Fiat 500 not powerful enough for hills, says BBC Watchdog

BBC’s Watchdog programme slammed Fiat last night, over allegations that its 1.2-litre 500 city car “can barely get to the tip of a hill.”

The entry-level Fiat 500 1.2-litre was revised in May to reduce emissions to 113g/km CO2 and comply with new Euro 6 regulations.

But owners have apparently been contacting Watchdog, complaining that the 69hp petrol engine struggles to maintain speed up steep hills, and makes hill starts tricky.

One owner, Amanda Thomas, who lives on a hill in Cornwall, said:

“I’m lucky to get up a hill in first. There’s no power. The power just drops back, drops back, and then you start feeling unsafe in the car. You’ve got no confidence in it to actually get to the top of the hill.

“It’s that moment when you think oh my goodness, what am I going to do, I’ve got my foot on the accelerator and the clutch, I’m riding the clutch, because I’m worried that I’m going to reverse rather than go forward.

“I’ve actually said to them I don’t feel safe, and they just shrug it off, they’re not doing anything about it.”

The programme showed a presenter driving up a one in 10 hill in (what appeared to be) second gear, claiming she could “feel the lack of power.”

Watchdog asked a forensic mechanic to diagnose the problem with the car. He blamed a delay between pressing the accelerator and the power being fed from the engine, resulting in difficult hill starts.

But Fiat responded by saying the car is perfectly safe, confirming it’s been retuned to meet strict European emission regulations.

Presenter Anne Robinson:

“Fiat says this subtle difference might take some drivers a while to get used to. In other words, the reason all the owners we’ve spoken to can’t get up hills, is because they’re not good enough drivers. Fiat, by the way, says nothing about how you’re supposed to drive the manual 1.2.”

The programme called for Fiat to recall the 500, claiming that certain dealers have offered customers swaps for other models meaning the company knows there’s an issue with the engine.

Fiat responded by saying very few owners have contacted them about the problem, and it’s up to individual dealers whether they offer a swap.

UPDATE: BBC Watchdog this week (13 November) called in stunt driver Ben Collins, once The Stig on TopGear, to try driving a 2014 Fiat 500 1.2 up a hill.

Some say he would do it with ease. All we know is, he failed.

Update: Fiat has responded to claims that its 500 city car isn’t powerful enough for hills.

In a statement, the manufacturer said: “Following the BBC Watchdog segments featuring the FIAT 500 1.2, which aired on November 6 and November 13 2014, we received a number of calls from customers related to the performance of their engine when executing hill starts.

“The majority of calls we received were from owners of Euro 6 FIAT 500 1.2 vehicles built without optional ESC (Electronic Stability Control), which have different engine software to vehicles equipped with ESC. ESC is now standard on all models across the FIAT range.”

Fiat goes on to say that it’s working on a software update to “improve the driveability” of its cars – and this will be applied to these customers’ cars during their next scheduled service at a Fiat dealer.

Anyone with any questions about their Fiat 500 can contact their local dealership or call Fiat’s customer care team on 0800 3428 0000.