What is it?
'Cool' is something car manufacturers continually try and fail to capture. 'Retro', however, is a tried and tested winner; it sells cars.Yet even models relying as much on its retro chic as the Fiat 500 need freshening up. For 2015, the iconic city car benefits from just that.
Careful not to ruin one of the 500's main selling points, Fiat has kept exterior changes to a minimum. New headlights, front and rear bumpers and grille are the headline changes. Inside, it gets upgraded materials, more standard kit and a new infotainment system.
The from-launch engine line-up starts with a 68bhp 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol unit, followed by 84bhp and 104bhp versions of Fiat's 0.9-litre two-cylinder TwinAir. A 99g/km 'Eco' version of the 1.2 could go on sale soon, as well as a 1.3 diesel. It's the lower-powered TwinAir we're focusing on here.
What's it like?
As quirky as it always was, albeit not strictly speaking the best city car on sale today. The Volkswagen Up and its Seat and Skoda siblings have shown us that it's possible to enjoy decent driving dynamics, but the 500 can't match them.
Its steering offers up no feedback and feels inconsistently weighted throughout a turn when you start to push. Of course, pressing the 'city steering' button on the dash drops the weight of the helm to comically low levels and makes tight, twisty urban navigation a cinch, which is arguably more important.
It won't be long until the front tyres start to give up their grip, and you'll notice the 500's body is prone to swaying its way through bends a tad more than a Hyundai i10 or an Up/Mii/Citigo would. That said, given the target audience, we doubt any of this will prove to be a deal-breaker.
Our potted Italian test route exposed the 500's poor ride, too. Low-speed bumps are felt and heard too often, with vertical body movement the order of the day. High-speed driving is more settled, although expansion joints still thud their way inside.
The best-selling 500 engine is the 1.2, a unit that needs serious coaxing beyond the city limits. This pricier TwinAir is a different story; even in 84bhp form it feels far more urgent, spinning up more quickly and forcing you up through the five-speed manual with greater haste.
Trouble is, beyond 5000rpm the urgency dies off rapidly, meaning you have a tighter window in which to work. Far more noise and vibration are felt in the cabin at higher revs, too, and the TwinAir's manual gearbox suffers the same lack of precision as the 1.2's.
Fiat has been busy improving soundproofing for this new 500, but our example suffered a similar level of tyre roar at high speeds to the previous model, although the retro looks help elsewhere, as wind noise is never an issue.
Two adults will have sufficient space in the front seats, but the driver may find it difficult to fine-tune a position due to an abesence of reach adjustment on the steering wheel and a poor range of driver's seat adjustment to go with it - not uncommon in this class. A new-for-2015 glovebox is a decent size and a welcome addition.
Rivals such as the i10 have shown that adults can sit in the back of city cars, but the 500's rear quarters are too tight for most. Boot capacity is 185 litres, which is smaller than most rivals and features a large lip to lift heavy bags over. Split-folding rear seats are standard from mid-range Pop Star trim up.
Interior quality is a strong point, with substantial plastics in all the right places. Lounge models get a Uconnect touchscreen system already seen in various other Fiats, Alfas and Jeeps. Its 5.0in screen is underlined by clear menu buttons and it's easy to navigate, but there are more responsive systems in this class that aren't affected so badly by bright sunlight.
Importantly, the Uconnect system now supports smartphone app integration, something uncommon in this class but increasingly sought after by the younger, tech-aware group of people walking into showrooms and buying them.
All 500s now get LED daytime running lights, USB and aux sockets, a multi-function steering wheel and electric front windows. Pop Star models add air-con, 15in alloy wheels and split-folding rear seats, while Lounge cars get the touchscreen infotainment system, rear parking sensors and a leather steering wheel.
Should I buy one?
The truth is, the fact that the Fiat 500 isn't the best city car to drive, sit in or live with won't matter to most. Styling is king, and there's little doubt Fiat's city car is a desirable as it ever was, as well as being more interactive in terms of its infotainment.
A key factor, though, is price. We're yet to have confirmed residuals and therefore PCP finance offers from Fiat, but based on brochure prices alone, the 500 looks decidedly pricey next to rivals such as the Volkswagen Up and Hyundai i10.
Okay, so these cars don't possess anywhere near the same character, but they're both far more rounded packages and are available for lower list prices or on very competitive monthly finance plans. Ultimately, we'd keep the 500 as cheap as possible and stick to the 1.2.
Fiat 500 0.9 85 TwinAir Lounge
Location Turin; On Sale September; Price £13,940; Engine 2 cyls, 875cc, turbo, petrol; Power 84bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 107lb ft at 1900rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 930kg; 0-62mph 11.0sec; Top speed 107mph; Economy 74.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 90g/km, 13%