The project, derived from the ‘3+1’ concept car that was presented at the 2004 Geneva Motor Show, was developed by Fiat with an innovative approach: many enthusiasts from all over the world were involved directly through the ‘500 wants you’ Internet platform, to express their wishes regarding the future car.
These suggestions were then collected by the Fiat Automobiles designers and engineers, who transformed them into goals to be achieved with stylistic solutions and equipment that were as close as possible to the expectations of these potential customers.
On the major European markets, the model will be offered with four outfits (Naked, Pop, Sport and Lounge), 12 body colours, 9 types of wheel rims, 7 of which in alloy, with a choice of 15” and 16” tyres, and a full range of styling options. This way the 500 reaches a unique level of customisation, with more than 500,000 possible combinations.
Styling optionals include a range of original stickers on the sides, the roof and the bonnet, and a number of chrome-plated elements such as the wing mirror cases, bonnet trims or the nudge bar on the front bumper.
The car is extremely luminous from the side, with minimal overhangs and a very short hood.
The hood 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.
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 that 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, produced by Magneti Marelli Automotive Lighting.
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 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.
The 500 name is used as a logo, and is positioned on the wheel hubs and rims.
Accoring to Fiat, "the 500 respects the original concept in its shape and function, […] so that it can evoke all the emotions and memories that make all ‘icons’ eternal, raising them beyond the limiting dimension of their category."
Inspiration from the 1950s
One of the most critical areas of the 500 project 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).
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.
The structure of the cabin has 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 seats are inspired by those of the 500 F of the 1960s and feature 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.
15 types of upholstery are available, including luxurious Cordura and Frau Leather.
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.
The 500 can be equipped with a Sky Dome panoramic roof, which consists of a mobile panel of glass and a fixed front panel of shiny black sheet metal that creates a continuous stylistic effect with the windscreen.
If passengers want to illuminate the interior, the glazed part can be closed and the blind underneath opened.
And if they prefer to travel ‘in the open air’, it only takes seven seconds for the entire front glazed panel and the blind to open, providing a true ‘window on the sky’.
Additional features include the Blue&MeTM Nav system, a ‘fragrance diffuser’, a mobile phone holder or iPod player, USB and 12V sockets, aluminium pedals and three types of leather upholstery for the gear lever knob, to match the steering wheel.
The car comes with a choice of three engines, all of them being designed to meet the even stricter limitations of future European standards (Euro 5).
,that guarantee sparkling performance but are sparing on fuel and eco-friendly, combined with 5 or 6 speed mechanical gearboxes (a Dualogic sequential robotised 5-speed gearbox will be available at a later date for the gasoline engines).
There are two gasoline units, the 69 bhp 1.2 and the 100 bhp 1.4 from the Fire family, and one diesel engine, the 75 bhp 1.3 16v Multijet with DPF.
Safety equipment includes up to 7 airbags as standard equipment (two at the front, two curtain-bags, two sidebags and one to protect the knees), ABS complete with EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution), ESP (Electronic Stability Program) and ASR (Anti Slip Regulation), plus a Hill Holder, to help the driver on hill starts, and HBA (Hydraulic Brake Assistance) which steps in for emergency stops.
About the "500 wants you" project
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 www.fiat500.com 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 www.fiat500.com 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.