Road tests

Fiat 500 automatic review

Fiat 500 automatic is easy to drive and is stylish, but our choice would be the manual version

Fiat 500 Cult 2014 front action
Overall Auto Express Rating

2.5 out of 5

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If you want a car that’s easy to drive, then the Fiat 500 automatic is a decent choice. This city car puts style above practicality, but that retro charm means it’s been a huge sales success for the Italian firm. Its compact dimensions and light steering mean it’s perfect for the cut and thrust of urban driving, but it doesn’t feel out of its depth if you take in a longer motorway run.

The Fiat 500 rivals other small cars such as the MINI, Vauxhall Adam and Citroen DS3 and it’s available in a variety of colours and specifications. That means you can personalise your car’s colour, exterior graphics, chrome trim and interior, although you can only get the Dualogic automatic gearbox with the 85bhp version of Fiat’s 875cc TwinAir turbo petrol engine. That’s no hardship, though as the TwinAir engine is a punchy performer, while Fiat claims that adding the auto improves economy from 70.6mpg to 72.4mpg. Emissions are slightly down, too, from 92g/km to 90g/km, so road tax is still free.

You can get the automatic in any model that uses the lower powered TwinAir engine, and that currently includes Colour Therapy, Lounge, Cult and GQ special edition. If you want wind in the hair motoring, then you can also get the folding roof-equipped 500C with the auto box.

While the Fiat 500 automatic is a lot bigger than the 1957 original, it’s still pretty compact when compared to a lot of modern cars, and it maintains its predecessor’s classless charm. The curvy lines and cute circular headlamps pay homage to the original 500, although the Fiat Panda-sourced running gear means it has a conventional front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout.

Fiat 500 Cult 2014 rear action

Go for the auto model, and the only difference you’ll see is inside, where the manual car’s leather gaited stick is replaced by a simple lever.This slides effortlessly from Park to Drive, and it also features a manual mode that allows you to change gears yourself.

The Fiat 500 is definitely an easy car to drive, especially around town, where the light steering and nimble handling come into their own. The TwinAir engine has plenty of mid-range acceleration for sprinting away from the lights, too, although the Dualogic auto is a bit jerky when shifting up through the gears.

The Fiat 500 has a five-star Euro NCAP rating and features driver, passenger, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags as standard, and there are two sets of Isofix child seat mountings in the back.

If you brake in an emergency, the hazard lights come on. In terms of reliability, the 500 has had a few niggles, so it’s not the most trustworthy of cars to own, but it’s been around since 2007, so there is plenty of knowledge out there to help with problems.

Fiat 500 Cult 2014 dials

The Fiat 500 isn’t the most practical city car around, but that’s the price you pay for the stylish looks, and besides, the 185-litre boot is still bigger than the one found in the larger Vauxhall Adam (170 litres).

The rear seats fold 50:50 on all but the entry-level model and a maximum load space of 550 litres with the seats folded is pretty good, too. Back seat space is a bit of a squeeze for two adults, and while there’s only a limited range of steering height adjustment, there’s a decent amount of space up front.

Going for the Fiat 500 auto won’t cost you dearly. It adds a £750 premium to all models, but Fiat claims that the Dualogic model is more economical and has lower emissions than the manual car. You’ll struggle to match claimed combined economy of 72.4mpg in everyday use – that’s a common bugbear of the TwinAir engine, not down to the addition of the automatic gearbox – while the 2g/km drop in emissions doesn’t reward you with lower costs as this model already sits in Road Tax Band A. Still, at least you don’t suffer from poorer economy and emissions like some auto-equipped city cars.

Senior test editor

Dean has been part of the Auto Express team for more than 20 years, and has worked across nearly all departments, starting on magazine production, then moving to road tests and reviews. He's our resident van expert, but covers everything from scooters and motorbikes to supercars and consumer products.

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