Fiat 500 review

Our Rating: 
4
4.0/5.0
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Fiat 500 is Fiat’s most popular model in the UK thanks to cute looks, nimble handling and city car dimensions

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

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Based on the Fiat Panda, the Fiat 500 is a retro inspired city car that combines charming looks with low running costs.

The little Fiat 500 is one of the most popular cars in the Italian manufacturer’s line-up, and it's aimed squarely at the market for other fashionable small cars, such as the MINI, Vauxhall Adam and the Citroen DS3. It's no surprise then, that Fiat provides 500 buyers with a huge range of colours, styling upgrades and spec options.

The standard Fiat 500 is a three-door city car but such is its popularity, it's also spawned the 500C convertible, which gets a full-length retractable canvas roof. The Ford B-MAX rivalling 500L mini MPV is also offered for buyers who like the 500’s style but need more space. Further spin-offs include the seven-seat 500L MPW and the 500L Trekking, which features an increased ride-height and beefier off-roader styling but no real off-road ability.

Given its city car credentials, it's no surprise that the standard Fiat 500 is great in town, thanks to its tiny dimensions and tight turning circle. What is a surprise though, is that it's pretty handy out on the open road too.

The Fiat 500 is available in five trim-levels: entry-level Pop, the 1970s-inspired Colour Therapy, the higher-end Lounge and S, plus the flagship Cult models. Hot hatch fans will also be pleased to know that there is a turbocharged 1.4-litre Abarth 500. Given its fashionable credentials, there have also been some fashion-inspired special editions of the Fiat 500, such as the 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.

Non-Abarth versions of the Fiat 500 are powered by 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.

Driving

4.2

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

3.2

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

3.2

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 isn't the most practical car in the world.

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 as the MINI (160-litres) and the Vauxhall Adam (170-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.

When it comes to carrying passengers, the rear seats are too small for adults to sit in comfortably - it also feels pretty cramped up. In this respect, the Vauxhall Adam or the larger 500L 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 one small criticism would be that there's limited range and height adjustment on the steering wheel. 

Running Costs

4.4

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.

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: 6 Jun, 2014
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