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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The New Fiat 500: Size and safety, how the Fiat 500 achieved the 5 star rating (part 2)

This is the second part of a 2 part posting in which we'll discuss how the Fiat 500 achieved its high safety ratings. In the first part, we discussed the assumption that small cars can't be safe.

Safety at all cost with no impact on pricing

Ferrari F430- Another car under the Fiat stable.
Safety at all cost with no impact on pricing... this was the mantra of the new Fiat 500. Fiat, the company responsible for Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo, put all of its engineering talent into designing the Fiat 500 to be the first sub compact car (3.55 meters or 139 inches) to achieve a 5-star crash rating. Indeed, it is also ready to achieve the 6-star crash rating if and when that rating is introduced.

The Fiat 500 striking a deformable barrier at 64kph (40mph).
Notice how the windshield /A pillar keeps its relative shape.

The Chevrolet Aveo at the same speed. Notice the catastrophic
deformation to the windshield (A) pillar. The Aveo is 30 inches
longer and 546 pounds heavier than the Fiat 500.

The Ford Ranger pickup at the same speed. Again, catastrophic
damage to the windshield (A) pillar. The Ranger is over 64 inches
longer and 2000 pounds heavier than the Fiat 500. Size isn't

How this was achieved was no accident, but a conscious decision by Fiat to safeguard its owner and passenger.

The new FIAT 500 won the EuroCarBody 2007 award

In 2007, the world’s most prestigious prize for car bodies was awarded to the Fiat 500. The car bodies are judged on the basis of a variety of evaluation criteria, including use of innovative materials, innovative solutions for development, design and the manufacturing process, and values that are significant for the customer, such as safety, ergonomics, acoustic comfort and quality.

The 600 specialists, from 15 international car makers, gave the award to the Fiat 500, assigning it 38.33 points out of a possible 50. This enabled the “small” Fiat – the only segment A model present – to defeat the other 11 candidates from Japan, the United States, Europe and Russia. In view of the fact that the award had never before been assigned to a subcompact in its entire eight-year history points out that the Fiat 500 is not the typical small car Americans are used to.

Listed below were the competitors to the Fiat 500. Notice the prices of the cars that the 500 beat.

The Fiat 500 beat out the Rolls Royce Phantom Cabrio. The
Phantom Cabrio is $520,000!

EuroCarBody 2007 - Final classification

1.Fiat 500 - 38,33 points- $15611

2.Renault Laguna III - 37,53 points - 21 800,00 Euro - $30,656

3.Mercedes C-Klasse - 37,16 points - 31.802,75 Euro - $44,722

4.Volvo V70/XC70 - 35,87 points - 29,900 Euro - $42,046

5.Ford Mondeo - 34,69 points - 23,000 Euro - $32,343

6.Honda Accord - 34,44 points - 24,950 Euro - $35,138

7.Audi A5 - 33,90 points - 33,100 Euro - $46,546
8.Nissan Qashqai - 33,68 points - 20,190 Euro - $28,392

9.Land Rover Freelander 2 - 27,53 points - 29,900 Euro - $42,046

10.Lada 2116 Sedan - 25,85 points - Price not available

11.Rolls Royce Phantom Cabrio - 24,53 points- 370,000 Euro - $520,312 (!)

12.Opel Antara - 22,09 points - 25,970 Euro - $36,520

The body shell of the Fiat 500 is made with (expensive) high tensile steel. It is rigid around the passenger compartment to protect occupants and has high-absorption areas on the outside. It is the first super-mini with a front structure designed specifically to improve compatibility between vehicles in a head-on impact.

The forum was particularly impressed by the innovative bodyshell’s contribution to winning a 5-star EuroNCAP rating and high marks in insurance crash tests: a feat that puts the Fiat 500 at the top of its class in safety and is all the more remarkable considering that the car is a mere three and a half meters long. It marked the first time that a compact car had been built to achieve a 5-star rating in the EuroNCAP impact tests. Additionally, the Fiat 500 was designed for the future 6-star test.

Fiat 500 safety presentation video. See
how the Fiat 500 was designed to handle
an impact and safeguard its occupants.
Safety equipment

Besides its strong body shell, the Fiat 500 is equipped with many safety features: 7 airbags as standard equipment (it is the only compact to offer a kneebag), Seat-belts with double pretensioners, pedal support designed to break away at set impact threshold, FPS fire prevention system, front and rear seats with antisubmarining crossbeam and an advanced ESP available with all engines (standard on the 100 bhp 1.4 16v engine).
7 Airbags
Fiat 500 offers: 2 dual stage front airbags, 2 front side airbags
for chest/pelvis protection, 2 window-bags and a driver knee airbag.!
The new model is the first car in this category to offer up to 7 airbags (front, side, curtain- and knee-bags are all standard throughout the range, except for the Naked version). The front passenger airbag may be deactivated via the menu of the vehicle’s on-board computer; a dashboard warning light indicates this condition. The seatbelt pretensioner remains active, however, so a rear facing baby seat can be safely fitted.
Not your average seat belts
Seat-belts with double pretensioners and load limiters are standard on the front seats. These pretetensioner devices instantly tighten the seat belt to take out any dangerous slack in the event of an accident. These are the types of belts found mainly in premium vehicles. They are rarely seen in cars of this size. Three-point belts are fitted at the rear. The front and rear seats are also fitted with antisubmarining devices that prevent the occupant from sliding forward, under the seat-belt. Isofix (LATCH child seat) mounting attachments are standard throughout the range.
Smart pedals
The pedal assembly on the Fiat 500 moves out of the way in the event of an impact. This helps protect the feet and legs during a collision, eliminating a major source of injury. This feature is usually reserved for high end luxury cars, not cars in this size class.
FPS - Fire Prevention System
The FPS Fire Prevention System includes a cut-off valve and an inertia switch which immediately stops the electric fuel pump to prevent fuel loss in the case of impact, roll-over or damage to the fuel lines. The fuel tank, located in a protected position in front of the rear axle, is resistant to mechanical stress and fire. The 500's interior trim is also flame resistant.
Automatic door locks
Fitted as standard equipment on all models, switchable automatic door locks can be activated on all doors as soon as the 500 reaches 12 mph – an important safety and security feature.
Active safety
The braking system on the new car has two independent cross-over circuits to guarantee prompt, smooth braking and shorter stopping distances. The pedal has a short stroke, so that the characteristics of the servo assist are exploited in full. The front discs have a diameter of 240 mm; they are solid for versions with the 1.2 8v engine and ventilated for the 1.3 Multijet, with a diameter of 257 mm for versions with the 100 bhp 1.4 16v.
The rear brakes mount drums (180 mm) on the 1.2 8v and 1.3 Multijet, and discs (240 mm) on the 1.4 16v. The 9” brake servo makes braking easier and more effective, decreasing the effort needed on the pedal.
ABS system
The ABS on the Fiat 500 has four active sensors, four channels, a hydraulic control unit with eight solenoids and comes complete with EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution). The system can guarantee the best possible braking effort even with each wheel close to locking, which means it is possible to control the direction of the car fully in emergency situations using the steering wheel.

The strong points of the system are the active sensors, which process the wheel speed data themselves (without having to send them to the control unit); they can read values very close to naught (most cars use passive sensors which do not register speeds below 2.5 km/h) and are less sensitive to disturbance caused by electromagnetic fields.

This advanced ABS system is supplemented by electronic brake force distribution, EBD, which distributes the braking force between the front and rear wheels to prevent the rear wheels from locking, guaranteeing a balanced response from the car in all conditions. The system also adapts to the grip conditions of the wheels and the efficiency of the brake pads, and it reduces the temperature of the front brakes and the effort demanded from the brake servo.
ESP (Electronic Stability Program)
The new Fiat 500 offers the sophisticated Electronic Stability Program to guarantee complete control over the car; this program cuts in when conditions are close to the limit, and the car’s stability is at risk, to help the driver to control the vehicle (the device is standard with the 1.4 engine and an option with the other two).

To do so, ESP constantly verifies how the tires grip the ground, longitudinally and laterally, and if the car does skid, it cuts in to recover the trajectory and trim stability. It incorporates sensors that measure the wheel speed, the vehicle’s rotation around its vertical axis (yaw speed), the lateral acceleration and the steering angle set by the driver (which indicates his chosen direction).
It then compares these data with the parameters processed by a computer and uses a complex mathematical model to establish whether the car is taking a bend within the grip limits, or whether the front or rear is about to veer (understeer or oversteer).
The Fiat 500 Abarth at the limit of adhesion but
in control
To bring it back to the correct trajectory, the system generates a yaw moment opposite to the one that caused the instability, singly braking the appropriate wheel (nearside or offside), and reducing the engine power by adjusting the throttle valve.
This is where the device developed for the Fiat 500 differs from other systems. Its intervention on the brakes is modulated to be as gentle as possible (therefore without disturbing the driving), and the reduction in engine power is limited, to guarantee excellent performance and enjoyable driving at all times. ESP is always engaged.
ASR (Anti Slip Regulation) and MSR (Motor Schleppmoment Regelung)
To limit any slipping of the driving wheels when grip on the road is poor, the new Fiat 500 is equipped with a sophisticated device that controls traction automatically. It is known as ASR (Anti Slip Regulation), and is standard equipment on all versions that mount the ESP system. ASR functions at all speeds and adjusts torque on the basis of the grip detected.

Based on the number of wheel revs calculated by the ABS sensors, the device calculates the degree of slipping and activates two different control systems to recover grip:
• when an excessive demand for power causes both drive wheels to slip (for example when aquaplaning or accelerating on an uneven, snow-covered or icy road surface), the system reduces engine torque by decreasing the throttle valve aperture and thus the air flow;
• if only one wheel slips (for example the wheel inside a bend following acceleration or dynamic changes to the load), this is automatically braked without the driver having to press the brake pedal. The effect obtained is similar to that of a self-locking differential.

ASR helps to maintain vehicle stability, and it is particularly useful when there is a loss of grip (just think of the ramps in a garage in Winter) and when the paving does not guarantee homogeneous friction.

Another advantage of ASR that should not be overlooked is the reduction of stress on mechanical organs such as the differential and gearbox, which is achieved by controlling take-off and traction at low speeds.

ASR is engaged automatically every time the engine is started, but can be excluded by a switch on the center console. When ASR is activated a telltale on the instrument panel flashes. If the telltale in the control panel comes on, but the LED on the switch is off, this indicates a malfunction or irregularity in the system. ASR must be de-activated when snow chains are mounted, because in order to transmit torque to the ground, the wheel has to be able to ‘pile up’ snow with small slips that the ASR system tends to avoid.

If the driver changes down suddenly and grip is poor, the MSR device (Motor Schleppmoment Regelung) takes over, returning torque to the engine and preventing slipping due to wheel lock.
HBA (Hydraulic Brake Assistance)
The Fiat 500 adopts a device that assists in emergency braking. On cars fitted with ESP this function is performed electronically by the ABS control unit and it is called HBA (Hydraulic Brake Assistance).

During ‘panic’ braking, most drivers recognize an emergency situation and put their feet down very rapidly on the brake pedal, but not with the necessary additional effort. Because, unless he is a professional driver, the motorist is accustomed to braking by applying a certain ‘load’ to the pedal, and like all automatic gestures repeated over and over again, he tends to use the same effort in all circumstances.

On the new model, at this point the Brake Assist devices are triggered, and although the pressure on the pedal remains the same, they ensure the same deceleration that you would achieve by braking with every possible force. The panic braking assist is also useful for more expert drivers who do brake rapidly, and with the right amount of energy when necessary.

Because in any case the system reduces braking implementation time, i.e. the time between the moment he applies the force on the pedal and the moment that the circuit reaches maximum pressure and can give its best performance.

Hill Holder
The Hill Holder is a system that helps the driver on hill starts. It cuts in when the ESP control unit perceives a difference in the inclination of the car through a longitudinal acceleration sensor on the floor under the front passenger seat.

During a hill start, the control unit prepares to intervene when first speed is engaged and the brake and clutch pedals are depressed. The pressure on the front brake calipers is maintained for about 2 seconds after the driver releases the brake pedal, allowing him to set off without difficulty.

The Hill Holder is not activated when the car is started downhill with first speed engaged. Similarly, when reverse is engaged, the system is activated for downhill starts, and it is not activated for uphill starts.

People first
Fiat pulled out all the stops when it came to designing the Fiat 500. The safety features, designs and thought that went into the 500 befits cars costing two or three times its price.

Safety at all cost with no consideration of pricing... it is in the best tradition of Fiat, a company that has a long history of giving the average person access to the latest and best in automotive design and engineering.

From the ground breaking Topolino of the 1930's, the Nuova 500 of the 1950's, a car that gave a generation of Europeans access to real automotive transportation, the 1966 Car of the Year Fiat 124 that offered modern features and engineering in an affordable package and the breakthrough 1969 Car of the Year Fiat 128, the car on which all modern front wheel drive cars are based on. Each one of these cars and all the other Car of the Year winners Fiat has produced have always put people first. Fittingly, the company's motto is "People first, then cars." It is this legacy that is carried on with the new Fiat 500.


Anonymous said...

The 500 has very sophisticated engineering, is beatifully shaped, is safe to drive and is the most economical car in the world.

I used to drive the old 500. The new 500 is a dream come true, and is inexpensive to buy & run.

I just love it. So do my daughters and son.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait until they come to the USA....

Anonymous said...

It's adorable.I love it so much.Can't wait until
it comes to the states in 2011.Whoo Hoo!!!! said...

The 500 does have un-matched style, but what is nice is that it's more than just skin deep.

James said...

Hey there,
I'm quite keen on buying a Fiat 500, but I have two kids who will often be in the back seats. At a glance it seems like there's not a lot of car between the rear of the car and the back seats. I've scoured the net to try and find details for a rear impact and how the car crumples in such an accident, but to no avail. It seems like the front passengers are really well looked after, but not so much the rear. Unlike the Volvo C30 which seems to have quite good rear impact safety. Can you shed ay light here? Much appreciated. James said...

Hi James,

The 500 has to meet US rear crash standards which is, as far as I know, currently a 50mph offset impact by a sled weighing 3015 lbs. This tests the tightness of the fuel system and the ability to open the doors.

Having said this, the 500 is a small car, about 5 inches shorter than a Toyota Yaris and 30 inches shorter than a Volvo C30(!). It's not for everyone and you have to feel comfortable driving a car that size.

For myself, I will use the 500 as my work car and probably use my larger car for family duty.

I am also hoping Fiat will bring over the Punto EVO sometime in the future. That size is a little more practical for many people.

We'll see what happens...

best regards, Chris

Anonymous said...

what about the rear side airbag