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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Fiat 500: Beauty inside and outside

It is easy to see the Fiat 500 is a great looking car on the outside, but, as they say, it is what is inside that counts, and the 500 also has that covered.

In Europe, the Fiat 500 was the first car in its class to achieve a five-star crash rating by Euro NCAP, Europe's crash testing organization. The North American Fiat 500's chassis has been significantly upgraded and strengthened compared with its European cousin. The US car has not been rated, but with all the reinforcements and improvements, it is expected to do quite well.

Here are some pictures of the reinforcements and structural elements of the US 500.

Beauty is more than skin deep when it comes to the Fiat 500.

Significant reinforcements under the skin.

The floor pan of the Fiat 500 features this prominent center tunnel and cross brace.

The floor tunnel is a significant source of strength to the Fiat 500.

The large brace that crosses the car under the seats contributes to side impact safety.

Part of the safety cage construction. The Fiat 500 has a rigid passenger compartment, with energy absorbing front and rear sections.

The roof reinforcements of the Fiat 500.

The Fiat 500 has energy absorbing 2½ mph bumpers front and rear.

The Fiat 500 is built on the concept of controlled collapsibility. The softer outer sections of the car absorb the energy of a collision. Note the third load path. This was added to the North American Fiat 500 and is not featured on the European Fiat 500. It is one of the updates the 500 received for our market.  It is also the reason the NAFTA 500 has a five speed and not the six speed offered in Europe.  It was a safety trade-off as the additional load path takes up the added space the six speed requires.

These load paths distribute the collision forces in a controlled way, into and around the car...

absorbing the energy, and....

slowing the deceleration forces so, by the time they reach the passengers, they are in a manageable range, and the seat belts/air bags can be effective.

This US spec Fiat 500 has undergone a 40mph offset front impact.

The outer area absorbed the impact. The passenger compartment remained intact.

The car had a cracked windshield and the drivers door opens and closes normally.

This is the crash test of the European Fiat 500. The US version benefits from three years more development and updates to the chassis. The US car has a third front load path added, along with a significantly stronger body, especially at the rear and on the sides. The European Fiat 500 was the first car of its size to achieve a 5 star crash rating. In fact, it would achieve a 6 star crash rating, when and if, that standard is adopted.
View the fullsize images here.


peterjerome said...

I am pleased to read about the extra effort put into passive safety on the North American 500. I believe that this will be a crucial area to excel in on this side of the Atlantic. I am anxiously waiting for crash test results for the 500 from the NHTSA and the IIHS. NHTSA has recently (2011 model year)revamped its testing procedures. This substantial difference is outlined on their website Go there and check out the Ford Fiesta's rating to get an example of a vehicle comparable to the 500. IIHS (an agency serving the Insurance industry) have set high standards for crashworthiness for some time. Go to and again enter the Ford Fiesta. Each test area can be expanded, but the most telling information is found at the line "Compare this vehicle with other minicar designs".

peterjerome said...

P.S. The North American 500 is about 90 kg.(200 lb.) heavier than the heaviest (gas powered) European model. This like having two European passengers, or one North American riding with you at all times. It will affect the character, fuel economy and performance of the car somewhat, but not significantly. I imagine most of the weight gain is due to the strengthening measures outlined in this article. At least that weight is mostly low in the chassis. There are other areas, such as sound insulation and seats that have been altered from the European model as well and would add weight.