£10,420 - £16,070 Price range
58 - 76 MPG
Inspired by the iconic Italian city car from the 1950s, the new Fiat 500 was met with a very positive reception when it first launched in 2007.
It gets mostly favourable reviews from the critics, who all seem to admire its retro looks, its cheeky character and the surprisingly adequate practicality for such a small car. Bringing a splash of 1950s Italian flair to the often staid city car segment, the Fiat trades on chic value – but there’s a lot more to the 500 than fashion alone. There are a few flaws, but overall it’s still a very impressive little car.
Much like the exterior, the design of the 500’s cabin harks back to the roots of its ancestor, with plenty of nostalgic references in the layout of the controls and gauges. Build quality is also quite good, though there were some complaints about some cheap materials – though it’s bright, airy and cheerful up in the front.
Despite being quite a short car, there’s a decent amount of space inside by supermini standards, though there isn’t a huge amount of knee and head room for rear passengers. The boot is a miserly 185 litres, though it’s about par for the class.
Being a supermini, it’s a pretty useful bit of kit in town. Visibility is decent, and all the controls are light and easy to use – there’s even a mode that lightens up the steering to help with parking manoeuvres. It’s also quite a fun car to drive, especially on flowing roads.
However, it’s not quite as sharp or as composed as its main rival, the Mini, because the suspension is too soft to prevent body roll, the ride is a bit jiggly and there isn’t a huge amount of feedback through the wheel. Some testers report a fair amount of road noise at higher speeds as well.
There’s a small array of engines on offer, and all are well suited to city life, especially the nippy little petrols. There’s 1.2-litre conventional petrol engines offering 70hp and two versions of the 0.9-litre “TwinAir” two-cylinder engines, with 85hp and 105hp. The 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel, with 105hp, rounds out the selection.
All the motors offer decent amounts of power for a car of this size, and all return good fuel economy figures, especially the diesel and TwinAir models. None are particularly rapid to 60mph though: 10-13 seconds is the range of best figures – but none is in a higher VED (tax) bracket than band C.
There have been a few complaints regarding intrusive engine noise on some of the petrol models, especially at motorway speeds, and the Dualogic automatic option is not recommended unless you really need an auto.
Reviews of the quirky TwinAir equipped 500 are generally fairly positive. Quite a few critics are big fans of it, stating that the dinky little engine is a hoot to use, offers good pace and, on paper at least, returns hugely impressive fuel economy.
Fiat bills this as the most efficient petrol engine on sale today, it's road tax exempt and gets nearly 70 mpg on the combined cycle. It’s also fairly brisk for a car with such a small and frugal engine – there’s decent power and torque on offer across the rev band, so it has enough poke to get up to motorway speeds.
It’s not all a barrel of laughs, though – some testers thought that the engine’s characterful thrum, though pleasant in town, was a bit irritating on longer journeys, it’s not the cheapest 500 on sale and some testers had difficulty matching the lofty fuel economy figures. That being said, the TwinAir is still an efficient, affordable and charming option that’s certainly worthy of your attention.
Despite being one of the most basic 500 variants on sale, the 1.2 petrol model still gets some fairly impressive reviews. Most of the critics are quite fond of it, with favourable comments being given to its affordability, cheap running costs and alluring charm.
With only 68bhp and a relatively narrow torque band, the 1.2 petrol model certainly isn’t the quickest in the range, with some testers complaining about its lethargic nature and lack of refinement at higher speeds. That being said, it’s not terribly slow, can still return nearly 50 mpg when equipped with the stop/start system, and a handful of testers thought that it suited the car fairly well in urban environments.
Overall, the 1.2 petrol is a good engine that does have some alluring merits – the asking price is low, and it claims to be an affordable unit to run and its highly usable in towns and cities. That being said, it’s not the best engine in the range, so we’d recommend having a look at the other options as well.
Though Italian cars are often depicted with small petrol engines, the only diesel 500 in the range appears to be just as capable as its petrol powered siblings. Testers were hugely impressed with the cheap running costs, a fairly supple ride and an improvement in refinement over the petrol models.
With a claimed combined figure of 67 mpg and a low CO2 output, the MultJet 500 is amongst one of the most efficient models in the range. However, there are more benefits to the diesel than just fuel economy – the unique suspension setup for the diesel model means it’s not quite as unsettled on rougher surfaces as the petrols are, and it’s much more refined at motorway speeds as well.
There are a few downsides, though, albeit mostly on a subjective level. Some didn’t think that the diesel suited the 500’s character as well as the fizzy petrols do, it’s still a bit on the slow side and a well specified TwinAir offers similar levels of efficiency for the same price as the most basic diesel model.
If you intend to use it primarily as a citycar, then we’d be more inclined to recommend the cheaper petrol models. However, if you’re the sort of person who does lots of long journeys, then the refinement and efficiency of the MultiJet model would make sense in the long run.
The general consensus of the top spec 500 is that it’s a fairly impressive little car. Critics appear to be quite pleased with the extra power the 1.4 motor has over most of the other engines in the range, along with its relative affordability and peppy characteristics. However, a few didn’t think it was the one they’d personally go for.
Being the largest and most powerful engine in the non-Abarth line-up, the 1.4 petrol motor has a fair bit more grunt over the lesser variants, though some did reckon that it was a bit weedy at lower revs. That being said, it’s superior to the other petrol engines on motorway journeys, part of which can be down to the six speed transmission (the other 500s only get a five speed), and the claimed 45 mpg is perfectly reasonable for such a car.
However, there are other areas of the car which weren’t so satisfactory. Despite the extra gear, it’s still a bit noisy at higher speeds, and the other engines on offer are noticeably cheaper to buy and run. It’s a good little car, and one that has quite a few distinct USPs over some of the other 500 variants, but we’d recommend having a look at the other engine options.
The Fiat was tested on its original launch and scored five stars for adult occupant safety, with three stars in the child occupant safety test. The Euro NCAP testing regime has changed in the intervening years to be a bit more stringent and it’s likely the 500 would be broadly equivalent to a four star car these days – pretty much on a par with its peers.
The range was updated fairly recently and the 500 now has all the expected electronic driver safety aids and seven airbags – one more than most cars even in the next two classes up – so it is likely to perform just as well, if not better, in a repeat test.
The 500 is quite good value, all things considered. It’s not the cheapest supermini on the market, but it’s still an affordable car to buy and does undercut its premium rivals by a noticeable margin, while toting that fashionable brand identity that money can’t buy. Depreciation is remarkably slow for a car of this type.
Running costs are quite low with good fuel economy, low insurance and low VED (tax_ costs, and even the most basic models have a decent amount of kit as standard, but there’s loads of personalisation options to vacuum up any spare cash you’ve got lying about.
Retro is a divisive issue – you either love it or hate it, and the trendy crowd has adopted the FIAT 500 with glee. It’s not without some shortcomings though. In attempting to ape the form of the rear-engined FIAT “Nuova” 500 of the 1950s the designers have compromised the rear space just as much as in the original.
To see what the car could have been without the limitations of nostalgia one only needs to glance sideways in the FIAT range to the Panda, which has the same underpinnings but a more contemporary body – and is all the better for it. But for just you and a significant other, the 500 is one of the coolest, cheapest cars on sale today.
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