Fiat 500 review
Few cars can match the Fiat 500’s charming blend of style and everyday usability. Other city cars are more comfortable, better equipped and more practical, though.
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Certain clothes only work in very specific situations. You’d struggle to wear a miniskirt and heels when climbing Mount Snowdon, for example, and tweeds and brogues don’t work so well at the beach. For the same reason, the Fiat 500 is in its element on short urban commutes or popping into town, but not quite so happy on long cross-country schleps.
There are plenty of compact city cars out there, but none looks quite as fashionable as the Fiat 500. Its cutesy retro design is a refreshing splash in a flat grey sea of serious city cars. It’s certainly more of a head-turner than the likes of the boxy SEAT Mii and VW Up.
Things get even funkier inside, where you can personalise your Fiat 500 with loads of colourful trims and bold seat fabrics. The seats themselves aren’t the comfiest, but there’s plenty of adjustment to help you get a good view out and all the controls are grouped sensibly together so they’re a doddle to use.
That said, the Fiat 500’s touchscreen infotainment system takes a bit of getting used to, but you can always connect your phone and use its apps instead.
Sadly, there isn’t much you can do about the Fiat 500’s cramped seats. Two adults in the front will be fine, but anyone close to six-feet tall will struggle for knee- and headroom in the back, and there isn’t a great deal of space left in the Fiat 500’s boot for everyone’s luggage.
The Fiat 500 is one of the most fun small cars around – not just for how it looks but also for the sheer number of characterful options you can choose from to make it your own.
You probably won’t be packing the Fiat 500 with loads of bulky baggage though, will you? More likely you’ll be doing the school run, heading to work or popping to the shops. In these respects, it does a great job. Kids will have no trouble jumping into the back and the Fiat 500’s small size makes it just the thing for nipping through traffic and squeezing into tight parking spaces.
Its two petrol engines – including an economical mild-hybrid model – are well-suited to town driving, too, and the light steering and decent visibility help you avoid car-park bumps and scrapes.
Sure, it isn’t the most comfortable small car out there and it’s a bit noisy at speed, but it’ll tackle a twisty country road without much body lean and most models come with cruise control to help make the occasional motorway journey a bit more bearable. It’s just a shame that you can’t get the Fiat 500 with automatic emergency braking.
But, you shouldn’t let this put you off if you’re looking for a seriously stylish city car that’s cheap to run, easy to drive and comes with plenty of personalisation options.
Even for a tiny city car, the Fiat 500 isn’t particularly spacious, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble carrying one adult and a couple of kids in the back.
The Fiat 500 is a very small city car, but there’s still enough space in the front seats for people over six-foot-tall to get comfortable. Besides entry-level Pop cars, every Fiat 500 comes with a height-adjustable driver’s seat but, even with this in its lowest setting, very tall drivers might brush their head against the roof of cars fitted with a panoramic glass roof.
The seats themselves aren’t particularly supportive, but high-spec models do come with adjustable lumbar support to help prevent backache on long trips. The lever for this is right next to the handbrake, though, so you may find yourself accidentally adjusting your seat each time you do a hill start.
The Fiat 500’s two back seats are more cramped than those in the dinky VW Up. The front seats fold forwards a decent way to let passengers climb into the back, but there’s only space for smaller adults or kids to get comfortable back there.
There’s very little headroom and knee room is very tight if there’s anyone close to six-foot-tall in the front seats. You can fit a pair of child seats using the easy-to-access Isofix anchor points, but it’s a real pain to lift a large rear-facing seat through the Fiat 500’s front doors.
You don’t get many handy storage cubbies in the Fiat 500. There’s a pair of cupholders in the centre console next to a pair of USB ports, but the glove box isn’t particularly large and the door bins are very thin.
There are a couple of extra cupholders between the front seats for those in the back, but there isn’t a folding armrest or any hidden storage cubbies.
The Fiat 500 has 185 litres of boot space with the back seats up. That’s significantly less than you can fit in the back of a VW Up and the Fiat 500’s slanted bootlid limits the height of the luggage you can carry. There’s space for two small suitcases and a soft bag, but that’s your lot.
Entry-level Pop cars come with a one-piece rear bench seat but all other Fiat 500 models get two-way 50:50 split-folding rear seats so you can carry one passenger and some longer items poking through from the boot. But, even with both back seats flipped down, the Fiat 500 can only carry 550 litres of luggage. That’s just over half over what the VW Up can manage.
There’s a significant step up in the floor behind the back seats, which can make it tricky to slide in heavy items to the front, and you won’t be able to carry a bike without removing at least one of its wheels first.
The Fiat 500 is easy to drive in town and can be had with a fuel-saving mild-hybrid engine, but alternatives are more comfortable and come with better safety tech.
You can get the Fiat 500 with two petrol engines and with either a manual or automatic gearbox.
If you’re worried about fuel consumption, go for the Fiat 500 with a 70hp 1.0-litre mild-hybrid engine. This pairs a three-cylinder petrol unit with a small electric motor and a battery pack hidden under the passenger’s seat to help reduce fuel consumption when you’re cruising or accelerating at slow speeds.
These features work away quietly in the background, with only an occasional flashing icon on the digital driver’s display to let you know they’re doing their job. The 1.0-litre petrol engine itself is impressively smooth for a three-cylinder unit and comes with a six-speed manual gearbox that helps the Fiat 500 cruise quietly at motorway speeds.
Don’t go expecting this hybrid model to cost pennies to run, but you should be able to get close to Fiat’s claimed 53mpg figure if you go easy on the accelerator.
The 69hp 1.2-litre petrol model delivers reasonably punchy in-town performance, but it’s linked to an automatic gearbox that’s a bit sluggish to respond and can be jerky at slow speeds. It’s pretty smooth and doesn’t grumble loudly when you accelerate.
The Fiat 500’s small size helps make it dead easy to drive in town. You sit relatively high up (well, for a tiny car at least) and the large windows give you a good view out. The rear pillars beside the boot lid can make it a little tricky to reverse, but at least the Fiat 500’s steering is nice and light so your arms won’t get tired after a few parallel parking manoeuvres.
Its suspension tries its best to soak up bumps in town but large potholes still send an unpleasant thud through your seat. Head out of town and the Fiat 500 becomes more comfortable, but it still shakes and shimmies over sudden bumps more than most small cars. If you’re looking for something small and comfortable, the Ford Ka+ Active is worth a look.
At least the Fiat 500 doesn’t feel out of its depth in the bends and it doesn’t lean as much as the taller Panda in tight corners, but don’t go thinking the standard car will be as fun to drive as the sportier Abarth 595.
It isn’t particularly relaxing to drive at motorway speeds, either. Sure, hybrid versions with a six-speed manual gearbox are a little better-suited to longer trips, but you’ll still hear a fair bit of wind and tyre noise at speed.
You do at least get cruise-control as standard on all but entry-level Pop models to help make long drives a bit more bearable. But, it’s a shame that you can’t get the Fiat 500 with automatic emergency braking to help stop the car automatically if it detects an obstacle in the road ahead.
The Fiat 500’s super stylish interior comes with plenty of cool personalisation features but entry-level models lack basic kit and its infotainment system is average.
Fiat 500 colours
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