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Fiat 500 Lounge 2015 review

Facelifted Fiat 500 offers lots of Italian flair and style, but puts form over function

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

Fiat didn’t need to do much to keep the 500 fresh in the eyes of buyers. It remains a funky, fun and interesting proposition and still puts form over function. It isn’t as good to drive, as spacious or as well built as many city car rivals, though, which are also significantly cheaper to buy. Be careful with the customisation options, too, as its already steep price tag can soon rocket if you get a bit carried away.

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The eight-year-old Fiat 500 is enjoying something of a renaissance of late, with close to 45,000 examples finding homes in the UK in 2014 – the most sold in a single year since the car was introduced. Clearly, it makes sense for Fiat to keep things as they are with this facelifted model.

And, as you can see, that’s exactly what it’s done. Despite 1,900 component changes and marketing to suggest the chic city car has been completely revamped, you’d have to be a 500 fanatic to give it much of a second glance. 

The car’s appearance is subtly lifted by a sportier grille, new bumpers, revised headlamps and ring-shaped tail-lights, but it’s no revolution. Instead, Fiat has focused on what matters most to the fashion-led 500 buyers: bringing fresh colour schemes, accessories and new ‘Second Skin’ exterior graphics. 

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Climb inside, and the sense of déjà vu continues, yet that’s no bad thing. The Fiat has always had a stylish and charming cabin, with a colour-coded painted metal dash and plenty of retro details. Our test car was also fitted with the optional new seven-inch TFT digital readout in the dials, which is clear, smart and easy to get along with. Also new to the 500 is Fiat’s Uconnect system. Base models receive a simple radio and USB unit, but our Lounge-spec car gets the full five-inch touchscreen mounted on the dash with Bluetooth.

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DAB radio remains a £100 option, however, yet for a reasonable £350, you can get TomTom’s sat-nav software with ‘Live’ connected services.

New trim and upholstery colours also lift the interior, but flaws remain. The smart dash is spoiled by scratchy and hard plastics, while the door trim feels similarly nasty. Plus, the high-set driving position is still awkward, as you can only adjust the seat base to tilt rather than the height.

Although you can’t expect much from a city car in terms of practicality, the rear will feel rather cramped for anyone except children, while the boot is a slim 185 litres – a long way behind rivals like the SEAT Mii.

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Given the 500’s intentions as a city dweller, it’s no surprise that 80 per cent sold fitted with the 1.2-litre petrol engine. Just three per cent of buyers opt for the Multijet diesel (which won’t appear until the end of the year), while the rest plump for the clever two-cylinder 900cc Twinair turbo petrol.

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We sampled the range-topping 104bhp Twinair, which is capable of sprinting from 0-62mph in a sprightly 10 seconds. It remains a fun engine to rev, with the characterful two-cylinder throb filling the cabin. It’s a shame that it’s all out of action by 5,000rpm, as it makes for lots of time spent wrestling with the imprecise and long-throw six-speed manual gearbox – which brings another consequence.

Our test car also featured the only engine in the range not to receive any efficiency upgrades, although claimed 67mpg economy and CO2 emissions of and 99g/km are still good going. However, as before, the Twinair likely won't get anywhere near those figures in the real world. Through congested London city streets and a brief stint of motorway driving, the trip readout was a miserly 28mpg.

Despite minor suspension and steering changes, it’s business as usual on the move. Pulling away smoothly requires a lot of throttle, and vibrations fizz around the cabin at low revs. Still, the 500 is fun and agile around town, with light, direct steering – yet it’s almost entirely devoid of feel.

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Unlike other 500s, the Twinair 105 gets a Sport button for the steering rather than the City mode in other versions. You can feel the additional weight it provides, but what it doesn’t add is any more feel. So it’s largely irrelevant in a car like this.

One complaint with the outgoing 500 was the unsettled ride. It feels marginally more stable than before and soft enough, yet big bumps in the road still jolt through the cabin. Push on, and you’ll discover there’s plenty of body roll, while rivals such as the VW up! are more refined at speed.

The big stumbling block for many remains the cost. The 500 is a fashionable city car that finds itself rubbing shoulders with more practical and refined cars such as the Skoda Fabia for price. Our Lounge-spec model costs an eye-watering £16,340 with a few choice options, and a MINI One is a much more talented proposition at that cost.

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