Fiat 500 Review
Characterful styling and very low ownership costs combine to make the Fiat 500 one of the most desirable city cars.
Published: 4th January 2023
Although it was introduced way back in 2007, the Fiat 500 remains one of the most desirable city cars you can buy. Key to this is its retro exterior and interior styling in addition to the wide range of personalisation options that were available when it was new. Fiat says there are 500,000 ways to configure a 500, and while we haven’t counted them, it’s rare to see two identical 500s.
Fiat refreshed the 500 in 2015, adding a new touchscreen infotainment system to most models, tweaking the engines and changing many parts. More recently, Fiat introduced a new 1.0-litre engine with mild hybrid technology, which is now the only model sold new. There are more practical city cars on the market, but few possess the charm and character of the Fiat 500.
The all-new Fiat 500 Electric, which went on sale in 2020, looks very similar to the car we’re reviewing here but it’s actually a completely different model with virtually no common parts.
- Standout exterior styling
- Huge choice of colours and trims
- Low running costs
- Limited space in the back
- Entry-level version is basic
- Lacks the latest safety equipment
Dashboard & tech
If you’re looking at a nearly new Fiat 500, you get a touchscreen display in the centre of the dashboard. The entry-level Pop has a 5-inch display with DAB digital radio, while the other models have a 7-inch display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 5- and 7-inch displays were introduced as part of the 2015 facelift, with earlier models having a simple radio, CD and MP3 player, which is rather basic by today’s standards. Early cars also featured something called Blue&Me, which allows you to control certain things via voice commands, as well as streaming music via a USB stick. But it feels quite dated now.
On the plus side, all of the systems are easy to use and the 500 features a neat 7-inch digital instrument panel in front of the driver.
The front seats are surprisingly comfortable for a city car, and although the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, it is height-adjustable so even the tallest drivers should be able to find a decent driving position. Bear in mind, however, that the driver’s seat isn’t height-adjustable on the entry-level models, so it may feel too low to some drivers and too high to others.
Air con is standard on all except the Pop trim, with cruise control and a full-glass sunroof fitted to some models. If you fancy even more sunshine, choose the 500C cabriolet with its full-length retractable fabric roof.
The interior of the Fiat 500 is finished to the same standard as rival city cars such as the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto, but the design details and neat touches combine to make the 500 feel a bit more special. It’s the little things, like the ‘cue ball’ gear knob, the jewel-like switches and a dashboard painted to match the colour of the exterior paintwork. Models with a leather-trimmed steering wheel, a glass sunroof and chrome plated door handles feel even more luxurious.
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Practicality & boot space
The Fiat 500 is the ideal city car for couples, with a surprising amount of headroom and legroom in the front. Every 500 is actually a three-door (the two front doors and a hatchback), so getting in out of the back seats isn’t as straightforward as in rival cars that have five doors (four doors and a hatchback). But the front seats slide forward to provide access to a couple of seats in the back that can be used for children or occasionally by your more grown-up mates.
There are four cupholders – two in the front and two in the back – which is impressive for a car of this size, along with door pockets in the front, a few storage areas for your odds and ends, and a tray below the dashboard on the passenger side. You’d never call the Fiat 500 especially practical, but you should be able to find homes for your phone, wallet and handbag.
You only need one look at the 500 to guess that its boot is pretty small. It certainly is, with a capacity of 185 litres that falls well short of what you get in a Volkswagen Up, Hyundai i10 or even a Mini Hatch.
While it’s compact, the boot has enough space for three soft weekend-away bags or the fruits of a successful outing at a designer shopping mall. Squeezing the contents of a weekly grocery shop into the back shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re off on a road trip, though, you may need to pack light or use the back seat area for storage.
Folding down the back seats increases the size of the boot to 550 litres, which could be enough for a week’s holiday in the sun or an even more expensive trip to the shopping centre. All versions have a folding seat in the back, but most also feature a 50/50 split, allowing you to carry three people and some extra luggage. There are just two seatbelts in the back, so it’s not possible to carry five people in a Fiat 500.
The Fiat 500 feels totally at home in the city, where its compact size helps to deal with width restrictions, tight parking spaces and congested streets. All versions have what Fiat calls a City mode, which gives the power steering some extra assistance to make light work of parking manoeuvres. You can even turn the steering wheel using one finger (although we wouldn’t recommend it for safety reasons).
Rear parking sensors are fitted to high-spec models (and are optional on others) to help when reversing. Once out of the city, the 500 is neither as much fun to drive as a Mini nor as comfortable as a Volkswagen Up, but the steering has quite a responsive feel and it’s a fine motorway cruiser for its size.
Most Fiat 500s are powered by a petrol engine, although a 1.3-litre diesel was available early on. It didn’t really suit the perky character of the 500, but it could be a good choice if you cover a lot of miles.
For everyone else, you can choose from 0.9, 1.0 and 1.2-litre engines, each one providing adequate performance in the city. The 1.2-litre engine is the least costly option, and also the least powerful but because it lacks a turbocharger. It’s fine, but can feel a little weedy on hilly roads.
The turbocharged 0.9-litre ‘TwinAir’ engine is better, giving excellent performance and a rorty exhaust note to match. The newest versions of the Fiat 500 are powered by a 1.0-litre petrol engine with mild-hybrid assistance. It feels great in the city and is worth the additional expense over the 1.2-litre engine.
You’ll find used Fiat 500s with both manual and automatic gearboxes. Fiat calls the automatic option ‘Dualogic’ – it’s a type of automatic gearbox known as an automated manual that does the shifting for you but isn’t as smooth as the kind of conventional automatic gearbox you generally get with more costly cars.
Fuel economy & CO2 emissions
According to official figures, a Fiat 500 with a 1.0-litre mild-hybrid engine can give you an average fuel economy of 60.1mpg to 61.4mpg, depending on the model. This makes it one of the most economical city cars you can buy.
Fiat tweaked the 0.9-litre and 1.2-litre engines as part of the 2015 facelift, making them more economical. As a result, the 0.9-litre engine with a power figure of 104bhp can give 67.3mpg, while the 84bhp model offers an impressive 74.3mpg. It’s worth noting that you’re unlikely to see these figures in the real world, but the engine does offer an excellent blend of performance and economy. In some cases, they’re also exempt from VED (car tax), thanks to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as low as 88g/km.
According to official figures, the 1.2-litre engine can give up to 62.8mpg, while the 1.3-litre diesel can achieve 76.3mpg.
Value for money
The Fiat 500 has been around for a long time, so there are lots to choose from, including older cars that are now very inexpensive. The huge range of personalisation options that were available when new mean that prices vary, and the lower-spec models are very cost-effective compared with many city cars. Higher-spec cars aren’t such great value, although they’re still comparatively affordable.
Reliability & Warranty
The 500 feels solidly made, but Fiat as a brand didn’t perform too well in the J.D. Power 2019 UK Vehicle Dependability Study, finishing second from bottom in the rankings. Strong sales mean there are lots of 500s to choose from, so you can afford to be picky. Most issues should have been ironed out over the years.
The 500’s three-year factory warranty from new is standard for the industry, but the rival city car the Kia Picanto is backed for seven years and 100,000 miles, while the Hyundai i10 is covered by a five-year unlimited mileage warranty.
The Fiat 500 was awarded a maximum five-star rating for adult occupant protection when it was assessed by the safety experts at Euro NCAP in 2007. However, the rating dropped to three stars when it was reassessed in 2017, partly because of more stringent tests, but mainly because of a lack of more modern driver- assistance systems.
All models come with seven airbags, a tyre pressure monitoring system, speed limiter, a puncture repair kit, hill-hold assistance and electronic stability management. That’s not a comprehensive list by modern standards, especially when you consider the safety tech found on newer rivals.
Trims & Engines
Pop is the entry-level model. You get the same chic styling and retro-inspired interior as other models, but many buyers opt to upgrade from the Pop for the alloy wheels and air con found on higher-spec versions. Lounge trim offers a good blend of price and equipment, featuring a touchscreen infotainment system, 15-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, a leather-covered steering wheel, rear parking sensors and cruise control.
The S trim has a sportier appearance, without the performance and expense of the Abarth versions. Also look out for the multitude of special-edition models introduced over the years, which offer more kit and individual styling. Examples include Colour Therapy, Dolcevita Plus and Red.
There’s only one engine available on the latest Fiat 500: a 1.0-litre mild hybrid engine. It offers a great blend of performance and economy, feeling as at-home in the city as it is on a country road. Of the others, the 0.9-litre TwinAir sounds great and offers excellent performance, while the 1.2-litre petrol is fine for city driving. The 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel is less popular but ideal for long commutes.
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