Fiat 500 hatchback
Price: £10,160 - £15,660
- Fun to drive
- Cheap to run
- Cute looks
- Expensive to buy
- Entry-level models are poorly equipped
- Suspect reliability
"The Fiat 500 is great to drive and cheap to run, and no other city car is as stylish."
The Fiat 500 is a city car of a similar size as the Vauxhall Adam and Volkswagen up! and it's one of the most stylish small cars on the market. Like the MINI, the 500 is as much a fashion accessory as it is a means of transport – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good car. It's easy to drive, cheap to run, features a range of responsive engines and a smooth gearbox, and let's face it – it screams fun. As well as the standard model there's the bigger, more practical Fiat 500L; the sporty Fiat 500 Abarth; the 500L Trekking crossover; and the seven-seat 500L MPW.
There's a huge range of personalisation options, including colours, designs, special editions and extra equipment. Entry level models come with very little equipment as standard, which means you’ll almost certainly have to opt for a more expensive spec or select quite a few optional extras – and means that while the 500 is competitively priced, it doesn’t offer quite as good value for money as many rivals. But then the Fiat 500 wasn’t designed to be one of the cheapest cars money could buy, it was designed to be one of the most stylish. And it does that very well.
MPG, running costs & CO2
All engines are efficient and cheap to run
There are three engines in the standard Fiat 500, and all offer excellent economy and low emissions. Two of them emit less than 100g/km CO2 and so are exempt from road tax. There's a 1.2-litre petrol that does 60.1mpg and emits 110g/km CO2, a 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel that does 76.3mpg and emits 97g/km CO2, and a 0.9 TwinAir petrol that does 72.4mpg and emits 90g/km CO2. Our pick would be the 1.3 MultiJet if you regularly do motorway journeys, otherwise go for the TwinAir.
All versions have a low insurance group rating making them cheap to insure and the car has one of the lowest rates of depreciation in the class – the Fiat 500 is so desirable that demand for second-hand versions stays very strong, so your wallet will take less of a hit when the time comes to sell than it would with some of its rivals.
Interior & comfort
Surprisingly comfortable, although rear passengers may find it a little cramped
The Fiat 500 is actually pretty comfortable. The suspension is just about soft enough to take the jolts out of bumps and potholes – and is certainly easier on the spine than the comparatively unforgiving ride on the MINI. There's enough space up front for the driver to get comfortable, and the seat and steering wheel are both adjustable, which helps you to get a set-up that's just right. But there's no getting around the fact that the 500 is a small car - room in the back is very limited and will be a squeeze for all but the shortest of adult passengers. Taller drivers would do well opting for the sunroof option, as it cuts into headroom in the front. The 500 is at its best when zipping about town, but it copes with motorways and A-roads pretty well, although wind noise is a bit intrusive.
Practicality & boot space
Boot and interior space is ok but not as good as several rivals
City cars are never going to be particularly practical due to their tiny dimensions. Even so, some models use the space better than others, and while the 500 isn’t the worst in the class, it's not the best either. Boot space isn’t too bad – it has 185 litres of capacity, which is far bigger than the MINI hatchback and the Vauxhall Adam. However, it's a long way behind the 251-litre boot found in the Volkswagen up!, SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo, or the 252-litre boot in the Hyundai i10. Fold the 500's rear seats flat and you free up 560 litres of space, again pretty far from best in class – the VW up! and co have an impressive 951 litres of maximum capacity, while the i10 has an incredible 1,046 litres. There's plenty of space in the front of the Fiat 500, but it's a different story in the back, where adults will struggle for space on the rear seats. That was par for the course for city cars a few years back, but the most recent crop of new models has changed things. The Hyundai i10 and the VW Group's trio of city cars have been cleverly packaged to offer a decent amount of leg and headroom, and the 500 suffers in comparison.
Reliability & safety
Safety is great but there are concerns over reliability
Fiat has suffered a reputation for poor reliability for years and it seems to be struggling to shake it off. The 500 does feel like a quality product, though – well put together and made from higher quality materials than Fiats of old. Still, owners don’t seem to be that impressed. The little city car has performed poorly in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. It failed to make the Top 100 in the 2013 poll, coming a lowly 142nd out of a total 150 models. Fiat as a brand fared poorly too, coming 30th out of 32 in the manufacturer rankings. Both results are pretty disappointing but it's impossible to criticise the 500's safety credentials – it scored the maximum five-star safety rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests. And it comes with seven airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes and ISOFIX mountings for child seats as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
Peppy engines are great around town but struggle at higher speeds
The Fiat 500 is at its best in towns and cities. The steering is light, making it easy to turn and the car's compact dimensions make it easy to manoeuvre around tight streets and small parking spaces. It's got a decent amount of grip, too, so it can handle corners well. The engines aren’t particularly powerful, but the 500 is so small that they don’t need to be – it still zips along nicely. The tiny 85bhp 875cc engine would be our pick unless you do a lot of miles on the motorway. It's very economical and provides a surprising amount of punch. The more powerful 95bhp 1.3-litre MultiJet is a better bet for those who head out on the motorway, as it copes better at higher speeds. If you mainly do low mileages don’t be tempted by the MultiJet's slightly high fuel economy figure, though. As a diesel engine it is fitted with what's called a diesel particulate filter, which filters-out and burns-off diesel soot, and it needs regular runs at motorway speeds to work properly – without that it will clog and leave you with an expensive repair bill. We’d recommend the excellent manual gearbox over the jerky automatic, too.
Price, value for money & options
Entry-level models are poorly equipped but used values are very strong
The Fiat 500 is competitively priced but the entry-level model comes without much equipment. There are four specification levels: Pop, Colour Therapy, Lounge and S. There are also currently two special edition models: Bicolour and GQ. Pop spec does come with electric windows, power steering and an MP3-compatible stereo, but you don’t get alloys, split-folding rear seats, air-con or Bluetooth. Electronic stability control (called ESP) is also a £320 cost option, whereas it comes as standard on most other new cars. Other spec models offer better equipment levels though and the 500 is among the best in class at retaining its value, too, as it is so desirable.
What the others say
The 500 has cute looks, price and desirability on its side; pity it isn't better to drive.
Easy to drive and available with a host of customisation options, the little Fiat is a stylish small car with plenty of characterful.
What's surprising is that although the engine note is unfamiliar, the refinement is impressive. Thanks to a balancer shaft which counterweights the action of the cylinders, vibrations are well isolated. Were it not for the characterful soundtrack, the unit feels similar to an equivalent 1.4-litre four-cylinder unit.The icing on the cake is fuel economy of nearly 70mpg and thanks to CO2 emissions of just 95g/km, owners taking delivery later this year will be able to enjoy road tax-free motoring.
Modern pastiche of arguably Fiat's most iconic city car. Sassy looks wear thin in a downpour on the A40, but it's great to drive and staggering value. Unlike the Mini.
Last updated: 12 Feb 2014