Even before it was launched in 2008, few doubted the Fiat 500 would be a hit. The Volkswagen Beetle and, more successfully, the Mini had proved the market for retro was on fire. And so sales of the little Fiat roared ahead and, just like the Mini, it spawned spin-offs in the shape of the convertible, warm and hot Abarth versions, the 500L, 500L MPW seven-seater and Fiat 500X crossover.
But it’s the standard 500 hatch we’re interested in here – specifically, the facelifted version launched in 2015. Fiat claimed it made 1900 changes, including to the bumpers but also to the suspension and brakes, and to the engines in terms of efficiency improvements. Our tester wasn’t entirely convinced but was pleased to note that the 500’s cheeky charm remained intact.
With the 2015 facelift, buyers could choose from three petrol engines: a 68bhp 1.2-litre and a more modern twin-cylinder 0.9-litre, called the TwinAir, in 84bhp and 104bhp outputs. A few months later, an eco version of the 1.2-litre arrived boasting a tax-free 99g/km CO2, as well as a 94bhp 1.3-litre Multijet diesel for the few high-mileage 500 drivers out there.
Easily the biggest seller since 2015 has been the 68bhp 1.2. The motor may lack the TwinAir’s thrummy note and is slower over 0-62mph (12.9sec compared with the 84bhp 0.9-litre Twin Air’s 11.0sec) but it’s cheaper and less juicy. Paired with Lounge trim – there are three specs: Pop, Pop Star and Lounge – it’s a charming, well-equipped runabout.
Superficially, the two 0.9-litre TwinAir motors seem like a better match for the 500. Their sound recalls the original’s air-cooled motor but they do need a light foot to return even reasonable economy, although ones registered before 1 April 2017 are free to tax. The pay-off is stronger performance and an ability to cruise more happily.