The Fiat 500 is one of a growing number of retro-inspired small cars, including the MINI hatchback and Volkswagen Beetle, that recall iconic models of the past. But it's also a rival to conventional city cars, such as the Renault Twingo, the VW Group trio (the Skoda Citigo, Volkswagen up! and SEAT Mii) and another three related models (the Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108).
Summer 2015 saw the Fiat 500 get a refresh – although it doesn’t look drastically different than before. Inside, the cabin is now a bit sleeker and less cluttered, while the range of trim levels has been simplified to make choosing the right 500 for you easier. An all-new 500 is expected in 2017.
There's no choice of bodystyle with the 500 – it's three-door hatchback or nothing. You can pick from three different engines, however. Our favourite is the little TwinAir petrol – a two-cylinder, 875cc engine available with either 84 or 104bhp that returns 74.3 or 67.3mpg respectively. Both versions are road-tax-free courtesy of their sub-100g/km CO2 emissions, while their fizzy nature suits the 500 well.
Other engine options are a rather old-fashioned 1.2-litre, 69bhp petrol and (if you go for mid-range Pop Star or top-spec Lounge model) an updated 1.3-litre Multijet diesel that produces 94bhp and should return up to 78.5mpg. A manual gearbox is standard, but if you need an automatic, it's a £750 optional extra.
City driving is, unsurprisingly, one of the 500's strong suits. It's obviously pretty compact, plus it has a ‘City Steering’ mode that makes the wheel lighter for manoevring in tight spaces and the nippy, economical TwinAir engine is also well suited for motoring around town. Out on the motorway, the 1.3-litre diesel is probably a better bet, though. Despite its small footprint, the 500 is deceptively roomy inside. Four adults can just about squeeze in and the boot is bigger than you’d think for a car of this size.
Equipment is pretty good, too: the entry-level Pop boasts Fiat's Uconnect infotainment system and stylish ‘halo’ LED daytime running lights, but we think it's worth moving up to Pop Star for useful kit such as air-conditioning, heated door mirrors, alloysand split-folding rear seats. Top-of-the-range Lounge gets you fancier features such as a panoramic sunroof, rear parking sensors, front foglights and a bigger infotainment system touchscreen.
In terms of ownership, the Fiat in general and the 500 in particular haven’t had the best reputation for reliability in the past. On the plus side, it's a safe car, with a five-star rating from the crash-safety experts at Euro NCAP.