Fiat 500 review
The Fiat 500 Mild Hybrid isn’t as practical as newer city car rivals, but it's still a stylish runabout
With an all-new third-generation Fiat 500 Electric grabbing the headlines, the second-generation 500 remains on sale in mild-hybrid form, offering customers who aren’t quite ready to give up on fossil fuels a final chance to indulge their fondness for its cheeky image.
On the plus side, the retro styling and wide range of customisation options are as appealing as ever, while the 500 Mild Hybrid powertrain is decently economical. The car's small size makes it easy to park, too. Unfortunately though, the car falls short in other areas, being rather impractical and not much fun to drive, factors which make it increasingly difficult to recommend to those not sold on the 500’s retro style.
Even so the 500 Mild Hybrid retains a unique character that few other cars on the road can match. Millions of sales worldwide suggests the little Fiat’s faults can be easily overlooked.
About the Fiat 500
This second-generation of the Fiat 500 has had a long and successful run, which mirrors the success of the iconic original 500 sold between 1957 and 1975. Launched in 2007 and facelifted in 2016, the modern interpretation of this charismatic little car still cuts a dash as a fashionable metropolitan runabout.
Except it’s only modern up to a point, having been recently usurped by the all-new third-generation 500 Electric, which in spite of its evolutionary style is a thoroughly up-to-date re-imagining of the 500 theme that runs on batteries alone.
For fashion-conscious city car buyers unmoved by the prospect of ‘plugging in’ a new Fiat 500 Electric, the petrol-powered 500 Mild Hybrid - or 500 MHEV - remains a likeable choice.
A facelift in 2016 introduced a new infotainment system, but other flaws such as flimsy build quality, poor equipment levels and high list prices were left unaddressed.
The Fiat 500 has been for sale in dealers for almost a decade and a half. It has gone on to spawn a sporty Abarth version and the 500C convertible, while the 500X SUV and 500L MPV take the city car's styling and add practicality to the mix.
If you're buying used, we'd recommend choosing the older TwinAir two-cylinder turbo petrol engine over anything else. It's a nippy performer that suits the 500's character, with good real-world fuel economy. Second-hand options include a 1.2 petrol and a Multijet diesel too, but for new buyers this legacy model is available only with 1.0-litre three-cylinder hybrid power and a six-speed manual gearbox.
The 500 MHEV line-up still spans four trim levels though, called Pop, Connect, Dolcevita and Sport, each offering varying levels of luxury and style.
In a way, the Fiat 500 has established itself as its own niche in the new car market. It's smaller than the other retro-inspired model for sale today, the MINI, while its compact dimensions aren't quite small enough to make it a genuine city car. Prices tend to fall somewhere between the city car and supermini classes too.
Not so long ago 500 buyers could consider stylish rivals that include the Vauxhall Adam and DS 3, although both reached the end of their production lives in 2019. This leaves smaller city cars such as the Citroen C1 and Kia Picanto and their related siblings, although none offer the same level of personalisation, nor the 500's retro looks.
All Fiat 500s are three-door hatchbacks that have a front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout - in contrast to the rear-engined original. Again, an automatic gearbox was offered for a while, but the current range only comes with a six-speed manual box.
Over time there has been a revolving door of special editions that have come and gone. There have been variants based on the Gucci and Diesel fashion brands, one created in association with Riva yachts, as well as Fiat's own specials, such as the sportier 500 S, 500 Pink, 500 60th (celebrating 60 years of the original 500), the 500 Mirror with improved connectivity and the 500 120th, which marks Fiat's 120th anniversary.
In a way, the Fiat 500 has established itself as its own niche in the new car market. It's smaller than the other retro-inspired model for sale today, the MINI, while its compact dimensions aren't quite small enough to make it a genuine city car. Prices ranging from around £13,000-17,000 mean it falls between city cars and premium superminis in terms of price, too.
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe Fiat 500 Mild Hybrid isn’t as practical as newer city car rivals, but it's still a stylish runabout
- 2Engines, performance and driveEasy to drive and fun in the right conditions, but lacks the refinement or dynamic ability of the best city cars
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsThe efficient 500 Mild Hybrid offers all the usual supermini style, with useful fuel-savings and lower emissions
- 4Interior, design and technologyThe 500 offers retro-styling in a small package, with a good level of standard kit
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe 500 might be much bigger than the original, but its still small by today’s city car standards.
- 6Reliability and SafetyThe 500 remains popular with customers, with positive feedback on reliability and running costs.