City cars are generally not known for their engaging handling. Simple suspension layouts, modest limits of grip and generally conservative wheel geometries, intended to promote stability rather than boost agility, see to that. As a result, adequate handling is really all that’s required here. To our great delight, however, the 500 does a lot more than that.

Our test car came on optional 17in wheels shod with 205/45 Continental EcoContact 6 tyres. That’s a pretty meaty tyre section for a car of this size and, as a result, the 500 develops more than decent grip and traction, which is something cheaper EVs can struggle with as their more rudimentary traction control systems fail to contain the instant torque. Other versions of the 500 come on 195- or 185-section tyres, so might behave differently.

17in wheels are standard on the highest trim but optional on most other versions. The 500 won’t ride that smoothly anyway, so you might as well have them. They look great and come with wider tyres.

The car’s suspension is quite stiff and allows very little roll through corners, so although the light steering transmits no tactile road feel, you can be confident in placing the Fiat when going through corners at speed. In fact, it often feels like you don’t need to slow down for corners at all – just aim the car in and hang on, while the agility afforded by the short wheelbase ensures the chassis obeys your instruction in a way that is a bit reminiscent of an original Mini.

At higher speeds, the chassis proves to be stable both at a motorway cruise and when probing the car’s adhesive limits on the Millbrook Hill Route, where it ultimately understeers and then tucks in when lifting off, which is prudent for this kind of car.

Back to top

All this suggests that the 500’s platform would lend itself to a spicier Abarth version. With 180bhp, improved steering, sportier seats and a more playful chassis balance, it would be a great alternative to the Mini Electric, while also having a more usable range.

But none of that need diminish how brilliantly the 500 handles as a city car in its own right. The steering initially feels slow, but that’s only because there is so much lock to play with. The 500 turns on a sixpence if you want it to, while visibility is great due to how close the corners of the car are and how easy it is to judge them.

Assisted driving notes

It’s not a given for a city car to offer as many active safety features as the Fiat 500 does. Action trim gets lane keeping assistance, traffic sign recognition, drowsiness alert and automatic emergency braking.

At the price point, that’s quite respectable. For any form of cruise control, you’ll need to upgrade to Red trim, while adaptive cruise control, lane following assistance, blindspot assistance and a 360deg parking camera are available on Icon and above.

Our Icon test car had only the standard-fit features, but what it had worked quite well. We didn’t experience any false activations from the autonomous emergency braking system, which is able to recognise cyclists and pedestrians. The lane keeping assistance was largely unintrusive on the motorway and can be deactivated easily with a button on the end of the indicator stalk when on country roads.

Comfort and isolation

Ride and handling remain a compromise, but it’s one that Fiat has struck reasonably well with the electric 500. As well as good stability on the motorway, it offers longer-distance comfort and refinement.

That said, the car still makes a much more effective city car than a motorway supermini. In absolute terms there is plenty of wind and road noise about it at motorway speeds, but at least there is no engine screaming out for another gear.

Back to top

Where the car’s particular dynamic trade-off can be most clearly felt is in its low-speed ride. The stiff suspension set-up, short wheelbase and relative lack of wheel dexterity combine to hamstring the ride a little when it’s dealing with bigger bumps, when the 500 can bob and bounce around a bit disconcertingly. You get used to it soon enough, and potholes aren’t necessarily jarring, but you soon come to expect to be jostled at least a little bit by every bump in the road.

Another factor that affects the 500’s comfort is one that will be familiar to drivers of older small cars but can still be startling when stepping into the Fiat from something bigger: that you can feel exposed among traffic here, in a way you won’t feel in full-sized modern superminis. The Fiat’s perched driving position and the closeness of both the passenger door and the end of the bonnet contribute to that sensation. The 500 scored four stars in the most recent Euro NCAP test, showing that it is perfectly safe, but the subjective impression of vulnerability when driving it may still be a factor for some.