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Fiat 500 Lounge 1.3 Multijet
Hilariously teeny yet impeccably taut, Fiat's funky little 500 is as chic and stylish as it gets for budget motoring. For its looks alone it richly deserves the European Car of the Year gong it collected in 2008. The 500 really is a remarkably accomplished aesthetic package, inside and out. Forget, therefore, the sub-£10,000 UK starting price and humdrum mechanicals. This car delivers a decidedly upscale feel good factor.
That much you probably already know. But were you aware the 500 also has some surprisingly meaty chops in the digital tech department thanks to Fiat's intriguing Blue&Me infotainment platform? Standard on all 500s in Sport or Lounge trim and described by Fiat as a personal telematic system for communication and entertainment, the most visible aspects of Blue&Me are Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel controls and an in-car USB port. That's hardly revolutionary. However, because it's based on Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system, Blue&Me is significantly more powerful and configurable than you might imagine.
For starters, Blue&Me supports voice command for most of its functions. It also features Fiat's novel eco:Drive data logging and driver training application, along with an up-to-date media playback system, handsfree Bluetooth telephony including audio-based text message reading and optional sat-nav functionality. It's not necessarily what you would expect in the context of the 500's simple if slick interior design and relatively modest pricing.
What's more, Blue&Me's Windows Mobile underpinnings ensure that future upgrades and potentially whole new applications are a genuine possibility. eco:Drive, for instance, was not available on the first Blue&Me-equipped 500s. But early 500 adopters are nevertheless able to add it to their box of Blue&Me tricks. Given that cars in general are traditionally conceived to be functionally static devices once they have rolled out of the factory - the odd sat-nav or engine mapping update, aside - that's a something of a philosophical novelty.