Fiat 500

Eye-catching retro supermini is still a strong challenger

If there’s one city car that can match the VW up! for head-turning, high-street appeal, it’s the Fiat 500. With its cheeky retro looks, fizzy Latin character and upmarket cabin, this car is a firm Auto Express favourite and offers a strong challenge to any class newcomer.

Even five years after its debut, the 500 still gets noticed. Styling cues from the fifties original help the classy Fiat to stand out easily next to modern rivals. What’s more, even the basic black door mirrors and plastic wheel trims of our entry-level Pop test car failed to tarnish the model’s upmarket image.

It’s a similar story inside, where the 500 runs the up! close for premium appeal and beats it for style. The body-coloured dashboard, quality materials and comfortable driving position give the Fiat’s cabin a luxury feel that belies its £9,900 price tag.

However, the pay-off for this bargain-basement price is a lack of standard equipment. Unlike its rivals, the 500 doesn’t get air-conditioning, a leather steering wheel or Bluetooth. Adding these will cost you an extra £895.

Rear-seat passengers get less head and legroom than in the other cars, while you’ll have to find another £155 to replace the single-piece rear bench with a more versatile split-fold option.

Still, with the seats in place, the Fiat provides a useful 185 litres of storage. There are also plenty of cubbies elsewhere in the cabin, although the lack of a proper glovebox means there’s nowhere to safely conceal valuable items from prying eyes.

As with its exterior styling, the Fiat’s 1.2-litre engine has historic roots. Yet despite its advancing years, the 69bhp unit is a smooth and eager performer. It can’t quite match the outright pace of the smaller and lighter up! and Aygo, but its more muscular mid-range power delivery means the 500 is well able to keep pace with fast-moving traffic.

And despite a lack of steering feel and an occasionally bouncy ride, the 500 impresses with its agility and grip through corners. Elsewhere, it’s second only to the impressive VW when it comes to comfort and refinement on long-distance journeys.

But as you’d expect, the 500 is at its best in town. Compact dimensions and decent visibility make it easy to thread the car through crowded urban streets. Better still, a city button makes the steering even lighter, helping to reduce the strain of slotting the Fiat into tight parking spots. There’s even a standard stop-start system that cuts the engine at traffic lights to save fuel.

Yet the 500 isn’t without its faults. As with the Aygo and up!, you pay extra for electronic stability control, while high emissions and poor fuel economy make it surprisingly costly to run. Will these flaws count against it in the final reckoning?

Details

Chart position: 3WHY: Great-value city car doesn’t sacrifice style. Will the 500’s retro design be a help or hindrance in the battle for supremacy in this class?

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