But placards at the ready, because the Project C's not coming to the UK...
You are here
The Top Gear car review:Fiat 500
What is it like on the road?
A mixed bag, in all honesty. It should perform better than it does in every area. Let’s start in town, where the compact 500 is designed to excel. At a basic level it does – it’s small (3,571mm long by 1,627mm wide) and easy to see out of thanks to curved A-pillars that don’t lurk too close to your head. The clutch is light and if you opt for the 0.9-litre two cylinder Twinair (you should) there’s a good wodge of torque and not that much lag.
However, the throttle is too sleepy, which means you have to be careful to give it enough revs to stop it bogging down when you pull away. Selecting Sport mode (which sharpens the throttle and adds weight to the steering) helps, but be warned the steering is too sticky off-centre in Sport mode. Dilemmas.
You really notice this out of town as well, where you want the crisper engine response, but the lighter, slightly more natural steering. The 500 is not a naturally great-handling car – you sit high over a short wheelbase, a position that leaves you sensitive to the pogo-ing of the tightly sprung suspension. Once into a corner, it grips gamely but the handling isn’t as playful as you might imagine it to be.
The ride ought to be more cushioned. Impacts come back through the suspension into the cabin, and opting for bigger alloy wheels only serves to magnify that. On coarse surfaces there’s quite a lot of noise intrusion and harshness, and this is exacerbated at motorway speeds. The problem for the Fiat 500 is that rivals have moved on in the last decade and NVH levels have improved markedly.
As far as engines go, ignore the 1.2. It’s not a bad engine, but is too old and weak to push the 500 along with anything approaching verve. The turbocharged 0.9 is much more like it – it thrums along eagerly, there’s a good punch of torque in each gear and it exhibits real charisma. Have it with either 85 or 105bhp – it doesn’t make a vast amount of difference as both keep pace on motorways happily enough, and both dip under the 100g/km CO2 barrier. If you’re a keen driver be warned you will be disappointed by how soon you clatter into the very low 6,000rpm red line in the lower gears. And if you care about economy, brace yourself. Fiat claims 68.9mpg, but if you get into the turbo zone at all that’ll plunge into the 40s. Drive moderately and you’ll get 48-52mpg. Gearboxes are manual five- or six-speeders, both of which are markedly superior to the Dualogic automatic.
500s are good pottering cars. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed. They’re not sporty and actually drive more brightly and dexterously when they’re on skinnier tyres. Then they’re endearing enough to be engaging.