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TONY HETHERINGTON: Price of delayed trip rockets

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tony hetherington price of delayed trip rockets

Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below. 

C.H. writes: Some time ago my family booked three lodges from Hoseasons in Cumbria at a cost of £250 per lodge. 

I then developed Covid symptoms, so my family and I self-isolated, and my daughter contacted Hoseasons to try to move the booking to a later date. 

Hoseasons publicly announced there would be no charge for changing booking dates, but in fact they are charging an additional £100 per lodge on the excuse that this will be what they will charge next year – an increase of 40 per cent.

Shock: Rent for Hoseasons lodges near Ullswater went up by 40 per cent when booking was moved to 2021

Shock: Rent for Hoseasons lodges near Ullswater went up by 40 per cent when booking was moved to 2021

Shock: Rent for Hoseasons lodges near Ullswater went up by 40 per cent when booking was moved to 2021

You and your family booked to spend a few days at Thanet Well Lodge Retreat, in lovely countryside near Ullswater, but when you showed symptoms of Covid you did the right thing and your whole family self-isolated. 

Staff at Hoseasons were understanding. You still wanted to make the trip as a family, so you transferred the booking to March of next year, by which time we can all hope that things will be more normal. 

The fly in the ointment was the extra charge of £300, levied on the grounds that Hoseasons was simply giving its prices a mighty boost for 2021. But what was doubly irritating was the holiday company’s advertised claim that anyone whose booking for 2020 could not go ahead because of the pandemic could switch their reservation to 2021 without paying anything more. 

So what went wrong? I asked Hoseasons to look into this, and the explanation is that it all comes down to timing. The company’s deputy managing director, Mark Sowersby, told me: ‘The customer transferred their break before lockdown and the subsequent introduction of our price match promise.’ 

In short, you caught Covid too soon, and when you switched your booking to next year, Hoseasons had not yet made the decision to pledge there would be no extra charges. Happily though, Mark saw the unfairness in this, and added: ‘We are currently dealing with a huge number of enquiries but we will contact the customer and honour the price match or offer a full cash refund.’ 

I think I would have opted to rebook at the lower price. We all need something to look forward to in 2021. But you have chosen to take the refund and draw a line under the matter, and you have confirmed to me that the cash has reached you.

Post Office won’t return pension pot

Mrs J.G. writes: My husband has a small pension which for years has been paid into an account at the Post Office. 

The payer of the pension wrote to say they were no longer dealing with the Post Office, so since last April the pension has gone into our joint bank account. 

However, a large sum was left in the Post Office, so I wrote a letter – which my husband signed – asking for the balance. But the Post Office refused to transfer it to our bank account. 

Rejection: The Post Office suspected Mrs J.G. was trying to defraud her husband

Rejection: The Post Office suspected Mrs J.G. was trying to defraud her husband

Rejection: The Post Office suspected Mrs J.G. was trying to defraud her husband

The Post Office suspected you were trying to defraud your husband. After receiving his transfer request, he was asked to telephone officials who put a series of questions to him to check they really were speaking to your husband. 

He answered every question except one. When he hesitated, the Post Office staff heard you in the background prompting him with the right answer, and they threatened to end the call. =

As it was, you got to the end of the call and were told that your husband would be sent a new account closure form which he had to complete and take to your local Post Office branch. He did this, but then received the same rejection letter as the first time. 

I asked staff at the Post Office headquarters to look into what happened, but rather than explain why your husband was refused his own money, they took just 24 hours to do a complete U-turn, close the account and transfer all the funds to your bank. 

A Post Office spokesman told me: ‘We do put steps in place to guard against fraudulent activity. We are sorry that the controls in place impacted upon the customer and their family.’

Mobile fraudster used my name on contract

J.S. writes: Last year, I received a delivery of a Samsung S10 mobile phone. With it was a Virgin Media (VM) contract taken out in my name and address by someone in Leeds. I have never been to Leeds. 

I immediately reported the suspected fraud to VM and was told they would get back to me, but what I received was a letter confirming that VM had approved my direct debits. The account details were not mine, so I contacted the bank in question and was told there was no such account. 

At VM’s request, I returned the phone. I also informed the police. But since then there has been a lengthy exchange of letters, with VM claiming I owe them money. 

When an unexpected item is delivered, it is usually followed by a knock on the door from the fraudster, who explains that he has the same name as you and the delivery firm made a mistake with the address so please hand over the goods. Perhaps the crook who ordered the phone lost his nerve and failed to go through with it. 

This does not explain Virgin Media’s mistakes though. You sent me a fat file of correspondence spread over many months, ending with a demand for £14 and a threat to call in debt collectors. VM has admitted it actually took its staff a whole year to close the crooked account. 

A spokesman told me: ‘Mr S was incredibly diligent and did everything right in notifying us and the police of this fraudulent transaction.’ VM has now contacted you with a full apology and £100 to make up for the worry. And I have been promised the £14 bill has been scrapped. 

If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned. 

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How to build a nest egg: The ultimate guide to growing your money 

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how to build a nest egg the ultimate guide to growing your money

The nation has saved more than ever this year, yet interest rates have never been so low. 

New Bank of England figures show a staggering amount of money – £215 billion – is now sitting in current accounts paying no interest at all.

There is also around £844 billion languishing in easy-access savings accounts paying as little as 0.01 per cent or just 10p on every £1,000.

Investing at 65+

Investing at 65+

Investing at 30+

Investing at 30+

Age appropriate: Investors should take care to match their portfolio to the stage of the life – taking fewer risks the younger they are

Last week Money Mail launched our beginner’s guide to investing, to help you beat miserly savings rates and inflation.

And the new figures show why savers should seriously consider investing to get a fair return on their hard-earned nest eggs.

It is vital to ensure you have a savings safety net in an easy-access account in case of an emergency. 

But if you have more saved up and do not need to touch it for at least five years, investing is likely to be worthwhile.

This week we will explain how to build an investment portfolio to suit you and your goals.

Younger investors should be looking for big long-term rewards

Younger investors should be looking for big long-term rewards

Younger investors should be looking for big long-term rewards

The first rule of thumb is not to put all your eggs in one basket. Your money should be spread across a range of investments so that it can weather any storm. 

Data shows that the best-performing sector usually changes from one year to the next, so investors who narrow their focus risk missing out.

Figuring funds

The easiest way to invest in the markets is through funds. Investment funds spread your money across dozens of different assets – from stocks and shares to more cautious options such as bonds and gold.

The most common funds are those that focus mainly on stocks and shares — or ‘equities’ as they are usually known.

Though funds come in all shapes and sizes, equity funds are genuinely regarded as a medium-risk option and will be a mainstay of most portfolios.

It is best to invest in funds through an established investment platform such as Charles Stanley Direct or AJ Bell’s Youinvest. 

But before you can start to pick the right portfolio, you need to understand the different types of funds — and which ones will work best for you.

Man vs machine

When it comes to understanding how funds work, it’s worth knowing the difference between active and passive funds. 

Active funds have a specialist manager, tasked with picking those investments likely to perform well and avoiding those that are not.

This is particularly useful when there is a sudden change in markets, as the fund manager can try to limit the damage by pivoting towards better-performing assets.

Active funds have a specialist manager, tasked with picking investments, while 'passive' funds often automatically track a particular index, such as the FTSE 100

Active funds have a specialist manager, tasked with picking investments, while 'passive' funds often automatically track a particular index, such as the FTSE 100

Active funds have a specialist manager, tasked with picking investments, while ‘passive’ funds often automatically track a particular index, such as the FTSE 100

Active funds typically charge higher annual fees (usually around 1 per cent) to pay management costs.

On the other hand, ‘passive’ funds often automatically track a particular index, such as the FTSE 100, with your capital rising (or falling) in line with that market.

With lower fees, tracker funds are a popular option for novice investors. But in a bad market, they won’t fare well.

Growth/income?

Another important distinction is between growth funds and income funds.

Typically, growth funds focus on assets that will acquire more value within a longer timeframe (three years minimum), whereas income funds aim to provide slow and steady growth from the offset.

While it’s common for investors to hold both types of funds (although not always an even split), growth funds are typically regarded as less suitable for low-risk investors. 

Investors focusing on growth funds should be prepared to see their capital decline in the short term if that means enjoying bigger rewards further down the line.

Over the past five years, UK growth funds have delivered an average return of around 24 per cent – double the return of the average income fund.

Going global

Funds can also target a certain part of the world. When choosing funds, you might want to think about your own outlook for the global economy.

If you are bullish about China’s return to growth, or you expect the UK economy to roar back thanks to a vaccine, you can pick a fund focused on those markets.

If you are bullish about China's return to growth, or you expect the UK economy to roar back thanks to a vaccine, you can pick a fund focused on those markets

If you are bullish about China's return to growth, or you expect the UK economy to roar back thanks to a vaccine, you can pick a fund focused on those markets

If you are bullish about China’s return to growth, or you expect the UK economy to roar back thanks to a vaccine, you can pick a fund focused on those markets

One of the big themes for investors this year has been the strong performance of U.S.-focused funds, many of which have invested heavily in surging tech stocks such as Amazon and Netflix.

Baillie Gifford’s American Fund – which invests heavily in big tech – has doubled investors’ money within a year, making it the star performer of 2020. 

As you might expect, it is consistently featured in the lists of most-purchased funds for British investors. But will its success hold up?

Focused options

First-time investors should pay attention to the type of companies targeted by a particular fund.

A fund with ‘large cap’ in its name is primarily focused on established ‘blue chip’ companies with high valuations and steady balance sheets. 

This may be combined with geography. A ‘U.S. large cap’ fund, for example, would invest in the biggest firms on the New York Stock Exchange – the S&P 500. 

Though most investors will spread their money across several different types of fund, it is worth noting that certain groups are considered riskier than others. 

This is particularly true for ’emerging market’ funds – or anything focused on ‘small cap’ companies.

Some specialist funds are focused on specific sectors rather than geography.

Healthcare funds have emerged as a popular choice for investors seeking ‘recession-proof’ funds. 

Safe bet? Healthcare funds have emerged as a popular choice for investors seeking 'recession-proof' funds

Safe bet? Healthcare funds have emerged as a popular choice for investors seeking 'recession-proof' funds

Safe bet? Healthcare funds have emerged as a popular choice for investors seeking ‘recession-proof’ funds

This has held up this year, in the midst of both a recession and a global pandemic. A £10,000 investment in the Fidelity Global Health Care fund in 2015 would now be worth more than £17,000 – with a 7 per cent return this year.

Property funds, which invest in retail, industrial and office premises, have traditionally been popular with investors and pension funds. 

Though it has been a tricky year for property funds, analysts believe the fundamentals of the sector remain strong.

Choose wisely

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at investment service Hargreaves Lansdown, says new customers often worry too much about a ‘single right answer’ when picking funds. ‘It’s a bit like picking a holiday,’ she says. 

‘You have an idea of what you want — sun, beaches — so the aim is to pick something that has those characteristics.’

Choosing the right funds for you depends on both your preferred risk appetite and your investment timeline.

Savers who are looking to invest for less than five years should be particularly careful to avoid riskier funds, such as growth funds or emerging markets.

When it comes to making your choices, there are several resources to help. Funds publish verifiable information about their past performance, their overall strategy and which shares they hold.

Many big investment platforms, including Hargreaves Lansdown, publish lists of ‘best buy’ funds, ranking them by performance and cost. None of this serves as a guarantee of future performance but it’s useful nonetheless.

Diversity wins

If there is one piece of advice any investor will tell you, it is to diversify your portfolio.

The idea is quite simple: by spreading your money around, you are not risking everything on one outcome. 

While you need more than one fund (usually around ten), it is important to make sure they are not all focused on the same markets.

Diversify: While you need more than one fund (usually around ten), it is important to make sure they are not all focused on the same markets

Diversify: While you need more than one fund (usually around ten), it is important to make sure they are not all focused on the same markets

Diversify: While you need more than one fund (usually around ten), it is important to make sure they are not all focused on the same markets

But building a diverse portfolio will likely mean combining funds with other assets too, in line with your risk appetite.

More confident investors, particularly those with longer timeframes, often choose to buy shares directly in companies.

Shares are an inherently riskier option than funds, as there is nothing to mitigate your losses if the company falls in value.

Yet the returns can be much higher. Just look at the likes of Greggs and Games Workshop – both of which have doubled in value several times in ten years.

‘If you can invest for more than ten years, maximising the amount of your money in shares is more appropriate,’ says Rob Morgan, an investment analyst for Charles Stanley Direct.

Cutting risk

At the other end of the spectrum, lower-risk investors can look to buttress their portfolios with ‘safer’ options.

It is common to invest in high-quality bonds – essentially IOUs issued by governments looking to raise money. 

U.S. bonds, in particular, are well known for paying steady interest rates, and for increasing in value during an economic downturn.

Most investors don’t buy bonds directly but instead purchase specialist funds that spread their money across multiple options.

The average strategic bond fund has risen over 25 per cent in five years, making a £10,000 investment in 2015 worth around £12,500.

These are particularly popular with retired investors, who may well have the majority of their money in bonds (and only a small percentage in equity funds).

Another option is ‘absolute return’ funds, which combine a variety of safer options – including bonds, cash and gold — with the aim of always generating a return in any market.

The five-year return on the average absolute return fund is just under 8 per cent – making a £10,000 investment worth around £10,800. For ultra-cautious investors, this could make up around a quarter of your portfolio.

Other bets

And what of those other items sometimes touted for their investment value, such as gold and expensive wine?

Though so-called ‘passion investments’ – classic cars and the like – are popular with collectors, they function outside of the stock exchange and are probably best left to the experts.

Gold and precious metals are not sold directly on the stock exchange but do have a recognised ‘price’. 

That price often rises when markets tumble, leading many to tout gold as a popular hedge strategy. This year, the price of gold surged nearly 40 per cent after the Covid crash.

Investors wanting to bring gold into their portfolio can look to specialist ETFs – exchange traded funds – which rise with the price of gold and silver.

Finally, it may also be worth keeping a small amount of your portfolio in a cash Isa, just to ensure you are well prepared for any unexpected expenditure.

moneymail@dailymail.co.uk

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Why doing up houses can be a flipping good idea

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why doing up houses can be a flipping good idea

For 17 years, the BBC’s Homes Under The Hammer has followed the travails of aspiring property developers, who buy unloved homes at auction before turning them into swish, lucrative real estate.

And while it might be a stretch to suggest daytime television is responsible for fuelling a housing trend, new figures show that so-called ‘home flipping’ has hit a 12-year high.

The art of ‘flipping’ is defined as buying, renovating and selling a property within 12 months. And it is a relatively quick way to make good cash.

A labour of love: Deborah and Paul Marshall flipped their fifth property in ten years last week - a three-bedroom home in Cottingham, East Yorkshire

A labour of love: Deborah and Paul Marshall flipped their fifth property in ten years last week - a three-bedroom home in Cottingham, East Yorkshire

A labour of love: Deborah and Paul Marshall flipped their fifth property in ten years last week – a three-bedroom home in Cottingham, East Yorkshire

The average profit this year is £40,955, a 26 per cent return, up from profits of £29,685 at 21 per cent in 2019, according to Hamptons International. 

But anyone hoping for a quick flip in today’s market will be met with long delays as conveyancers and surveyors struggle to cope with unprecedented demand.

So is now the right time to get involved? And does it work?

John Howard, who has bought and sold more than 3,500 properties in the UK, thinks it might be better to wait. He says buyers are currently paying top prices on the basis that the market will continue to grow.

‘I don’t think that will happen,’ he says. ‘My advice is let everyone else buy this year. Be patient. Doing one good deal is better than ten bad ones. The worst thing that can happen is you will still have your money next year.’

A rule of thumb for flippers is to aim for a minimum profit of 20 per cent. This is because plenty can go wrong, including underestimating renovation costs and short-term dips in the market.

For example, one might hope to buy a property at £200,000 and sell it at £300,000, factoring in costs of £50,000.

John says he is currently looking at 25 per cent to 30 per cent to give him a greater margin for error ahead of potential turbulence in 2021. To get a bigger discount, he is looking for properties in need of full refurb.

‘The more difficult and distressed it is, the less competition I have,’ he adds. ‘But to do that you need to know what you’re doing. The simple refurb and sell is what everyone else is looking for.’

Deborah Marshall says flipping houses has become an ‘obsession’ after she first started renovating rundown properties ten years ago.

The 47-year-old flipped her fifth property in ten years last week — a three-bedroom home in Cottingham, East Yorkshire.

She bought it with her husband Paul, 44, for £209,000 in November last year, but sold it for £300,000 – a £40,000 profit – via Purplebricks after spending £50,000 on renovation, fees and tax.

Deborah and Paul bought the property in Cottingham, East Yorkshire (pictured) for £209,000 in November last year, and sold it for £300,000 after spending £50,000

Deborah and Paul bought the property in Cottingham, East Yorkshire (pictured) for £209,000 in November last year, and sold it for £300,000 after spending £50,000

Deborah and Paul bought the property in Cottingham, East Yorkshire (pictured) for £209,000 in November last year, and sold it for £300,000 after spending £50,000

The property was a probate purchase and was badly run down, Deborah says. The couple restored its old features, including original panelling in the hallway and staircase, and fitted a new kitchen and bathroom.

Deborah used to work as a carer and is now studying to be a podiatrist, while Paul is a professional joiner. The couple do most of the work themselves and live in the homes while they are renovated.

They reinvest profits from one project into the next.

Deborah says that ‘the hardest thing about it’ is living on a building site. While working on their previous project, she had to use an outdoor sink during winter to wash the dishes, with no hot water. 

They have lived in houses for months without heating. Deborah adds: ‘People don’t appreciate what you go through. They just see the final product and think “Wow that’s brilliant”, but it’s a real hard slog. 

‘When you come in from work, you start work again. It’s not for the faint-hearted. But if you love it, you get better at it.

‘It’s a massive hobby, and as much as it is tiring, it’s completely enjoyable because it’s the end result that’s the buzz.’

Former DJ Mike Smith entered the property business in 2013, primarily as a lettings agent. This year he carried out his first ‘back-to-brick’ renovation in which he stripped out a property and started from scratch.

Mike bought a three-storey home in Sneinton, Nottingham, for £95,000 in January last year. He had to repair a hole in the roof, the electrics and plumbing before he could begin the redesign. 

Having spent around £80,000 fixing up the property, he put it up for auction and is now selling it as a buy-to-let for £250,000, with completion due on December 18.

Mike, 37, says the key to success is buying at the right price.

A rule of thumb for flippers is to aim for a minimum profit of 20 per cent. This is because plenty can go wrong, including underestimating renovation costs and short-term dips in the market

A rule of thumb for flippers is to aim for a minimum profit of 20 per cent. This is because plenty can go wrong, including underestimating renovation costs and short-term dips in the market

A rule of thumb for flippers is to aim for a minimum profit of 20 per cent. This is because plenty can go wrong, including underestimating renovation costs and short-term dips in the market

Nottingham is a growth area – average house prices have jumped by almost 10 per cent in the past 12 months to £226,877, according to Zoopla – and he believes the property was worth £25,000 more than he bought it for even in its sorry state.

‘It was on for £150,000 but a number of deals fell through and the vendor wanted shot of it,’ he adds. ‘It was pretty much derelict when I bought it. Some people will see a hole in the roof and see it as a risk. I saw it as an opportunity.’

Mike is one of many who believes flippers won’t be perturbed by market uncertainty if the price is right. 

So far this year, 2.5 per cent of homes sold in England and Wales have been flipped, which could equate to 23,000 transactions by the end of 2020, says Hamptons.

The estate agency says the spike in profits has been helped by a shift from flats to houses.

Just 5 per cent of flipped homes bought and sold since the market reopened in May were flats, down from 20 per cent in 2019.

Average house prices have also soared by 6.5 per cent since last year, according to Nationwide, as the stamp duty holiday fuels demand. Second-home buyers still have to pay a surcharge of 3 per cent.

The market is a mix of full-time developers, part-time hobbyists and cash home-buying firms that snap up dishevelled, cut-price properties.

The latter, who have been accused of preying on vulnerable homeowners, can give flippers a bad name. But property expert Henry Pryor says investing time and money into improving the nation’s housing stock is ‘demonstrably a good thing’.

He adds: ‘If you’re making £10,000 on a property, for a professional developer it’s probably not worth doing. 

‘A flipper is someone who has bought a rundown property and had probably as much fun as they’ve made profit in renovating it. This is almost a British holiday. It’s as popular as golf, football or fishing.’

It’s happening in Burnley more than anywhere else. The Lancashire town was named the flipping capital of England and Wales for the sixth year running. 

Around 8 per cent of homes sold there are flipped, of which 81 per cent were bought for £40,000 or less, under the threshold at which stamp duty is payable.

The North-East and North-West see high proportions of homes flipped because of lower house prices. It has been two years since anywhere in southern England made it into the top ten.

Colin Haslam, manager of Bridgfords estate agents in Burnley, says there is no sign of a slowdown. He adds that the town has benefited from council rules requiring that homes have to be up to scratch when sold, which has filtered out ‘cowboy’ investors.

‘The housing stock has definitely improved,’ he adds.

‘These aren’t speculators pushing up prices. I don’t see negative feedback because a town like Burnley needs investment.’

m.dilworth@dailymail.co.uk

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Fiat 500 electric car review: Has a £20k price tag and 199 mile range

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fiat 500 electric car review has a 20k price tag and 199 mile range

Bellissimo! In these dark and difficult times it’s great to drive a car that instantly puts a big smile on your face.

I’m talking about the new all-electric Fiat 500 which brought me an automotive ray of welcome if socially-distanced Mediterranean sunshine and warmth.

First customer deliveries of this all-new Italian four-seater supermini are not until the beginning of next year, but I’ve had a chance to take a drive in an early cabriolet model on British roads. And what a stir it caused.

Bellissimo! Daily Mail motoring editor Ray Massey has test driven the new Fiat 500 electric ahead of the car's official arrival next year

Bellissimo! Daily Mail motoring editor Ray Massey has test driven the new Fiat 500 electric ahead of the car's official arrival next year

Bellissimo! Daily Mail motoring editor Ray Massey has test driven the new Fiat 500 electric ahead of the car’s official arrival next year

All right, driving from an industrial estate in Slough and around the scenic Berkshire Riviera is not quite Rome, Milan, or even Fiat’s home city of Turin where the cars are again being manufactured. 

The winter sun wasn’t particularly bright either. But that didn’t stop me putting the top down – and the heating up – for a liberating spell of wind in the hair motoring.

And it’s a shame I wasn’t on commission. Because on my travels I was stopped in my tracks by young drivers and couples who knew exactly what I was driving; wanted to know how I was driving it; and were talking actively about trading in their current cars to buy one.

I felt like one of those Italian ice-cream seller of yesteryear riding a tricycle with the words: ‘Stop Me and Buy One’.

It’s not every car that has that effect. Order books have opened this month with first UK deliveries from March.

It is in fact only one of two electric-powered cabriolet currently on the market, sitting alongside the even dinkier Smart EQ ForTwo Cabrio.

This is the third major incarnation of the Fiat 500 – the Cinquecento. Italy’s original mini-car was born in 1957, and reborn half a century later as the Fiat 500, proving so popular it is credited with saving he company. 

Now it enters its third age as an all-electric car only that’s built back where it all started, at Mirafiori in Turin.

The 500 is one of only two electric-powered cabriolets currently on the market, sitting alongside the even dinkier Smart EQ ForTwo Cabrio

The 500 is one of only two electric-powered cabriolets currently on the market, sitting alongside the even dinkier Smart EQ ForTwo Cabrio

The 500 is one of only two electric-powered cabriolets currently on the market, sitting alongside the even dinkier Smart EQ ForTwo Cabrio

Built on a new platform specifically to be electric, all of them are larger than the outgoing Fiat 500 – around 60mm longer, 50mm wider and with a broader wheelbase, bigger wheels up to 17 inches and a roomier interior

Built on a new platform specifically to be electric, all of them are larger than the outgoing Fiat 500 – around 60mm longer, 50mm wider and with a broader wheelbase, bigger wheels up to 17 inches and a roomier interior

Built on a new platform specifically to be electric, all of them are larger than the outgoing Fiat 500 – around 60mm longer, 50mm wider and with a broader wheelbase, bigger wheels up to 17 inches and a roomier interior

A cabriolet version was launched ahead of the coupe. It will not be sold with a petrol or diesel engine

A cabriolet version was launched ahead of the coupe. It will not be sold with a petrol or diesel engine

A cabriolet version was launched ahead of the coupe. It will not be sold with a petrol or diesel engine

There are two main models at launch – hatchback and cabriolet – and a third called a 3-plus-1 to follow with a third rear-door that opens outwards on just one side to make it easier to get in and out of the rear.

Built on a new platform specifically to be electric, all of them are larger than the outgoing Fiat 500 – around 60mm longer, 50mm wider and with a broader wheelbase, bigger wheels up to 17 inches and a roomier interior.

I was driving the top-of the range and well-equipped 500 Icon cabriolet costing around £28,000.

It is topped only by a launch special edition ‘La Prima’ costing £26,995 as a hatchback and £29,995 as a cabriolet (after deducting the £3,000 Plug-in Car Grant).

Out on the road it’s exceptionally nimble and nifty around town with a very tight turning circle. 

Having for many years driven a much-loved MG Midget, I was immediately transported back to those heady carefree days.

Prices, including the £3,000 Plug-in Car Grant  subsidy, start from £19,995 for the coupe model

Prices, including the £3,000 Plug-in Car Grant  subsidy, start from £19,995 for the coupe model

Prices, including the £3,000 Plug-in Car Grant  subsidy, start from £19,995 for the coupe model 

We test drove the top-of the range and well-equipped 500 Icon cabriolet costing around £28,000

We test drove the top-of the range and well-equipped 500 Icon cabriolet costing around £28,000

We test drove the top-of the range and well-equipped 500 Icon cabriolet costing around £28,000

The new 500’s Combo 2 socket means it can accept both AC and rapid DC charging

The new 500’s Combo 2 socket means it can accept both AC and rapid DC charging

The new 500’s Combo 2 socket means it can accept both AC and rapid DC charging

This electric 500 has great out-of-the-blocks acceleration which clearly surprises some other drivers left trailing in its wake.

And it flies along wonderfully on open roads and country lanes and in exhilarating fashion with the roof down.

You can have the roof top open with the rear windscreen still in place. Or go the whole hog and have the whole roof open full length.

That was my only quibble. The rear visibility through the rear-view mirror is then badly restricted. It’s like peering over a mountain. So you have to rely on your side mirrors only.

I reckon it would be easily remedied by a tack on mini-mirror – the sort parents buy to keep an eye on children in the rear of the car, and office workers put on their computer screens to check when the boss is creeping up behind them.

The Icon has 85kW hour fast charging which takes 35 minutes to achieve 80 per cent range

The Icon has 85kW hour fast charging which takes 35 minutes to achieve 80 per cent range

The Icon has 85kW hour fast charging which takes 35 minutes to achieve 80 per cent range

Inside, the cabin has been decluttered of buttons, with most of the functionality through the dash-mounted touchscreen

Inside, the cabin has been decluttered of buttons, with most of the functionality through the dash-mounted touchscreen

Inside, the cabin has been decluttered of buttons, with most of the functionality through the dash-mounted touchscreen

36272658 9002005 image a 1 1606821260072

36272658 9002005 image a 1 1606821260072

There are three different driving modes: Normal, Range and Sherpa.

As the name implies, normal is for driving as you are probably used to it in an ordinary automatic car, with your feet switching between the brake pedal and accelerator.

But I actually spent the vast bulk of my time in range mode. This increases the braking resistance and means you can drive quite deftly using just ‘one pedal’ – that is one foot on the accelerator.

Will it fit in my garage? 

36272670 9002005 image a 2 1606821260075

36272670 9002005 image a 2 1606821260075

New Fiat 500 Electric 

Price: From £19,995 (after deduction of £3,000 plug in car grant) 

Price of car driven: Cabriolet model in Icon trim from £27,645 (after deducting grant) 

Order books open: Now

First UK deliveries: March 2021

Seats:

Propulsion: 87kW electric motor

Battery: 42kWh

Power: 118hp

Emissions: Zero

Top speed: 93mph (electronically limited)

0-31mph: 3.1 seconds

0-62mph: 9.0 seconds

Range on full charge: 199 miles (claimed 285 miles for city only)

Length: 3632mm

Width: 1900mm (with mirrors)

Height: 1527mm

Wheelbase: 2322mm 

Tech: Level 2 autonomous driving

Wheels: 16-inch

Take your foot off, and the increased braking effect slows the car down. You quickly find the balance and drive smoothly and effortlessly.

This added resistance also helps the car recover energy and helps to boost range.

You’d select ‘Sherpa’ mode – named after the Himalayan mountaineering guides – if you are concerned about how much charge you have left and want to maximise it to get you either safely home or to the nearest public charging station. It cuts out unnecessary energy-sappers and restricts the top speed to 50mph.

There are some quirky touches. There’s no interior door handles. Instead, you press a button on the inside of the door which opens it for you. And the open roof rises up if you seek access to the boot. 

The new electric Fiat 500 comes in three trims, with the entry-level starting from £19,995 once the Government’s £3,000 taxpayer-funded plug-in grant has been deducted.

The base level 500 – called Action – comes as a hatchback only and with a less powerful 24kWh battery capacity and 70kW motor developing 93 horsepower. 

That propels it from rest to 62mph in 9.5 seconds up to a top speed of 84mph and an average range of 115 miles on the official WLTP cycle, or a claimed 150 miles if driving only in the city. 

Owners use their smart-phones plugged into the car’s system via Bluetooth to provide infotainment and sat-nav.

The mid-level Passion trim has a more powerful 42kWh battery and an 87kW 118 horsepower electric motor that helps it accelerate from rest to 31mph in 3.1 seconds and 62mph in 9 seconds up to an electronically restricted top speed of 93mph.

Its average range, according to the ‘real world’ WLTP measure = is 199 miles and a claimed 285 miles if only used for urban or city driving. It has a seven-inch infotainment screen,.

Top of the range Icon models cost from £24,995 for the hatchback and from £27,645 for the cabriolet and has the higher-capacity battery. 

There are some quirky touches. There’s no interior door handles. Instead, you press a button on the inside of the door which opens it for you. And the open roof rises up if you seek access to the boot.

There are some quirky touches. There’s no interior door handles. Instead, you press a button on the inside of the door which opens it for you. And the open roof rises up if you seek access to the boot.

There are some quirky touches. There’s no interior door handles. Instead, you press a button on the inside of the door which opens it for you. And the open roof rises up if you seek access to the boot.

The current Fiat 500 will remain on sale in mild-hybrid form, but a combustion engine will go into the new version

The current Fiat 500 will remain on sale in mild-hybrid form, but a combustion engine will go into the new version

The current Fiat 500 will remain on sale in mild-hybrid form, but a combustion engine will go into the new version

Even the base level Action includes as standard level 2 autonomous driving capability

Even the base level Action includes as standard level 2 autonomous driving capability

Even the base level Action includes as standard level 2 autonomous driving capability

Even the base level Action includes as standard level 2 autonomous driving capability and a host of other safety features such as drowsy driver detection, auto emergency braking which can recognise pedestrians and cyclists, lane-keeping assistance which activates if you are drifting over the lines, and traffic sign recognition which keeps you abreast of speed limits. 

The new 500’s Combo 2 socket means it can accept both AC and rapid DC charging. 

My Icon had 85kW hour fast charging which takes 35 minutes to achieve 80 per cent range. A quick five minute boost will take you 30 miles. But you have to buy your own domestic cable for home charging from a wallbox.

Coinciding with the launch of the new electric-only 500, Fiat is also transforming the historic Lingoto building in Turin – once a car factory with a test-track on its roof (filmed with Minis in the original Italian Job movie). 

The 28-metre high roof is to feature a ‘Sky Drive’ roof-garden with pedestrian walkways and driveways – set to be the highest hanging garden in Europe.

The building is also to host a motor museum and a green retail park selling electric and hybrid cars.

The existing Fiat 500 will continue to be sold in mild hybrid form only, for a few years yet, running in parallel to the new electric version. 

Coinciding with the launch of the new electric-only 500, Fiat is also transforming the historic Lingoto building in Turin – once a car factory with a test-track on its roof (filmed with Minis in the original Italian Job movie)

Coinciding with the launch of the new electric-only 500, Fiat is also transforming the historic Lingoto building in Turin – once a car factory with a test-track on its roof (filmed with Minis in the original Italian Job movie)

Coinciding with the launch of the new electric-only 500, Fiat is also transforming the historic Lingoto building in Turin – once a car factory with a test-track on its roof (filmed with Minis in the original Italian Job movie)

There are two main models at launch – hatchback and cabriolet - and a third called a 3-plus-1 to follow (pictured)

There are two main models at launch – hatchback and cabriolet - and a third called a 3-plus-1 to follow (pictured)

There are two main models at launch – hatchback and cabriolet – and a third called a 3-plus-1 to follow (pictured)

That latter has a third rear-door that opens outwards on just one side to make it easier to get in and out of the rear

That latter has a third rear-door that opens outwards on just one side to make it easier to get in and out of the rear

That latter has a third rear-door that opens outwards on just one side to make it easier to get in and out of the rear

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