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The 500 is a deserved success story for Fiat, offering bags of style, a fine drive and low costs

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 Fiat 500 and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of different ways of specifying the car.

First shown in 2007, 50 years after the launch of the Cinquecento that inspired it, the 500 has proved a hit for Fiat

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. Credit Fiat for not being stubborn with the Fiat 500, and witnessing an opportunity, in the same vein as Mini, and expanded the 500 range to include the Fiat 500L, Fiat 500L MPW, Fiat 500 convertible and the Fiat 500X, so its cute retro styling has certainly been very well received.

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 2015, this retro re-run was given a much needed facelift which apparently saw 1900 changes made to Fiat's winning formula - most noticeably tweaks to the headlights, tail lights and bumpers.

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Fiat 500 engine line-up and trim levels

At the top of the range, Fiat got its tuning house Abarth to sprinkle its magic over the 500 and subsquently created the Abarth 595, 595 Turismo and Abarth 595 Competizione. As you would expect, each model gets more aggressive and sporty as you go through the range, while the track-day engineered Abarth 695 Biposto remained on the pre-facelift model.

In the standard Fiat 500 range, which is non-electric - there is also a Fiat 500 of the same name which is electric-only, confusingly. There are five trims available: Sport, Red, Hey Google, Dolcevita, Connect and Pop. All trims are also available in the convertible variant. There is now only one engine available for the 500 - a 1.0-litre 68bhp mild hybrid.

So, is the new 500 more than style over substance?

More on the Fiat 500

Nearly new guide: Fiat 500

Fiat 500 line-up refreshed for 2021

Fiat 500X review


Fiat 500 First drives