Motoring review: the new Fiat 500
16:05 21 March 2016
Fiat’s iconic 500 hatchback has benefitted from another makeover while retaining its entertainment value. Hard to resist, says motoring editor Andy Russell
Turning back the clock to fast-forward to the future has been a runaway success for Fiat, with its 500 model topping 1.5 million sales since its relaunch eight years ago, making it a top 10 UK seller. The latest version of the iconic 1950s Italian city car has a fresh style and substance without shedding its traditional character.
The revised face is even more characterful with more pronounced ribbing and redesigned circular and modular front lights, aping the zeroes in ‘500’. Ring-shaped rear lights with body-colour centres are unusual and eye-catching while fog and reversing lights are relocated to the edges of the redesigned bumper. Add in new personalisation options, alloy wheels, colours and upgraded connectivity and engines, and there are actually 1,800 changes.
A small car needs only a small engine and the entry 1.2L petrol unit is fine around town but, on the open road, needs to be worked, picking up nicely from around 4,000rpm. The saving grace is it revs happily and has a light, snappy five-speed manual gearbox. And with 50-60mpg in normal driving conditions you won’t be regularly visiting filling stations – even with its small 35-litre tank.
The 500 is fidgety on poor surfaces at speed, but no worse than many dinky city cars, but it’s not such an issue in urban driving – the 500’s natural element. Entertaining to drive, it corners precisely, but press really hard and the front wheels lose grip and run wide. The steering is nicely weighted and, for parking, can be switched to a lighter city mode.
Despite being a four-seater, the back seats are best for children. It’s three-door only, so access to the rear is quite tight despite front seats tilting and sliding. Average adults will find legroom in the back at a premium and headroom tight, especially with the panoramic glass. The 185-litre boot is city car-sized and well shaped to make the most of the space while rear seat backs drop flat 50/50. But step up from the boot floor and the black painted backs could get marked by loads if not protected.
Advanced Uconnect infotainment is more intuitive, improves connectivity and has steering wheel remote controls and USB and auxiliary ports on all models. A Radio Live touch screen with Bluetooth, music streaming, voice recognition and SMS reader for compatible phones is standard on the Lounge version and a £250 option on Pop and Pop Star models. DAB digital radio adds another £100. It can also access internet radio and music, the eco-Drive app and my:Car for real-time warnings, service deadline alerts and an interactive owner handbook. The new 500 also offers voice-activated TomTom satellite navigation, Bluetooth and DAB for £600 on Pop and Pop Star models (including Bluetooth connectivity and DAB) and a £350 upgrade for Lounge.
The fascia is a highlight of the 500 – with gloss black trim panels, brightwork accents, colourful highlights and customisation options it looks good and works well. Consider paying £250 for the optional seven-inch TFT (thin film transistor) screen with digital speedo, rev counter, eco gauge, displays for fuel and temperature and the driver information system.
The 500 is the city car to be seen in and, with the latest model, Fiat has done enough to give it fresh appeal and make sure it remains well connected with the smart set.
Price: Fiat 500 Lounge 1.2 hatchback (hatchback range £10,890 to £14,420; convertible £13,540 to £17,070)
Engine: 1,242cc, 69hp, four-cylinder petrol
Performance: 0-62mph 12.9 seconds; top speed 99mph
MPG: Urban 51.4; extra urban 65.7; combined 60.1
CO2 emissions: 110g/km
Insurance group: 8 (out of 50)
Warranty: Three years or 60,000 miles
Size: L 3,571mm; W (incl door mirrors) 1,893mm; H 1,488mm