2015 Fiat 500 at a glance
- Handling: ★★★☆☆
- Performance: ★★★☆☆
- Costs: ★★★☆☆
THE FIAT 500 is one of Britain’s bestselling cars among private buyers, making frequent appearances in the annual top five. Beyond the obvious attraction of low showroom prices and running costs, it’s easy to see why the 500 has been such a hit. Climbing into one feels like pulling up a chair in a Roman piazza, an espresso on the table and sunglasses at the ready for a spot of people-watching. It’s just so, well, Italian.
A revised version is now on sale in Britain, and not before time. The 500 was introduced in 2007, and although its retro styling has stopped it ageing too quickly on the outside, in many areas it is feeling its age. As we reported in our First Drive review of a 1.2-litre version, 1,800 changes have been made. Don’t bother counting, though — you’d be hard pressed to spot most of them.
More recently we acquired the keys to a 0.9 TwinAir version — made popular by its low, road-tax-dodging emissions figure and impressive (on paper) fuel economy — and put it through its paces to see whether the changes had kept this old car feeling fresh.
The 500’s bodywork changes are subtle, a collagen lip injection rather than a full facelift. Why mess with a formula that has proved so attractive? Its proportions are unchanged and as distinct as ever, and whereas some car companies keep to a predictable line in red, white, blue and black, Fiat’s range of paints for the 500 resembles a Farrow & Ball colour palette, with retro shades of pastel and some very chichi metallics.
Our test car’s seats were covered with the sort of fabric you’d expect to find splashed across the glossy pages of Homes & Gardens magazine. They have been given “a more ergonomic shape”, Fiat says, but they do nothing to improve what is still one of the most uncomfortable driving positions in any small car. The driver’s seat lacks height adjustment and badly needs to be lower to the floor; the steering wheel is too far away and can’t be moved in and out — only up and down. So your arms are stretched out straight and your shoulders hunched round. As the saying goes: you had one job, Fiat …
Still, the cabin all looks pleasant enough. The painted sections of the dashboard and doors still liven things up, and the improved switches, digital instrument display and new touchscreen infotainment system bring it right up to date. The digital instrument display is a £250 option, but it’s well worth having, as it not only looks smart but also places lots of useful information directly in front of the driver. It seems mean of Fiat to make it available in only top-of-the-range Lounge versions and not as part of the Pop and Pop Star trim.
You need to sit in it and try it for size before deciding if the 500 is right for you: it’s snug in the front and positively cramped in the back, without enough headroom for adults to sit up straight. As for the boot, it’s more clutch bag than hold-all, with just 185 litres of luggage space. The Mini and Audi A1 are both more comfortable.
Still, the 875cc TwinAir engine, so called because it has just two cylinders, promises great things, such as emissions that let drivers laugh in the face of the road tax system — just 99g/km of CO2 — and fuel economy that is worth shouting about: 67mpg.
Never has it been easier to bag a tight spot outside your favourite boutique on the high street
Actually, we couldn’t get anywhere near that many miles to the gallon. Driven as gently as possible, with all instructions from the car’s gearshift indicator obeyed, it achieved 43mpg. Look online and you’ll find no shortage of 500 owners reporting similar findings for their TwinAir. What’s more, the stop-start system often gets confused in traffic.
You can almost forgive the engine its disappointing fuel consumption, as it’s a perky performer that pulls well from 2000rpm and makes a distinct chug-chug-chug like a motorbike. Given a full head of steam, it zips along at 117mph, apparently. Anyone who achieves such a speed in this car is probably being pushed by an Audi driver.
Because it’s surprisingly muted, the motor merrily crashes into its rev limit, which for us resulted in one or two unpleasant overtaking episodes.
The ride is choppy, because of the short wheelbase, and the handling is enthusiastic, the nose of the car eager to turn into a bend as it has so little weight over the front wheels. Again, though, the Mini One and Audi A1 are both better to drive.
Of course, one undisputed benefit of the 500 is that parking is a doddle. You rarely need to resort to electronic parking aids, as it’s easy to judge where all four corners of the car are. Never has it been easier to bag a tight spot outside your favourite boutique on the high street.
No doubt about it, better cars are available at the same price as the £14,420 TwinAir Lounge we drove — namely, the Mini One and Audi A1. But cars aren’t bought with the head alone; and it’s hard not to fall for the 500’s charms.
2015 Fiat 500 0.9 TwinAir Lounge specifications
- PRICE: £14,420
- ENGINE: 875cc, 2 cylinders, turbo, petrol
- POWER: 103bhp @ 5500rpm
- TORQUE: 107 lb ft @ 2000rpm
- TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- ACCELERATION: 0-62mph in 10.0sec
- TOP SPEED: 117mph
- FUEL: 67.3mpg (combined)
- CO2: 99g/km
- ROAD TAX BAND: A (free)
- RELEASE DATE: On sale now
2015 Fiat 500 Lounge 0.9 TwinAir rivals
Audi A1 1.0 TFSI, £14,530 (view cars for sale)
- For Upmarket image; robust interior; impressive engine; great to drive
- Against Doesn’t have the effortless style of the 500
Mini One hatchback, £13,995 (view cars for sale)
- For Easy to personalise; good driving position; smart interior; great to drive
- Against We preferred the look of the last Mini hatch