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Tuesday 21st March
Best of 2022

Top Gear’s guilty pleasures: the Fiat 500

A slightly battered Fiat 500 is the perfect side dish to a European roadtrip

Published: 29 Dec 2022

The Fiat 500 is a fine little vehicle, but perhaps it’s worth a little note of clarification. The specific model I have in mind is resplendent in off-white, looks like it’s been rolled down a hill and has a slightly ratty interior complete with a musty air of cheap cleaning products. It’s seen better days, but it’s best days are right ahead of it. The engine is a characterful little 1.0-litre 3cyl number that growls like Simba practising his roar and pulls the car along like a puppy on its lead. 

In fact, it’s the very car I rented back in April to do a roadtrip down through Italy, rattling down from Milan to Naples over 10 days or so, but it’s also every Fiat 500 you’ve ever rented on holiday. It’s the symbol of fun, frolics and the joy of escaping to the sunshine. The freedom that comes from seeing the two or so pages of marks and blemishes that have been noted on the rental firm. You start to check them because you’re fastidious about these things, until you get to the chunk of front grille that’s been taped back on and realise that short of wrapping this car around a bus there’s not a lot you can do at this point to put your damage deposit in significant danger. 

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And so you’ll go on to have some of the most magnificent fun you’ve enjoyed in a car, blasting Italian tunes from local radio stations as you tear through the Alps, zip through ancient city centres and wind your way through age old olive groves, opening up to the sea as you make a beeline down through Rome and along to Naples. You’ll feel unbridled terror making your way through this seat of history, where everyone drives like they live in the shadow of an active volcano that could blow at any moment. 

Every journey around Naples feels like you’re just making an escape from a bank job, a lawless ballet of scooters and superminis with the occasional guest solo from an eerily blacked out Range Rover. When you arrive you stick to the rules of the road, but it seems to put everyone else on edge, adds unnecessary danger. There’s a system to this lack of rules that takes a few streets to get your head round, but in something battered and Italian it all just seems so right.

There’s no other car you could enjoy round these parts, and when you get back to the UK you’ll feel sad watching fluffed up 500s pootling through towns and thrumming 20mph under the motorway speed limits weighed down by a parcel shelf mounted legion of soft toys. Let them roam free...

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