Fiat 500 review

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

The Fiat 500 city car is a rival to the MINI and Vauxhall Adam that benefits from low running costs

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

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The Fiat 500 is a chic and stylish Italian city car with a great retro design and low running costs. Launched in the UK in 2007, it's proved to be a very popular little car and has been a major sales success for Fiat.

The Fiat 500 rivals other small cars that target the fashionable end of the market - models like the MINI, Vauxhall Adam and Citroen DS3 that put a similar emphasis on style and individuality. Like those cars, the 500 is available in a huge range of colours and specifications - owners can order it exactly as their personal tastes dictate, although some of the more outlandish specifications might damage residual values.

As you'd expect, the Fiat 500 is a great for city driving thanks to the small dimensions and tight turning circle. But it's not limited to being a city car - it's decent on the open road too.

The entry-level 1.2-litre petrol version in Pop trim costs around £10,000, but it doesn't even include air-conditioning or alloy wheels - that shows the premium you pay for the funky looks. You can also choose a 1.3-litre Multijet diesel but we would recommend the excellent 875cc two-cylinder TwinAir engine. It returns 68.9mpg and is free from road tax - but still feels punchy and is fun to drive.

There are five specifications to choose from: base-spec Pop, Colour Therapy, Lounge, S and the special-edition GQ (which includes styling features inspired by the magazine of the same name).

In addition to the standard 3-door car there's a Fiat 500C convertible, that features a full-length retractable canvas roof, and a 500L MPV that offers the same retro-inspired design but with a practical boot and some usable rear seats. There's a seven-seater Fiat 500L MPW with even more carrying capacity and, finally, the 500L Trekking, which adds a more rugged look to the 500 exterior.

Our choice: 500 875cc TwinAir Lounge

Styling

4.2

Many will remember the original cute and chic Fiat 500 that launched in 1957, and this modern version does have a lot of the same classless charm.

It's a lot bigger than the classic version, but the curvy lines and cute circular headlamps remain and it still has a lot of charm. With all cars these days seemingly expanding in size with every new model generation, the 500 is one that still feels like a small city car. There are plenty of personalisation options, so potential buyers can choose everything they want to make the car unique - from the paint colour to a range of stickers and decals.

The interior is well designed and feels solid while offering even more potential for customisation. The dashboard is painted in the same colour as the outside of the car, just like on the original 500 - a nice touch. You can also get the Fiat 500 with a range of different seat patterns.

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

Driving

4.2

The Fiat 500 is definitely an easy car to drive, especially around town. The best unit to go for is the peppy and economical 85bhp 875cc two-cylinder TwinAir engine but the range does include 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 but you can get a Dualogic automatic gearbox on the petrol cars. This one's best avoided, however, as it's jerky and not up to the standard of the manual 'box.

The steering is light across the range, while the handling is nimble and fun. Although the TwinAir is recommended for keen drivers, the 1.3 diesel will be best for those who are planning to spend a lot of time on the motorway because of its extra torque and fuel economy.

The 500's ride is softer than the MINI and Vauxhall Adam, although there is quite a bit of body roll 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

The Fiat 500 is one of the safest city cars on the market, thanks to a five-star Euro NCAP rating from when it was first tested in 2007 - back then far fewer cars were able to match that score. Driver, passenger, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags come as standard, as well as ABS and Isofix child seat mountings.

The hazard lights come on under hard braking, but the trigger point is over-sensitive - a problem present in many small Fiat models.

Fiat's reliability record is improving but the 500 has been subject to a few setbacks and problems that mean it can't be put up there with the most reliable cars in its class like the Skoda Citigo.

The 500 finished 142nd in the 2013 Driver Power ownership survey's top 150 cars, falling over 70 places since the previous year's survey. Worst of all, Fiat finished bottom of the pile in the manufacturer rankings in a lowly 30th place.

Practicality

3.2

When buying a car this size, practicality and interior space isn't likely to be top of your list of priorities. The 185-litre boot is pretty small, but it's actually bigger than the luggage space in more expensive rivals like the MINI (which has 160 litres) and the Vauxhall Adam (170 litres).

Split-folding rear seats are standard on all but the entry-level model as well, which makes it easier to transport larger objects. With the seats down, the maximum load space is 550 litres and there's useful storage space below the seats as well.

There's a limited range of height adjustment on the 500's steering wheel, but the driving area is big enough - even though the rear seats are too small for adults to sit in comfortably.

The high-mounted gearlever and well laid-out dash is easy to live with, and if you need more space, the larger 500L range offers plenty of room for adults and loads of extra boot capacity.

Running Costs

4.4

Every model in the Fiat 500 range is cheap to run, with the cleanest petrol model being the excellent TwinAir. This engine manages to return 68.9mpg and CO2 emissions of just 95g/km, which makes it exempt from road tax.

For motorway driving you should go for the 1.3-litre diesel, which gets 72.4mpg and 104g/km of CO2, meaning you’ll pay nothing in tax for the first year and just a small amount every year after that.

Other petrol engines offer good fuel economy but the 1.4-litre is less impressive, with a CO2 figure of 135g/km. All versions fall into a low insurance group, which should help to keep costs to a minimum.

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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: 22 Jan, 2014

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