From £9,9157
First UK test of Fiat's best-selling city car, which has been overhauled for 2015

Our Verdict

Fiat 500

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

Mark Tisshaw
3 September 2015

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%

Join the debate

Comments
12

3 September 2015
For £1,300 more or 10% you could have a Mini. 0-60 I'm under 10 lot less deprecation and the same consumption.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

5 September 2015
xxxx wrote:

For £1,300 more or 10% you could have a Mini. 0-60 I'm under 10 lot less deprecation and the same consumption.

Unlike the Mini, this IS mini...

3 September 2015
and it's got DAB

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

3 September 2015
This update represents a real missed opportunity for FIAT. The 500 was a great looking car undermined by indifferent dynamics, so that should have been the focus of the update. Instead, the cosmetic changes are just that; changes rather than significant improvements ànd, IMHO, have taken away some of the purity and charm of the pre-facelift model. Doubtless it will continue to sell, but for how long more? It's already eight years old and, as it is purely a fashion item, the impact of this facelift will quickly fade. Should we conclude that FIAT lacked the skill or the budget to make meaningful improvements? The 500 is actually the polar opposite of the MINI, which arguably has become less pretty with each new model, but is now a tremendously well engineered car and dynamically brilliant.

4 September 2015
Daniel Joseph wrote:

The 500 is actually the polar opposite of the MINI

True, the 500 (and the DS3) are about 15 years behind the Mini, both being based on cheap and ancient platforms. But they've clearly ripped off the Mini's style. These cars are what the Mini could easily have been if Rover had run the entire project as they would have based it on the decrepit R3, complete with chunks of Maestro DNA. That most 500 buyers don't care a whit about the oily bits is probably best.

4 September 2015
It's not just dynamically inferior either: take a look a photo no. 6 above, and specifically the plastic mouldings below the steering wheel and right-hand air vent, down into the footwell. It's a long time since I've seen such a cheap looking and ill fitting assembly in a car interior. I know most potential buyers will be dazzled by the shiny dashboard, but this just screams cheap to me. I've actually spent a couple of hours sorting out an electrical problem in a current 500, which required access to the fuse board cunningly hidden behind the glovebox, so I can confirm that the quality of these plastic mouldings is very poor. A basic Mini One might be £1,300 more, but it is, IMHO, money well spent. All that being said, I still like seeing 500s on the road (but would never put my own money into one).

4 September 2015
A number of months ago, I was given a Fiat 500 as a loaner, while my car was being serviced. I did not have smile on my face when I dropped it off back at the dealership, to pick up my car. For the life of me I just don't understand why anyone would even consider buying one of these. It's just an odd-looking piece of junk that doesn't at all drive well.

4 September 2015
Whilst I know this magazine is aimed at enthusiasts you have to remember we are in the minority, most car purchases are made without any reference to a car magazine so I think the 500 will continue to sell really well as it is still one of the nicest city cars to sit in and own, I personally found it quite good fun to drive the 1.2 that I had a go in, certainly no worse than any other city car and compared with the mini it is far better equipped and still 1300 cheaper, if you get a lower specified car it is considerably cheaper than the base mini, I don't really see them as competitors, the mini is bigger for one thing, in the same way that the vw beetle isn't a competitor, 3 different size retro cars selling in different price points, of course there is crossover, always is with high spec small cars and low spec next size up. I didn't find it anywhere near as bad as the review, perhaps they need to give it a chance to be run in as I found the 1.2 to be quite gutsy at low revs and a pretty lively performer throughout, it is after all a base spec low powered engine.

Him

4 September 2015
1900 changes, and no-one thought to see if they could fix the stoopidest feature of all - look at the pics above... see the handbrake? Look just to the right... yup, that really is a seat adjustment lever that scrapes your knuckles every time you apply the handbrake, assuming you haven't actually grabbed the nearer, bigger lever by mistake. How this continues in production baffles me.

4 September 2015
Wouldn't be the first time a right hand drive model has had to suffer some ergonomic problems. My guess is that they have only developed one seat design with adjustment, and on the left hand drive model with the same seat being on the left, the lever would be fine by the door. Elsewhere, we learn of Marchionne's view on where the car industry is going (excessive spend on development costs etc). This lever could be make or break, perhaps. But even the likes of VW cut corners. It always annoyed me that the handbrake lever on my Mk5 Golf was sited to the left of the central unit, which was the "wrong" side of the cup holders and was also very close too to a passengers thighs! On the Mk7, it is still there, but is electronic, so not as much of an issue.

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