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. You can go sensible diesel through insane turbocharged Abarth, and whichever powerplant you choose, you can customise the car into your very own multicoloured mania. It’s a lot of fluff whereas the Panda is solid substance, but the 500 does inject a strong dose of joy into the backside of humdrum.
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. 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, a factor made more frustrating by the absence of rear doors. No small family car this, then.
But what the 500 does best it does inside as well as out, which is put a smile on your face. The reality of buying cars is often far removed from the fantasy, but Fiat has put something desirable within reach of most of us, and for that it deserves real credit.
Much like the Panda, the 500’s engines are small, frugal and overwhelmingly strong. Insurance premiums are manageable too, and this car ought to enjoy some strong residuals due to its inherent 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.