worse. 41.4 mpg. I filled the car up twice, exactly to the brim at the same pump in the same filing station just down the road.
Just in case you think my calculations might be suspect, I checked with several motoring magazines. Unfortunately, most of these (no names no pack drill) simply parrot the information provided by Fiat. But to its credit, Autocar put its hand in its pocket and filled up its test car at the pump – 35.7 mpg overall. Unfortunately, Autocar blotted its copy book by summing up the TwinAir’s capabilities with “For – low CO2 – Against – Poor fuel economy”. Don’t these people know that the emissions count is just another way of saying fuel consumption? It’s not some attempt to say the emissions are clean, the catalytic convertor solved that problem eons ago.
Also at the weekend, the Mexican baiters at Top Gear mentioned in passing that they’d driven a TwinAir, and it only managed 38 mpg, and they posed the question, how come this is congestion charge exempt? Maybe this will be the catalyst for politicians to finally take control of this problem.
Apart from the fuel economy overstatement, the car is terrific. The new TwinAir uses Fiat’s MultiAir technology, which improves air flow in the engine, together with supercharging for power and balancing countershafts to reduce vibration. The TwinAir produces a surprisingly lively and flexible performance. The engine sounds a bit gruff and is a shade noisier than usual, but not unpleasantly so. The widely spaced 5-gear manual gearbox showed that despite its small size, pickup was impressive even in fourth and fifth gears.
I was driving a Cabriolet Lounge version and very attractive, not to say adorable, it was too in a smart red paint job. This car is seriously cute, and always seems to spark a pleasurable reaction from onlookers. The interior was typical of the 500 retro style, with colour coordinated dashboard and white detailing. It was a freezing cold January, but I did brave the elements one day and pushed the button so that the canvas roof slid back. Very neat and easy. I tried to put my golf clubs in the boot. No chance. There was no way of folding back the rear seats either, the clubs had to travel in the back seat. I found it a struggle to find the slot to plug in the seat belt, as did my passengers. There was enough room in the back for moderate-sized adults. The ride was a bit bouncy and on the harsh side. At cruising motorway speed, the car was quiet and stable. The handling was nice.
The Lounge version of the 500 has among other things automatic climate control, leather steering wheel with audio controls, a hands-free system for your phone and USB port. You get rear parking sensors, bigger wheels then the bottom of the range Pop version, remote central locking and some computerised alphabet soup stuff for safety. This will set you back £15,265 compared with the base Pop cabriolet’s £12,665. This does seem a bit steep for a little car.
The TwinAir engine is available across the 500 range. There will also be a less powerful naturally aspirated version and a compressed natural gas one. You can choose from the entry level Pop saloon with prices starting at £10,665, or a Sport or Lounge. You can also choose the 1.3 litre MultiJet diesel or the 1.2 and 1.4 litre FIRE petrol engines. TwinAir versions all have Stop-Start.
As for the dismal failure of the technology to provide anything close to the fuel economy it claims, I’m in two minds. Sure, 42 mpg is really pretty good, although I’m sure a diesel would do much better and have a meaner performance. And it’s no use having a go at Fiat for providing this distorted data; all the car companies are at it.
I hear more and more complaints from readers about how they are outraged by this manufacturers’ confidence trick. Will Top Gear’s comments finally bring this to the attention of the powers that be?
Neil Winton – February 10, 2011
|Fiat 500 TwinAir Cabriolet Lounge
|Engine:||875 cc two-cylinder petrol
|Power:||84 hp @ 5,500
|Torque:||145 Nm @ 1,900
|Gearbox:||five speed manual
|Acceleration:||0-62-100 km/h 11 seconds
|Top Speed:||108 mph-174 km/h
|Fuel Consumption:||claimed combined – 68.9 mpg-4.1 l/km WintonsWorld roadtest – 41.8 mpg-6.8 l/km
|Emissions class:||Euro V|
|Boot capacity:||185 litres
|For:||cute, economical, cutting edge technology
|Against:||fuel claims economical with the truth
Something missing there I think……