There are a lot of rather old-fashioned things about Fiat's new 500C TwinAir. The most obvious throwback is the car's appearance, a generous slice of retro design that transposes the original car's diminutive proportions into a contemporary four-seater. If we must have retro, the 500 is a more successful demonstration of it than most. Place the original Cinquecento next to the new one and the effect is faintly ridiculous, but view the new car as a standalone object and it works just fine, being alive with quirky touches and with an appealingly simple interior.
Just like other boutique-brand small cars on the market, spearheaded by the original MINI and now joined by Citroen's DS3, the 500 has always been something of a blank canvas, a place for individuality-craving customers to make their mark through a dizzyingly expansive list of paints, trim, stickers, decals, options and extras. Throw in the high-end Abarth performance model and a neat folding roofed convertible, and you have a panoply of options. There's even a coupé and estate in the works.
The TwinAir is the latest addition to this expansive family. For once, the innovation comes from reductivism, rather than the more obvious act of adding things in. For a start, the TwinAir has a two-cylinder engine, just like the original 1950s car. This is about half the size of the unit that propels most conventional compact cars and, one would have thought, the type of device that performance-minded drivers would dismiss out of hand.
That would be a mistake, because any perceived lack of power is magically overcome by the rasping exhaust note. Zipping around town at modest speeds is still rather exhilarating, thanks to the exhaust's throaty roar, the snappy steering and the 500's relatively tiny footprint. Fiat is making much capital of the TwinAir's ability to sneak into London's Congestion Charge - it has the lowest C02 emissions of any petrol engine in the world. Throw in the peel-back canvas roof of the 500C and you have an unbeatable little city car.