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£15,210 when new
Which Fiat 500 is this? The Fiat 500 S. It’s essentially the performance-minded 500 if you don’t want an Abarth. Given those aren’t subtle in sound or styling, this is basically a Fiat hot hatch for the shy. Mind, it’s just a trim level. So all of the 500’s engines, right down to the 69bhp entry option, are available. That costs £13,515, but around £1,500 more gets you 105bhp from Fiat’s ballsy little TwinAir two-cylinder turbo. Suddenly you’re in Renault Twingo GT/VW Up GTI territory. Give me some specs. The little 875cc engine puts out 105bhp and 107lb ft. Extremely modest figures, but the 500 S they propel weighs just 940kg. So you get 0-62mph in ten seconds dead – brisker than it sounds – and a 117mph top speed. Importantly, you also get six gears, so there’s refinement on the motorway and a claimed 67.3mpg, though good luck getting that in real life. And how is it? The TwinAir engine makes more sense the more power is extracted from it. At idle and low speed it still sounds like it might be broken – the phut-phut of a two-cylinder is a very curious noise to accustom yourself to – but the noise is fun at high revs. In fact, the engine is the star here. It punches well above its claimed power figure and is genuinely muscular, so long as you’re in the right gear. Which is almost always one gear lower than you’d normally use, in town especially. You can go a whole street in first gear if there are speed bumps to deal with. It’s surprisingly bad at dealing with sleeping policeman, in fact, even though there are no suspension tweaks over a standard 500. Perhaps it’s the bigger wheels and teeny wheelbase. Mid-engined exotica like McLarens and Audi R8s deal better with our local speed bumps. That’s a big flaw for a city car. Well, yes. But the 500 S is elevated by its unique little engine out of town, and it’s a good laugh on a decent stretch of road. The chassis itself won’t be troubling more esteemed hot hatch competition. It doesn’t pogo-stick down a road like an Abarth, but it’s not hugely composed either. Yet it’s an infectious little car, one that despite its flaws, you’re constantly egged on to drive quicker and quicker. That’s the lynchpin of a good quick hatch. Cracking gearchange, too. And the most fun 500 on a good piece of road is also the most grown up elsewhere. Its engine is impressively quiet at a motorway cruise, where wind noise ends up more prominent. So it’s a city car that’s best outside of the city? Um, yes. But there’s a dearth of properly affordable hot hatches, and this jolly little Fiat is worth celebrating. As the RS Clios and Fiesta STs of this world edge closer to £20k by the day, choices are limited. Especially as we wait for the new Suzuki Swift Sport to launch. Where does the 500 S fit in the too-small pecking order? Better than the slightly rubbish Twingo GT, not as polished as an Up GTI. But it arguably has more personality, and you could do worse than trying both out.
£9,125 – £25,585
This is the one they all need to watch out for. VW has finally got serious about the city car
£9,515 – £15,245
Toyota has changed more about the little Aygo than you might think, but the dull and rather small cabin keeps it behind the best of the rest
£15,685 – £31,655
The Mini is an excellent hatch, but does it have to be so grown up?