From £16,800
Fiat's two-pedal 500 definitely isn't the automatic choice; get the bargain manual instead

What is it?

City cars are normally at their best when best-suited to the stop-start torment of urban traffic. So is the new Fiat 500, recently showered in glory in not-one-but-two Autocar supermini group tests, even better with two pedals, rather than a five-speed manual gearbox? Also, are its charms diminished by Fiat's 69bhp 1.2-litre motor, in place of the 99bhp 1.4 we've already tested? We were among the first in the world to find out, at the 500 Dualogic’s Japanese launch last week.

First, a technical distinction. This five-speed Dualogic auto-shifter isn’t actually a proper torque converter auto: it’s a robotised manual. Proper auto ‘boxes rarely appear on cars like the 500, as they’re expensive, they would sap power from what’s a small engine anyway, and they’re reasonably difficult to package in one so diminutive.

What’s it like?

Like the ‘box in the Smart Fortwo and the BMW M5, this unit doesn’t creep forward when you engage ‘D’: it picks up drive only when you press the throttle. It also refuses to engage at all unless you’ve got your foot on the brake; in the hustle and bustle of the city, that can slow you down and frustrate you.

Although it makes for slower getaways from a standstill than the manual, this ‘box swaps cogs reasonably quickly and smoothly on the move. In our test car it developed some extra vibration and harshness on the overrun, but only after a very extended drive. For the most part, it’s evidence that robotised manuals are getting better.

Unfortunately, the 1.2-litre engine it was mated with in our test car wasn't the ideal partner. Its 75lb ft of torque is marginally more manful than its 69bhp, but neither make this car relaxing or effortless to drive in urban rush hour. You have to be quick on the throttle to make sure that you don't get left behind at traffic lights, and often have to work the engine hard to keep up with the flow. And as the noisy thrash of pistons once you get about 3500rpm bears testament, that's something that isn't particularly quiet, or pleasant, to have to do.

Should I buy one?

Probably not. Fiat’s Dualogic ‘box may improve with every installation we test, but it’s still not good enough overall to warrant paying £700 extra for.

If you spend absolutely all of your time in nightmare traffic, or just find the idea of a third pedal too repellent to contemplate, it may be a better option for you than a 500 manual - just. However, most of us can still do a better job of swapping cogs, and responding to the cut-and-thrust of metropolitan commuting, ourselves than this gearbox can on our behalf.

Opting for the 1.2-litre manual 500 would be a more sensible course of action, given that it would be quicker off the mark, more refined, and it would bring the price down to £7900. At that level, this is a stylish, desirable and cool supermini that's yours for less than the price of the cheapest Citroen C2 - which is none of the above.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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cazmo 19 January 2019

Fiat 500 Dualogic

This is my second 500 first was a manual had it for 7 years and it was a lovely car.  Do not buy a Fiat dualogic unless you do not enjoy driving and do not expect to go too far from home.   The gear changes are as described previously, very slow and awkward.  When it eventually gives up you could be stranded in the middle of a busy road or motorway. Mine has 18,000 miles 3 1/2 years old just stopped in the middle of the road this week and beeped at me.  No prior warning of problem.  Have been quoted £2,000+ to correct.  since purchase have been saying would definitely buy a manual next time.  Could have been very dangerous.

fiatman 21 May 2013

Big let down.

I am a very experienced fiat dualogic driver and have had many hours driving the fiat 500 and 500L duallogic, I have to say that this is the only thing letting the almost iconic 500 down, The gearbox doesnt respond quickly enough in almost all driving situations, and cant handle quick changes in speed for example in most overtaking situations wether that is on a motorway or going around parked vehicles in the city, turning what is normally a nippy city car into a sluggish tank, there is no such thing as a kick down in this car, if you do try a kickdown to overtake, it simply screams at you then there is a loss of power as the gear changes, sometimes leaving you in a dangerous position, in auto mode the car lunges forward when changing gear so much so you actually feel your seat belt tighten, manual mode is better as it is said that you should anticipate the gear change and ease off the accelerator, how can you anticipate an autobox changing gear??? This is Such an idiotic thing to say........and the gearbox is designed to be intelligent and adapt to your driving style so the point the car changes gear can be different depending on which type of road you are travelling on, hence manual mode offering a little more control, paddle shift works ok also but becomes a problem if you need to change gear when turning or on an island.....Overall dont even think about purchasing a 500 with this gearbox unless you only drive in the city for 5 minutes each day, you will just ruin what would have been a great car had you have chosen the cheaper manual.

kevin 19 April 2013

Fiat Dualogic

I have just started driving my new Fiat Dualogic. I love it, once you get used to depressing the brake pedal each time you need to move from neutral to auto or manual. The system seems very similar to the system used in the Mitsibushi Colt. While the Fiat is far too new to develop any faults or hiccups I have found the gear change very smooth. A lot depends on driving styles I for one do not care if the car is sluggish at traffic lights after all I am not  in pole position on a FI racing grid. I have read quite a lot of reviews about this latest automatic car..and the results have been mixed. I am enjoying driving this little mini car and look forward to many miles of stress free safe driving. Well done Fiat the 500 is a great looking colourful car better than most of similar size and price..:)