Fiat's 500 is the citycar of the moment. June Neary looks at the revised version
Will It Suit Me?
I'm pleased to say that I don't remember the original Fiat 500. It was half a century ago that car was launched after all. So I can't tell you whether the latest Fiat 500, now recently updated, is a true retro tribute to the original. Sorry. But of course, like me, you don't care. All that matters is that it's cute, it's nippy and it's the latest thing to be seen in. A MINI? That's so yesterday...
I was a bit disappointed to learn that for all its Italian heritage, this car is in fact built in Poland. Oh well, better news comes in the realisation that it shares its platform with the Ford Ka and, as even I know, that car has a reputation as an entertaining steer. At 1.65m wide, 1.49m high and 3.55m long, the 500 doesn't take up a great deal of space. For reference, a MINI is much wider, a little lower and a fair bit longer. Even little runabouts like Renault's Twingo won't fit into some parking spaces the 500 will be able to squeeze into. My local Lidl supermarket has a ridiculously tight underground carpark, so I can testify to the benefits of this. I tried the revised version but to me, it looks no different. For what it's worth, design changes up-front include a sleeker chrome grille that sits below revised headlights and is positioned at more of an angle than before. Between these two elements are smarter daytime running lights, with a shape that echoes the zeros of the '500' logo. As before, delicious design details drip from this design. It's like a tiny pearl, especially when the ivory finish interior fitted to my test car is specified. There's a very well-judged blend of retro chic and ruthlessly modern contemporary design inside, with circular head restraints, a glass roof and iconic 500 badging on the Panda-sourced dashboard. Chrome-ringed vents and a fascia that can be specified in the same colour as the body are just some of the interior design features. The exterior treatment is cool and clean too. The neighbours had a good old stare.
Behind the Wheel
Fiat knows how to make great little engines for great little cars. But I did wonder what the petrol TwinAir version might be like. Fiat claims that it's the world's cleanest and greenest four-seater petrol-powered production car. My expectations weren't high. Something driven by battery packs perhaps? Or perhaps so feebly powered that it would struggle to show a bike courier a clean pair of tailpipes. I was wrong. The TwinAir 500 puts out a perky 85bhp and sprints to sixty in just 11 seconds. That really is cheeky: a city runabout that's fun as well as frugal and a design that's now developed into the kind of car Fiat fans always hoped it would be following its launch in 2007. This same engine is also available in 105bhp form at the top of the range. As before, there's also a base 1.2-litre petrol variant and a 1.4-litre turbo petrol option. Of course, in preference to a 500, you could save a few thousand and buy the more practical Fiat Panda. But then, you only live once and how often are you going to need five doors in a citycar anyway? If it helps you to justify things, Fiat claims that body rigidity is around 10 per cent better than the Panda's, so in theory, the 500 should be slightly more crash-proof.
Value For Money
As before, there's a choice of fixed-top and convertible 500 models. The open-topped 500C variants require a premium of around £2,500 over their standard counterparts. If you're happy with tin-top 500 motoring, then you'll find pricing that's a fraction higher than before, yet which still starts just shy of £11,000 for the baseline 1.2-litre Pop version. Is that good value? Well, unless you save a few hundred pounds and buy a smaller smart fortwo, trendier town tots all cost more. You'll need to find at least £2,000 more on top of Fiat 500 prices to buy an equivalent MINI. Fiat's Panda is one of the cheapest cars to own, so the '500' will prove little different. The 1.2-litre petrol unit will average around 50mpg. Most frugal of all is the TwinAir model which pushes 70mpg and combines it with just 99g/km of CO2. Depreciation won't be anything like at MINI levels but will be much better than you'd expect on a Panda. Which is good news since insurance costs shouldn't be much more expensive.
Could I Live With One?
I much prefer this approach to retro design to the kind of thing BMW have delivered us with the MINI. It seems more real somehow - and infinitely more exciting. The fact that it's more affordable too is just the icing on the cake. Right now, this remains one of the most fashionable things you can be seen in up and down the high street. How long it will remain that way is, of course, quite another question...