What is it?
This season’s must-have fashion accessory. For the autumn/winter 2015 collection, the Fiat 500 has undergone more than 1900 changes. Yes, really; squint really hard and you might even be able to spot a few of them. Five points for noticing those new headlights, a gold star for picking out those new bumpers.
Fiat has quite deliberately applied the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach (other clichés are available) in overhauling the 500. But when it still looks as fresh and cool as this, why tamper with the formula?
Of those 1900 changes, which account for some 40% of the car, not all are trim and spec tweaks aimed at the fashionistas. The engineers have got their hands dirty tweaking the suspension to improved the comfort and handling, bigger brakes have been fitted and the launch range of petrol engines has been revised to boost economy and reduce emissions.
We’ve already sampled the 0.9 Twinair version in Italy, so now it’s time to test the best-selling 1.2 normally aspirated model on our capital’s streets.
What's it like?
Let’s be honest: if you’re already sold on the way the 500 looks, you’re always going to forgive the way it drives. Indeed, your experience in the online configurator is likely more important than the steering feel or how much you can load up the front tyres in a corner.
But for the record, the 500 as a driving tool lags behind its most obvious fashion rival, the Mini. It rates as ‘okay’ across the board; the ride isn’t great, particularly at low speeds, without ever being too uncomfortable, the steering lacks any real feel and there’s never any kind of encouragement from the car to push it into a corner. It’s all a bit wobbly if you do.
This isn’t helped by the fact that it’s tricky to find a good driving position, what with the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel and the overall perception that the 500 is a car you’re sitting on rather in.
The 1.2 engine is hardly a belter either. It’s fine for pottering around the city, but beyond that it soon runs out of puff; getting up hills in particular is not a strong point of this engine. Best move to Norfolk.
If you want the kind of characterful drivetrain to match the looks, that comes form the Twinair engine. This also has its limits, but the performance is delivered in a much cheerier and more involving way.
This all sounds rather downbeat, but even the most hardened road tester cannot step out of the 500 without a smile on their face. Not from the way the car drives, but from the way it makes you feel; the cabin is bright, fun and a doddle to use, and of course there are those looks. It’s a cheerful car, one that it’s almost impossible not to be endeared to. If only it drove better…
Should I buy one?
To refer you back to the previous section, if you like the looks of the 500, the way it drives is a bit of a moot point. Some 80% of buyers go for this 1.2 version, the entry-level engine, so there’s evidence to suggest 500 buyers aren’t looking to pay for any extra performance when they can spend the difference on a higher trim level.
Indeed, the top-spec Lounge spec, which brings with it all the connectivity and infotainment features, and the plushest, most sparkly trim, is the most popular, and Fiat will let you have one for £169 per month with £1500 down. This will tempt many.
More choice is coming later this year in time for the 2016 spring/summer collection: an ‘Eco’ version of the 1.2 will cut CO2 emissions to 99g/km, and a 94bhp 1.3 diesel version with 89g/km is also on its way. Even if they’re no better to drive, don’t expect any drop off in popularity or desirability.
Fiat 500 1.2 Lounge
Location London; On sale Now; Price £12,640; Engine 4 cyls, 1242cc, petrol; Power 68bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 75lb ft at 3000rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 865kg; 0-62mph 12.9sec; Top speed 99mph; Economy 60.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 110g/km, 17%