Fiat 500 review
The Fiat 500 city car is a rival to the MINI and Vauxhall Adam that benefits from low running costs
The Fiat 500 injects a welcome dose of fun and Italian flair into the city car market. With its retro-inspired design, the modern 500 has been a massive sales success in the UK since it was introduced back in 2007. A huge range of customisation options and a choice of award-winning engines help it to compete against rivals like the MINI, Vauxhall Adam and Citroen DS3 in what has become a very competitive segment. Compact dimensions and a tight turning circle make it easy to drive around town, and it rides and handles well enough on the open road, too. The price range starts from just under £10,000 for the 1.2-litre petrol version in Pop trim, which does without air-conditioning or alloy wheels. There’s also a 1.3-litre Multijet diesel, but the highlight of the range is the punchy and efficient 875cc two-cylinder TwinAir engine, which returns 68.9mpg and is free from road tax. The Fiat 500C convertible gets a full-length canvas sunroof that stretches from the top of the windscreen to the tailgate, while the new 500L MPV offers the same retro-inspired design but with a practical boot and some usable rear seats. A seven-seat 500XL MPV and a rugged 4x4 crossover are also on the way, along with an all-electric 500e model, which is already available in the US.
Our choice: 500 875cc TwinAir Lounge
Good things come in small packages. The original Fiat 500 was a big hit when it was launched in 1957, and the modern car has the same classless charm. The retro-themed 500 has larger dimensions, but it has become a familiar sight on our roads, thanks in no small part to its eye-catching styling. Curvy lines and cute circular headlamps provide lots of appeal. All models are available in an array of bright colours and with a vast range of personalisation options, too, which means all you need is a bit of imagination to create a Fiat 500 you can call your own. The interior is neatly designed and well built, with a body-coloured dash that stretches from door to door and lots of retro-styled switchgear. There are two main trim levels – Pop and Lounge – as well as a choice of special-edition models, including sporty Street and seventies-inspired Colour Therapy. Entry-level cars come fitted with electric windows, MP3 connectivity and 14-inch steel wheels. Lounge models add Bluetooth, air conditioning, 15-inch alloys and a fixed glass roof.
The Fiat 500 is easy to drive and comes packed full of character. The choice of engine size ranges from the company’s tiny 85bhp 875cc two-cylinder turbocharged TwinAir engine to the fuel-efficient 1.3-litre Multijet diesel. There’s also a 69bhp 1.2-litre petrol, which gets a six-speed manual gearbox. All the others have a five-speed manual, while a Dualogic automatic gearbox is offered as an option on the petrol cars – it is jerky and expensive, though, so unless you really need an automatic, it’s best avoided. The TwinAir engine is the choice for keen drivers thanks to its rev-happy nature, while on the motorway the Multijet diesel is the one to pick, as it serves-up a mix of punchy performance and decent refinement. The steering is light across the range, while the handling is nimble and fun.
The Fiat 500 was awarded a five-star rating from Euro NCAP when it was first tested in 2007, which makes it one of the safest city cars around. All models come with driver, passenger, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags as standard, as well as ABS and Isofix child seat mountings. It’s just a shame, then, that entry-level models do without electronic stability control. The Fiat 500 also comes with automatic hazard light activation under hard braking, but as with other small Fiats, the trigger point is over sensitive. Fiat has worked hard to overcome its past reliability issues but its been an uphill struggle, and the Fiat 500 has had its share of problems. It finished 142 in the 2013 Driver Power ownership survey, falling over 70 places since last year's survey. Worst of all, Fiat finished bottom of the pile in the manufacturer rankings in a lowly 30th place.
Due to its small dimensions, the Fiat 500 is never going to be the most practical car on the market. That said, its 185-litre boot is larger than more expensive rivals like the MINI (which has 160 litres of space) and the Vauxhall Adam (which has 170 litres). Plus, all bar entry-level Pop cars come with split-folding rear seats, which creates a maximum load area of 550 litres. All versions come with under-seat stowage, too. The rear seats are only really suitable for children, but the driving position is roomy enough, despite a limited range of height adjustment on the wheel. The high-mounted gearlever and well laid-out dash is easy to live with. If you need more space, the new 500L offers plenty of room for five adults and 400 litres of boot space.
The Fiat 500 is a great choice for frugal motoring, as every model in the range comes with fuel-saving stop-start technology. The cleanest petrol model is the TwinAir, which manages to return average fuel consumption of 68.9mpg and CO2 emissions of just 95g/km, which makes it exempt from road tax and the London Congestion Charge. The ultra-efficient 1.3-litre diesel is better still, with 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.