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Fiat eases into the world of electrification with a new mild-hybrid version of the 500 city car. We put it to the test

Our Verdict

Fiat 500 review hero front

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

Simon Davis
5 February 2020
Fiat 500 Hybrid Launch Edition 2020

What is it?

It is incredible to think that the reborn Fiat 500’s existence now spans three decades.

It’s with a mild sense of incredulity that, in 2020, we’re still writing about what is essentially the same car that was launched all the way back in 2007. Sure, there was a midlife facelift back in 2015, and the engine line-up has changed slightly over the course of its 13-year lifetime, but even so it doesn’t seem inaccurate to say that the modern 500 is now quite an old car.

The reason that the little 500 is appearing here yet again is because Fiat has decided to electrify it. Well, electrify it a little bit. We won’t see the fully-electric 500e until its breaks cover at the Geneva show later this year, so for now this 500 Mild Hybrid - along with the new Panda Mild Hybrid - represents the vanguard of FCA’s electrification programme.

Take the 'mild' part of that name seriously, though. This isn’t a 500 that can run for brief periods of time on electricity alone - not that that’s stopped Fiat from marketing it as the 500 Hybrid in Europe anyway. Bit cheeky, that.

Here, the 500’s 1.0-litre, three-cylinder motor has been paired with a 12-volt belt-integrated starter generator (BSG) and a seperate 11Ah lithium battery - all of which develops a mighty 69bhp and 68lb ft. Like many mild hybrids we’ve seen before, the BSG harvests energy during braking and deceleration and stores it in the battery so that it can then be used to aid acceleration, or power the car’s auxiliaries when the petrol engine switches off when you’re waiting at the lights.

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Usually these systems contribute to fairly minor reductions in fuel use and CO2 emissions, and can generally come across as a bit of a cynical response to ever increasing legislative pressure to make cars cleaner and greener. It’s tricky to shake that cynicism here too - though for what it’s worth Fiat reckons the new 12v architecture contributes to a 30% reduction in CO2 over the old 1.2-litre four-pot. 

What's it like?

In hectic, stop-start Turin traffic the extra assistance provided by the diminutive electric motor is only just discernible, but is welcome nonetheless. Coupled with sensibly-weighted pedals and a light - if a little slushy - manual gear change, the process of getting the naturally-aspirated 500 Mild Hybrid off the line smoothly is a doddle.

Progress from there on in isn’t rapid, though, and you really need to thrash the engine in order to make meaningful progress. So it’s a good thing it seems pretty content with the idea of being revved out, and the noise it makes on an open throttle isn’t too bad either. The 500 has been criticised in the past for being a bit noisy under load, and next to the likes of the Volkswagen Up is probably still a bit on the loud side. But it’s hardly deafening, and is unlikely to dissuade anyone who’s sold on the looks to make a quick exit from their local Fiat dealer.

The same probably applies to its ride and handling. The Volkswagen Group cars are more well-rounded and polished next to the at-times lumpy 500, but it’s still a strangely endearing car to drive. The steering is a bit vague and entirely lacking in feel, body roll is relatively pronounced and front-end grip far from limitless - but the fact remains that the Fiat feels like it’s trying really hard to impress you. And to be honest, this eager-to-please character does go some way to helping you at least partially forgive some of its more obvious dynamic flaws. 

The cabin feels as style-driven as ever, with seats upholstered in material fashioned out of recycled plastic providing a fitting nod to the 500’s new eco-credentials. The driving position is still pretty terrible, mind: a lack of adjustability in the seat base means taller drivers sit very close to the roof and bent-legged over the pedals.

Should I buy one?

Well, if you’re sold on the idea of Fiat 500 ownership you don’t really have a choice. From now on every new 500 that Fiat makes will only be available with this new mild-hybrid powertrain - at least until the 500e goes on sale anyway. 

Prices for the 500 Mild Hybrid start at £12,665 and move up to £16,795 for our range-topping Launch Edition model, which is about what you’d expect for a car of this size. But with all-electric versions of the Skoda Citigo starting around the same price point as this flagship 500, it’s tempting to just shun the concept of the ICE city car altogether.

Fiat 500 Mild Hybrid Launch Edition

Where Turin, Italy Price £16,795 On sale now Engine 3 cyls, 999cc, petrol with 12V BSG electric motor Power 69bhp at 6000rpm Torque 68lb ft at 3500rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 980kg (est) 0-62mph 13.8sec Top speed 104mph Fuel economy 53.3mpg CO2 WLTP figures tbc Rivals Volkswagen Up, Skoda Citigo

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Comments
16

5 February 2020
This should be called the Fiat Tesco edition - "every little helps."

Or the "lip-service" edition.

5 February 2020

For something this slow and small.  Up GTI or Suzuki Swift Sport is only £250 more, or for less money get slower versions, want to save fuel get a UP electric at only 15% more. These types of Hybrid city cars are never gonna save the planet, to smaller a petrol saving for that.

Still can't get over that poor performance or price 

5 February 2020
xxxx wrote:

For something this slow and small.  Up GTI or Suzuki Swift Sport is only £250 more, or for less money get slower versions, want to save fuel get a UP electric at only 15% more. These types of Hybrid city cars are never gonna save the planet, to smaller a petrol saving for that.

Still can't get over that poor performance or price 

Don't forget the price is for the highest spec launch edition, most will be less. Any emission saving over the old 1.2 is surely a good thing, even though it's wasn't that bad at 119g/km, unfortunately we don't yet know how much better this actually is.
Comparing this with an up GTi is unfair as you could spec a high up to reach beyond up GTi price, now I'm not so sure as a lot of the ice versions seem to be gone.
This is still one of the best looking city cars out there and unless they have somehow ruined it, also one of the most fun to drive. Look forward to seeing how the ev version fares against its competitors.

5 February 2020
si73 wrote:
xxxx wrote:

For something this slow and small.  Up GTI or Suzuki Swift Sport is only £250 more, or for less money get slower versions, want to save fuel get a UP electric at only 15% more. These types of Hybrid city cars are never gonna save the planet, to smaller a petrol saving for that.

Still can't get over that poor performance or price 

Don't forget the price is for the highest spec launch edition, most will be less. Any emission saving over the old 1.2 is surely a good thing, even though it's wasn't that bad at 119g/km, unfortunately we don't yet know how much better this actually is.
Comparing this with an up GTi is unfair as you could spec a high up to reach beyond up GTi price, now I'm not so sure as a lot of the ice versions seem to be gone.
This is still one of the best looking city cars out there and unless they have somehow ruined it, also one of the most fun to drive. Look forward to seeing how the ev version fares against its competitors.

Suzuki Swift Sport is pretty much the highest spec version. Up GTI with a few extras will still come in around £16.5k. I kinda think it sounds to slow to be fun to drive after a week of ownership.

5 February 2020
Fair enough, just saying high spec lower powered versions of the up are similarly priced

5 February 2020
You're looking at it all wrong, the people who buy these (often young females) absolutely love them in a way that an Up or Suzuki is never going to be loved. My daughter is on her 2nd and for her it's absolutely great, gets her around Edinburgh with aplomb and she drives it down to Devon a few times a year no problem. Many of her friends have them and they couldn't care less about 0-60 times, it's just such a cheerful little car with bags of character.

5 February 2020
mrking wrote:

You're looking at it all wrong, the people who buy these (often young females) absolutely love them in a way that an Up or Suzuki is never going to be loved. My daughter is on her 2nd and for her it's absolutely great, gets her around Edinburgh with aplomb and she drives it down to Devon a few times a year no problem. Many of her friends have them and they couldn't care less about 0-60 times, it's just such a cheerful little car with bags of character.

Yes but not this Hybrid version and perhaps they were secondhand cars and not therefore not £15k

5 February 2020
yes they were around this price, she really wanted a red leather interior and to be fair everyone that goes in it loves how it looks. I think boys tend to look at ££££ v's Spec whereas girls sometimes just see something they want and go for it. An Up! is basically a square box with wheels, and no matter how good the 0-60 is, it may as well be a fridge or a washing machine.
Also remember, there's good deals verses the rrp either nearly new or by haggling, plus often parents are paying!

5 February 2020
mrking wrote:

yes they were around this price, she really wanted a red leather interior and to be fair everyone that goes in it loves how it looks. I think boys tend to look at ££££ v's Spec whereas girls sometimes just see something they want and go for it. An Up! is basically a square box with wheels, and no matter how good the 0-60 is, it may as well be a fridge or a washing machine.
Also remember, there's good deals verses the rrp either nearly new or by haggling, plus often parents are paying!

Exactly, I m really not a fan of the 500 despite having a soft spot for Italian cars, but anything better than a God awful VW, including walking.

5 February 2020
If not the Up then Suzuki Swift Sport or cheaper 90 hp 1.2 versions. 500 has just become an expensive slow retro bore.

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