Initially, design is what sells the Fiat 500. The proportions of the original have been replicated here, which is an achievement in itself, given that the original was a two-seater with an air-cooled engine in the back, and this is a four-seater with a water-cooled engine, mounted more conventionally in the front.

The 500 is obviously a successor to the 1957 car, but not slavishly so. It didn’t, for instance, have secondary lights below the round headlights like the modern car. It didn’t have to contend with Euro NCAP crash tests, either; that the 500 manages a five-star rating is testament to Fiat’s engineers.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
The Fiat 500 remains one of the most desirable city cars on the market

Lines down the current 500’s bonnet are reminiscent of the original Cinquecento, although back in the day it was just a chrome rubbing strip down the lid’s middle. Manufacturing techniques back then wouldn’t have allowed such crisp folds as this. The facelift gave the 500 more prominient headlights and rear lights, but doesn't ultimately alter the small Fiat's allure.

Despite the 500’s diminutive length, parking sensors are still available to protect the bulbous rear end. The bumper looks neater without them and they’re not really necessary on the hatch, but they’re more useful on the convertible; when the roof is down it’s tricky to judge where the rear of the car stops.

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Those looking for other nods to the original may like to look at the top-end Lounge trim, which gets you a fixed glass-roof panel (with a blind) of much the same proportions as the hole in the roof provided by the ’57 500’s fabric, flip-back top. For a fraction of the cost of the convertible, with its part-folding soft-top, you can have the glass roof panel open electrically.

The Abarth versions get big side skirts and bumpers, a tasty rear spoiler and what looks like a venturi at the back. Fiat has ticked all the boxes of the modern performance car cliché to give the 500 a bit of aggression – although, like watching an angry animal, it is hard to take the 595 Abarth totally seriously as it slips deeper into hot-hatchback caricature.

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