Fiat 500 review

Our Rating: 
3
3.0/5.0
2007 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Fiat 500 looks great, handles well and is handy in town - and it's pretty cheap to run as well

For: 
Cute styling, fun to drive, efficient TwinAir engine
Against: 
Basic spec on entry models, expensive, poor reliability

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The little Fiat 500 is one of the Italian brand's biggest sellers, and with its retro design, low running costs and fashionable image it's easy to see why it's such a hit.

Based on the Fiat Panda, the 500 is a small city car that rivals the MINI, Vauxhall Adam and Citroen DS3. Something that all of these cars have in common is the huge range of customisation options, with a wide selection of colours, styling upgrades and other visual tweaks available on the spec sheet.

The main car in the line-up is the standard three-door hatch, but there's also a 500C convertible - although it's more like a huge sunroof than a true convertible.

The 500L mini MPV is also available, a rival for the Ford B-MAX. In fact, there is a huge range of different cars that use the 500 name, with the 500L MPW, 500X and 500L Trekking all offering buyers different retro-inspired options.

With a tight 9.3m turning circle and small exterior dimensions the regualr 500 is great to drive in town and is really easy to park in small spaces. That's not to say it can't take on the open road, though - it's surprisingly good on the motorway as well.

There are five trim levels available: there's the entry-level Pop, the 1970s-inspired Colour Therapy, the higher-end Lounge and S, plus the flagship Cult models. Those after a bit more performance can turn to the Abarth 500 model, which offers extra pace and better handling than the Fiat version.

There have also been a few special editions, including the fashion-inspired Gucci and GQ models.

Electric windows, MP3 connectivity and 14-inch steel wheels are standard on the Fiat 500 Pop, while Lounge models upwards add Bluetooth, air-conditioning, 15-inch alloys and a fixed glass sunroof.

The main Fiat 500 range gets a choice of three engines: a 69bhp 1.2-litre petrol, the peppy 0.9-litre Twinair, which is available with 85 or 105bhp, or a 95bhp 1.3-litre MultiJet unit. 

Our choice: 500 875cc TwinAir Lounge

Styling

4.2

The Fiat 500 is a modern-day reboot of the original 500, which was launched in 1957 and captured the hearts and minds of the public.

The current version is much bigger than the original, but it's clearly a Fiat 500 with its charming curvy lines, up-right stance and cute circular headlamps. The 500's dashboard is also painted the same colour as the exterior - a nice carry over from the original.

Fiat makes plenty of personalisation options available on the 500, so potential buyers can choose everything they want to make their car unique - from the paint colour to a range of stickers and decals. The MINI probably has a better range pf personalisation options, but really it's all down the the buyer to decide what they think works best for them.

Driving

3.8

The Fiat 500 is very simple to drive, but that doesn't mean it's not engaging. It's zippy in town and the engine that brings its fun personality to the fore is the 875cc TwinAir unit. The steering is light across the Fiat 500 range, while the handling is nimble and fun.

Fiat 500 interior

The Fiat 500 range also includes a 1.3-litre Multijet diesel and a 69bhp 1.2-litre petrol, which gets a six-speed manual gearbox. A five-speed manual is standard on all the other engines in the Fiat 500 line-up, plus a Dualogic automatic gearbox is available on the petrol cars. This, however, is best avoided as it's jerky and not up to the standard of the manual 'box.

The 500's ride is softer than the MINI and Vauxhall Adam, although there is quite a bit of bodyroll in the corners. Don't go for the sunroof if you are a taller driver, as it impinges on headroom and the driving position is quite high.

Reliability

3

When it was first launched in 2007, the Fiat 500 scored the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests. Back then, it was one of the safest city cars on sale and it still stands.

Fiat fits driver, passenger, side, curtain and driver's knee airbags as standard. while ABS brakes and Isofix child seat mountings feature too.  The hazard lights come on under hard braking to warn traffic behind but the trigger point is over-sensitive.

The little 500 didn’t feature in our 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. In the 2013 survey though, it finished 142nd out of 150 cars.

In terms of manufacturers, Fiat finished 27th out of 33. While far from great, this is a marginal improvement on its 30th place from the previous year.

Practicality

3

Buyers of the cute Fiat 500 are unlikely to have practicality at the top of their wish lists and that’s a good thing because the little Fiat is far from the most practical car in this class.

There's no getting away from the fact that the 500 is small but it's 185-litre boot is better than that found in more expensive rivals such the Vauxhall Adam (170-litres). The latest Mini is a better bet, having uppped its cargo capacity from 160 to 211 litres.

All models except the entry-level Pop feature a split-folding rear bench and with the seat down, loading space becomes 550 litres. What's more, all models in the Fiat 500 range feature useful storage space below the seats. Storage in the cabin is mean, however, especially as the glovebox is simply an open shelf instead of a proper cupboard.

When it comes to carrying passengers, the rear seats are too small for adults to sit in comfortably - it also feels pretty cramped up front. In this respect, the Vauxhall Adam or the larger 500L family hatch is a better prospect, with the latter offering more space in the rear seats and boot.

The dashboard-mounted gearlever on the Fiat 500 and simple dash make it easy to live with but tall drivers will be dismayed to discover that there's limited height adjustment on the steering wheel and no reach adjustment at all. Add in the high-set driver's seat and the 500's disjointed driving position quickly turns from quirky to tiresome.

Running Costs

4.2

Given its tiny dimensions, it shouldn't come as no surprise that the Fiat 500 is easy on the wallet in terms of fuel economy and insurance groupings.

Every model in the Fiat 500 range is cheap to run, with the most economical versions being the 85bhp 0.9cc petrol TwinAir and the 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel. The former returns 70.6mpg with 92g/km of CO2, but when combined with the Fiat's Dualogic automatic gearbox, fuel economy drops to 60.1mpg and emissions rise to 110g/km. However, beware the optimistic claims of the TwinAir engines: though the official figures state up to 70mpg is possible, their dependence on a turbocharger to boost the two cylidners mean economy often languishes around the 40mpg mark unless you're very careful with your right foot.

The 1.3-litre diesel MultiJet is similar in terms of efficiency, as it manages 76.3mpg, plus 97g/km of CO2. Even the 105bhp TwinAir petrol returns reasonable figures, thanks to CO2 emissions of 99g/km and a combined cycle mpg of 67.3. 

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How can a 2007 model be on a 2011 plate?

Still a girls car. Guys that drive Fiat 500's or Mini's just don't look right. Much more manly cars to buy. Other than that the 500 is pretty impressive.

I've hired Fiat 500s a couple of times over the last year and while they're cute, fun, interesting, fuel efficient and whatever, my god are they gutless. Come to a slight incline at motorway speeds and you'll find yourself going down to third to keep going.

Tried a 500L with the diesel last week and of course it's a completely different proposition, but then it's a completely different car.

So the Twin-Air, about which we are supposed to rave - clever piece of engineering maybe, and handy as a pure city car but ultimately just too frustrating once you need to use open road.

I have had two new 500s as courtesy cars they are cramped, the steering is lifeless, they bounce from bump to bump, the interior is horribly cheap and the speedometer is difficult to read. The Panda is a far better car and cheaper. Bought by fashion victims because there are far better cars out there for the money.

yep i agree, but if your a bloke you can easily get away with an abarth 500 or mini cooper s

because it hasn't changed since 2007

I have the 500 Abarth,and there is nothing girly about it.This thing rocks.I lowered it with coil overs,and added lighter pulley,Magnetti Marelli ignition.Brembos and slotted disc,go fast pedal for faster acceleration,better air flow inlet,and 4 Yokohama S drive tires,and this car is just a joy to drive.I just wish there was an 90 MPH speed limit.

Finishes 142 out of 150 for reliability and still gets three stars, typical Auto Express lunacy.

I've driven two of them, unfortunately. Buy a Mini or Skoda/Seat/VW or Renault Clio instead.

Last updated: 25 Nov, 2014
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