Fiat 500 holds its appeal

In my student days, one of my classmates turned up one day in an elderly Fiat 500. I became the unofficial mechanic and, on one occasion I was trying to fettle the car, I asked the proud owner why she had bought the 500. “It looked like it needed a mummy,” she replied.

No doubt with one eye on the success of the new Mini, Fiat realised the potential in reinventing the Fiat 500 with a modern iteration of those appealing cute looks.

The new Fiat 500 appeared in 2007 and I most recently I tested the Fiat 500 Twin Air in 2011. Since then Fiat has sought to grow the appeal with a the Fiat 500L, designed to provide more space for families and the Fiat 500X to appeal to the crossover and small SUV market.

Fiat 500

Since I last drove the Fiat 500, it has undergone a mid-life update, with new front and rear lights and other aesthetic updates, plus a new touch screen dashboard and glovebox lid inside. The tiny two-cylinder Twin Air engine has also come in for some reworking and, now, the version in the test car has 20 more horses under the bonnet – up from 84 to 104 bhp.

What hasn’t changed is the thrum from under the bonnet as you fire up the tiny 875cc engine (prepare for your passengers to ask if it’s a diesel). It’s a purposeful sounding engine note and it fades into the background when you get under way.

Small it may be, but I was impressed with the power and liveliness of the Twin Air on my first introduction in 2011. Needless to say this more powerful version is even more impressive. It pulls willingly right through the rev range. Even in the classic test of an uphill exit from a dual carriageway roundabout, there is no lack of urge from under the bonnet.

The whole point of downsizing the engine is, of course, about improving economy and lowering emissions. A combined fuel consumption of 67.3 gives a good indication of a real-world potential of around 40 mpg on a mixture of city and country driving.

This mix of surprising pep and economy makes the Fiat 500 a good choice for someone who wants transport for two adults and two children. If you want to carry adults in the back then you really need to look at the 500L or 500X. On the subject of space, check the headroom before you tick the optional sunroof.

Fiat 500 interior

The Fiat 500 is a pleasant driving environment. It is light and airy and the dashboard, with its new touch screen, will delight the eye, complemented by the nicely crafted cream steering wheel. Unfortunately, it is only adjustable for height, not reach – which makes finding an ideal position more difficult for some. Another small gripe is the lack of space for resting your clutch foot.

Ride quality is generally quite good for such a short wheelbase car. The optional 16-inch wheels and low-profile tyres on the test car add to the Fiat 500’s sporty looks, but they do result in a slightly restless ride on some surfaces and the occasion crash over surface irregularities. My worst was roadworks where the contractor had thoughtfully placed a ‘ramp’ sign at the beginning, but omitted any warning at the escarpment they had left half a mile later at the other end of the works.

That said, these self-same low-profile tyres may have contributed to the driving pleasure on some of our best twisty by-ways.

I enjoyed my time with the Fiat 500. It may have strong competitors in this class, but its combination of fun and style with practicality is pretty appealing. My wife was quite upset when the man came to take it away before she had said her farewells.

Fiat 500

Clearly the cuteness of the original has transferred to the new Fiat 500 and, more importantly, matured well over the last nine years on the market. In the ‘Lounge’ version I tested, the car comes with an attractive up-market looking front grille with shiny studs. This complemented the 16-inch wheels particularly well and the test car came with one of the range of attractive or funky roof graphics to add to its panache.

At the end of the day, that sort of style adds not only to showroom appeal, but also to the pleasure of ownership. Nine years on, the revived Fiat 500 has matured well and there are also plenty available second-hand at dealers such as Motorpoint.

Fiat 500 0.9 TwinAir 105hp Lounge
£14,220 on the road
Carbon dioxide emissions: 99 g/km
Combined fuel economy 67.3 mpg
Top speed: 117 mph
0-62: 10.0 secs
Power 105 PS
Engine size 875cc petrol
Boot capacity 185/550 (back seats up/folded)
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