First DriveFirst UK test of Fiat's best-selling city car, which has been overhauled for 2015
First DriveIconic Italian city car gets a refresh, with more standard equipment, better infotainment and styling revisions inside and out
What is it?
Only the most eagerly awaited supermini of the year. The new 500 combines a clever take on the design of the 1957 original with modern mechanicals.
Based on the Fiat Panda platform, 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol and a 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel will be available.
Prices haven’t been confirmed ahead of the UK launch later in the year yet, but the good news is that it should undercut the equivalent Mini by a considerable margin.
What’s it like?
Brilliant. The clever design plays light of the fact this car has the engine in the front rather than the rear, while some very clever packaging means Fiat has managed to create a car that offers more space for passengers and luggage than the Mini, despite being both shorter and narrower.
Serious emphasis was given to “perceived quality” and it shows – this is Fiat’s best cabin yet with some quality materials, a well-designed dashboard and a vast array of optional trim colours and finishes.
The driving position is good and details such as the twin-bezelled combined speedometer and rev counter lend the whole thing a classy feel.
Don’t expect rocketship performance, at least, not this side of the forthcoming Abarth version. The entry-level 1.2-litre petrol motor is the sweetest powerplant in the range, smooth and happy to spin enthusiastically when the road opens up.
By contrast the 98bhp 1.4-litre unit feels a bit peaky, delivers progress with a noisy soundtrack and needs to be worked very hard before it feels much quicker than the smaller unit. The MultiJet diesel is a cracker too – torquey, quiet and offering near-70mpg economy.
The only area where the 500 can’t quite match the Mini is on driving dynamics, where high grip levels and predictable on-the-limit manners are let down by the slightly odd-feeling assistance meted out by the electric power steering and lots of roll on hard cornering. But it’s certainly an excellent basis for the forthcoming Abarth version, which should boast a 150 bhp version of Fiat’s new 1.4 litre T-Jet turbocharged petrol motor, to build on.
So should I buy one?
No, you should buy two: how about a base 1.2 with some well-chosen options for schlepping around town and a deposit placed on an Abarth for the weekend?