- We like...Retro looks
- We don't...Jittery ride
Italian baby-car takes 1960s style and blends in 21st-century safety and gadgets. It's a winner, and well priced With the 500, Fiat has delved into the past to find magic. As BMW did with the Mini, it has gone back to an original, captured what was best about it and given it a fresh and modern take. But where the Mini bulked up considerably on the journey, the Fiat has remained small. And it’s the better for that.
Fiat borrowed engines and the under-gubbins from its already cute Panda city hatch to effect the transformation. And they’ve done an excellent job. The new 500 captures the original’s period chic, while doing the sensible stuff, like moving the engine to the front, letting a hatch into the rear and giving it a very 21st century take on crash protection. It gets five Euro NCAP stars for occupant protection and squeezes no fewer than seven airbags into its tiny cabin.
Inside and out, it looks a dead ringer for the 1960s car. And the cabin is a retro heaven. The dash cuts a swathe of body-coloured plastic across the cabin, finished with a ‘500’ motif on the passenger’s side, while the radio looks like a period wireless, notwithstanding its slot for CDs. It looks just great. A big circular dial before the driver measures the speed and another within it registers the revs, while a bar graph shows how much fuel’s aboard. It’s busy and a little confusing at first. But other controls are big and simple – we particularly admire its chunky, chromed door openers. Some bits carry over from the Panda and they jar here – the big, centrally placed window buttons look cheap, while there’s an awkward tray-cum-ashtray that pops from the centre console and biffs the driver’s leg.
The rear seat is shaped for two and there is only a pair of belts back there, so it’s definitely a four-seater. But there’s fair space back there for adults, while clambering in and out is easy enough. The boot’s big for a city-size car, though.
On the move the car needs stirring to find any pep, which is disappointing considering the 100bhp that our 1.4 petrol model promises. But at least light pedals and a quick, short gear shifter helps. The steering ds its job without feeling particularly precise. Pressing the ‘sport’ button on the dash should, we’re told, stiffen it but we couldn’t tell whether it was ‘on’ or not.
But the biggest problem we had was with the 500’s ride. Whether at town speeds or on the motorway, it rarely settled, and couldn’t filter away bumps. And, one thing more: after little more than 200 miles, our 500 lit its fuel warning lamp. A surprise this, because the computer told us we’d averaged 44mpg since the previous fill-up, meaning the eight-gallon tank should have still been still a third full. And, sure enough, we barely squeezed in five gallons. So the warning was over-keen.
Still, neither problem was enough to put us off the car, particularly when it’s well priced. Our 1.4 Lounge sits dearest of the three-trim, three engine model line-up and it’s £10,710. If you don’t agree that’s good value, check the 1.2 Pop at £7905. It’s got all the charm of dearer 500s and, if you go for red paint/red seats, it looks cracking. Mind you, there’s a bamboozling pick of extras, making it easy to spend mad amounts on the little car.
But, for us, it’s best as it comes. In white, like our car here. Terrific.
- 0-60 mph10.4sec
- Insurance groups5
Motors.co.uk value verdict: