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The Top Gear car review:Fiat 500
For:Stylish, affordable but above all life-affirming little hatch
Against:Not a dynamic match for the Mini Cooper
0.9 TwinAir Pop Star 3dr
The electric version of the 500 is superb. But you can’t have one…
Not perfect, but a novel little engine with potential. Welcome to the new, old-school future of green motoring
On British streets, the 500 gets mobbed. It practically needs its own security detail. Yet there’s no widespread folk memory of the original 500...
What we say:
Fun and Funky - the retro 500 is the darling of estate agents everywhere
What is it?
It’s a retro Panda. That’s it, really. If you want a markedly less practical and markedly more expensive version of Fiat’s top-notch city car, step right this way. The 500 harks back to Fiat’s iconic post-war microcar in terms of looks, but is built on the Panda platform and shares most of its engines.
But cars are a lifestyle choice these days as much as they are a means of getting about, and the 500 looks wonderful where so many cars in this segment are drab. For the new model year, Fiat’s made a big fuss of how it’s been facelifted, but unless you’re a keen spotter of bumpers ‘n lights, you’ll be hard pushed to notice. For the record, Fiat says 1,800 changes have been made. Clearly polyelliptical headlights are made of many parts.
Sadly short of the agility and involvement we all so desperately wanted it to have, the 500 is no match for its obvious retro rival, the Mini. Even in Abarth trim, it lacks the poise that makes the Cooper so compelling, with the driver sat too high and feeling removed from both chassis and tarmac. Having said that, it’s a relatively light hatch with a short wheelbase and plenty of poke in the right spec, so it was always going to be fun.
The engine to best complement this is the two-cylinder TwinAir, which has reasonable go, bags of character and the economy to match. At least on paper. Thrash it through the rev range for a day, and you’re likely to find that you’ll have been doing late 40s, rather than 68.9mpg. Still, you’ll have had fun in the process, and that’s what matters.
On the inside
The 500 carries its heritage-lite exterior into the cabin, with a body- colour dash and a smattering of chrome (some models get cool digital dials now). With its gearstick mounted high beneath the centre console, there is a sense of space up front that belies how cramped the 500 really is, especially in the back, made more frustrating by the lack of rear doors. Fiat argues it offers the Panda for those who do need more space and practicality but, although neatly designed, it’s nowhere near as retro-cool as the 500.
Something that was new for 2015 is Fiat’s app-tastic Uconnect touchscreen information system. It has DAB, TomTom sat nav and other stuff that smartphone-wielding hipsters will love.
Much like the Panda, the 500’s engines are small, frugal and overwhelmingly strong (even if the TwinAir may not quite deliver the real-world economy suggested by on-paper stats). There are no diesels for the facelifted car, because nobody bought them. Insurance is manageable, and it has good residuals due to its desirability. Opt for a TwinAir in the right colour, and you’re putting your money somewhere very sensible.
That said, there is something effeminate about the 500 that will deter male buyers from all but the Abarth variants, but even so, this is a popular little city car that will always sell on easily.