The challenge: recreate a classic model for the 21st century by giving it modern underpinnings, while making it look like the original car. It doesn’t always work but when it does (as it did for BMW, and arguably here for Fiat), customers tend to snap it up. The Fiat 500 is a modern classic and ideal whether you’re shopping for a first-time driver or just need a cool city run-around.
You probably weren’t driving around when the original Fiat 500 was on the roads – it was produced from the 1950s to the 1970s. The modern 500 that appeared in 2007 was a brilliant reinterpretation, albeit a fair bit longer and wider than the original.
It had to be, really, to comply with safety regs and provide a bit of comfort. We’d say it’s even cuter than the Mini reimagined in 2001. A 2015 facelift made mild tweaks to the styling inside and out, to produce this feat of fashionable retro – you can practically smell the Italian coast when one drifts by.
The Fiat 500 is available as a three-door hatch or a two-door convertible with a fabric roof that rolls back – perfect for sunny seaside drives.
You can practically smell the Italian coast when one drifts by.
What’s it like to drive?
The Fiat 500 is pretty good in town (its natural habitat), thanks to nimble handling. The steering doesn’t really offer anything in the way of feedback. The body leans more in bends than the Mini, while the suspension isn’t great at dealing with poor road surfaces – a VW up! Is better in this regard.
There’s a two-cylinder petrol unit dubbed the TwinAir, which you need to work hard if you want to get a move on – but you’re probably happy cruising at low speeds so everyone can check out the looks.
The 1.2 petrol is better if you head out of town from time to time. The same applies to the 1.3 diesel, which does a decent job on the motorway. The 500’s sporty versions, the Abarth 595 and 695, use a 1.4 petrol, while a mild-hybrid model was introduced in 2020.
The Fiat 500 is pretty good in town (its natural habitat), thanks to nimble handling.
The Fiat 500’s retro theme continues inside, with a main instrument pod ahead of the driver and a colour-coded dashboard with lots of round buttons and Bakelite-style plastics. A smallish touchscreen and a gear lever that sits next to the steering wheel dominate the rest of the dash.
A couple of adults can be comfy in the front seats - although the steering wheel only adjusts for height and the driver’s seat may feel unnaturally high for some. There’s a lot less leg and headroom in the rear pair of seats - the bambinos will be okay there.
The view out of the hatchback is good, and parking sensors are optional. You won’t really need them unless you’re a bad parker. It’s a different story with the cabriolet – if you fold the roof back as far as it’ll go, it concertinas and blocks the rear view.
As standard, most cars get the touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth, a DAB radio, a USB port and a multi-function steering wheel. The touchscreen’s angle can be difficult to see in bright light. Its rounded edges nicely integrate with the dash.
You can’t expect a city car to have oodles of storage space - and the Fiat 500’s glovebox hasn’t got space for much more than, er, a pair of Italian leather gloves. There’s also very little room in the front door bins. At least there are a couple of cup holders between the front seats for a macchiato or two.
Likewise, the boot is a small 185 litres (compared with 211 litres for the three-door Mini hatch and 252 litres for the VW up!). On most models, the Fiat’s rear seat backs split and fold to extend the boot to more than 500 litres. You’ll probably do that only very occasionally – this is a city car, after all. The cabriolet’s boot is the same size as the hatchback, although you have a much smaller boot opening.
Running costs and reliability
The popular 1.2 petrol engine gets 60.1mpg officially. In real-world motoring, this is likely to be in the 40s, especially in town, where stop-start traffic doesn’t help economy. The TwinAir engine returns better figures. You do need to work this engine hard if you head out of town, so bear that in mind.
Naturally, the 1.4 in the Abarth versions is the thirstiest of the lot. The diesel can achieve economy into the 60s.
What we love
We love the Fiat 500’s styling. Its retro looks are unlikely to ever go out of fashion and it’s the sort of car you glance back at with a grin after you’ve parked up. We also love its interior, which has plenty of flair thanks to the colour-coded dash. It’s perfect for new drivers, couples and retired folk. Crash experts Euro NCAP awarded it three stars out of five.
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The Fiat 500 packs character and charm onto its four wheels, and its retro looks – inside and out – are what every image-conscious city driver demands. A Mini might be more fun to drive and has more interior space, but the Fiat’s compact dimensions are better suited to urban life.
This review was