First the Volkswagen Beetle, then the Mini and now the Fiat 500. With all, the script is the same: a small, cheap, utilitarian car that became iconic through its engineering purity and brilliance. Years later, the model is relaunched as a heavily styled object, with the emphasis on premium build and desirability.

The original Nova 500 was so basic that it was conceived partly as an alternative to a scooter. There was one engine option and it had just two seats (at launch), plus suicide doors. By comparison, pour over the options list of the latest 500 and you’ll find up to 549,396 different ways of specifying the car.

But despite the obvious emphasis on novelty and design with this type of car, done properly the appeal need not necessarily subside. Because it’s solidly built and great to drive, the 500 has morphed successfully into a second-generation car.

First shown in 2007, 50 years after the launch of the Cinquecento that inspired it, the 500 has proved a hit for Fiat, pulling in sales and hugely improving the brand’s image. But don't think this car is all about retro - the TwinAir version is easily the most mechanically radical member in the line-up, its two-cylinder motor introducing Fiat’s acclaimed MultiAir valve system in the 500 for the first time.

In terms of pricing Fiat is pitching the TwinAir above the 1.2-litre, four-cylinder model and fractionally beneath the more sensible-feeling 1.4. Even more expensive is the 1.3 Multijet diesel version. At the top of the range is the Abarth, which features a bespoke front end and 1.4-litre turbo engine.

All engine variants and trim levels can also be had as a convertible, but command a significant premium over their tin-top equivalents.

So, is the new 500 more than style over substance? Read through our full Fiat 500 review to find out.

Top 5 Superminis

  • Ford Fiesta
    Fiestas sold in Europe are ostensibly the same as those sold in America and Asia

    Ford Fiesta

    1
  • Mini Cooper
    Its various improvements make the new Mini more desirable and practical than ever before

    Mini Cooper

    2
  • Renault Clio
    Distinctive styling details are taken from the showstopping Renault Dezir concept car

    Renault Clio

    3
  • Volkswagen Polo
    The Polo is a polished, mature-feeling, spacious supermini

    Volkswagen Polo

    4
  • The Honda Jazz is an expensive small car, especially the hybrid version

    Honda Jazz

    5

First drives

Videos

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Fiat range

Driven this week

  • Car review
    30 June 2015
    Expectations are high and the competition fierce. Can it deliver?
  • First Drive
    30 June 2015
    Anniversary edition of Alpina's hot 5 Series gets 591bhp and can hit 204mph. Is it now a match for a Panamera Turbo?
  • First Drive
    30 June 2015
    Significant upgrades to the M6's Competition Package only serve to lift its appeal even more
  • First Drive
    29 June 2015
    Third-gen MPV exudes characteristic Volkswagen refinements, so it's solid, upmarket, smart and practical – albeit a bit bland
  • First Drive
    29 June 2015
    This Tucson is proof Hyundai hasn’t run out of momentum. It could be a genuine Qashqai rival