Fiat 500 Review
The 500 is Fiat’s more affordable answer to the BMW MINI hatch, with the ability to make it truly your own. It is also safe and fitted with a choice of efficient engines.
Pros: Stylish interior and exterior styling, personalisation options, affordable to run
Cons: Unsettled ride, artificial steering feel, noisy, TwinAir economy
Trim range: Pop, Colour Therapy, Lounge, S, Abarth
Petrol engines: 0.9 TwinAir (85), 1.2 (69), 1.4 T-Jet (135)
Diesel engines: 1.3 Multijet (95)
Gearboxes: Five-speed manual, five-speed automatic
What is the Fiat 500?
The 500 is Fiat’s premium supermini answer to the BMW MINI and Citroen DS3. On top of the large choice of interior and exterior personalisation options, the Fiat has lots of standard safety kit and should prove cheap to run.
Three petrols and a diesel engine are offered in the 500; we like the 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol and the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel. The TwinAir, with 85hp and 106lb ft of torque, feels liveliest. It has as a unique two-cylinder soundtrack which takes some getting used to, and is also turbocharged and fitted with a stop-start system.
The 1.3-litre Multijet diesel with 95hp has enough power and an impressive 201Nm of torque, so is the best choice if you make long motorway trips. If you do want more power, the sporty Abarth has 135hp and great mid-range torque; add the optional Esseesse kit and this increases to 160hp.
Ride and handling
The Fiat 500 doesn’t have a bad ride in town, although more rutted roads can unsettle it. Higher speeds also reveal some float which can make some feel a bit queasy.
Handling is OK too, albeit again compromised because of the soft suspension which results in lots of body roll through corners. The 500's steering is the Fiat’s biggest disappointment; electrically assisted, it feels strangely artificial around the straight ahead and is way too light.
The racy Abarth has much stiffer springs and dampers, which equals sharper steering and better body control.
Behind the wheel
Dashboard and driving position
A modern and attractive rework of the simple 1950s original; the 500 has one big dial with speedo, rev counter and fuel and temperature gauges in one. There are also colour-coded finishes for the dash, chrome-trimmed buttons and the gearchange is mounted on the centre console, freeing up useful legroom.
The upright driving position won’t suit all drivers, as there is no lumbar support and front legroom is limited. At least the controls fall easily to hand.
Visibility in the Fiat 500 is OK in general, with large windows, thin roof pillars and large wing mirrors; although the smaller rear screen is more of a compromise, the fact there’s so little overhang means it’s less of an issue than it could be. Besides, rear parking sensors are available as an option on all models.
Gadgets and technology
All 500 models are fitted with a radio/CD player with MP3 compatibility. Lounge and range-topping S models have the Blue&Me Bluetooth system as standard. This includes a digital audio file reader and USB port.
A Blue&Me TomTom2 portable navigation system is available as an option on all models.
- Smartphone connectivity: An iPod/iPhone/smartphone connectivity is via the Blue&Me system, with USB and Bluetooth connections where fitted
- Navigation: The Blue&Me TomTom 2 portable navigation system is SD card based and optional on all
- Personalisation: Blue&Me Bluetooth integration displays menus from the user’s phone on the instrument display. Models with USB connection also display audio information on the same screen
- Audio: All models have a CD/stereo with six-speakers. No DAB radio is available
- Internet: Fiat does offer some internet functionality on the 500, via the Blue&Me TomTom2 portable navigation system, as it includes live services such as traffic, weather, Expedia, Trip Advisor and local search
- Can it Tweet or Facebook: Yes, the Fiat 500 has some social media connectivity, with a Twitter app included as one of the Live services on the Blue&Me TomTom 2 portable navigation system
- What is the standout gadget on the Fiat 500: The Blue&Me Bluetooth system, as on top of Bluetooth connectivity, a practical USB port is included for connection of smartphones and MP3 players
Passenger space and practicality
The Fiat 500 is only available with a three-door body, but access to the rear seat is good, with wide-opening doors and front seats that slide forwards a long way.
Two children should be comfortable on short trips in the back of the 500, but the curvy hatchback eats into the headroom and legroom is only adequate; this limits accommodation for adults.
Considering the 500’s compact dimensions, we think the 185 litre boot is better than you would expect. Especially when you compare it to the Fiat’s biggest style rival, the MINI, which has just 160 litres.
A split/fold rear seat is fitted as standard on Lounge and S trims, but only optional on others. This increases boot space to 550 litres, but with a high loading lip practicality is hampered.
Noise levels in the Fiat 500 are fine around town, but it is a tiring drive on the motorway, with obvious wind and road noise audible in the cabin. None of the 500’s engines are particularly refined either.
The 500 might be compact, but it is one of the safest small cars on sale with seven-airbags and ISOFIX child seat fixings fitted across the range, equalling a top five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.
Running Costs/Value for Money/Pricing
If you are looking for a 500 that will save you money at the pumps, there are two engines that work best; the 0.9 TwinAir or the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel.
The TwinAir boasts 92g/km of CO2 emissions and a combined fuel consumption figure of 70.6mpg. However, the revvy nature of this engine makes achieving this fuel figure difficult.
The other alternative, the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel can achieve 76.3mpg and has CO2 emissions of 97g/km: it is torquier and more relaxed so stands a better chance of returning more impressive real-world economy figures.
Considering the lifestyle opposition from Citroen and MINI, the 500 needs to be good and thankfully this Fiat delivers; we like the attention to detail with the colour-coded trims and finishes on show.
Sadly, there are still some hard and scratchy plastics lower down the dashboard, which cheapens the look.
Pricing and equipment
The 500 starts at £10,010, for the entry-level Pop, but we would opt for the better-equipped Colour Therapy, with its groovy 70s inspired colours and trim, which is £800 more at £10,810.
The 500 aspires to be given consideration alongside the BMW MINI, but even the warm 500S trim is £460 less than the entry-level MINI First which costs £11,870. The Fiat also has more kit with the welcome additions of Bluetooth and air conditioning.
Value for money
The 500 Pop has electric windows, power steering and an MP3-compatible radio/CD player, but does feel a bit basic. Colour Therapy, Lounge and S trims feel more luxurious and special but are more costly.
Fiat would like to think that the fashion-conscious buyer would consider the 500 alongside the other kings of personalisation, the Citroen DS3 and BMW MINI. Buyers should also look at mainstream alternatives, such as the Ford Ka (the 500’s sister car) and even the Vauxhall Adam.
Fiat make great small cars and with over 100,000 sold since launch in 2008, the 500’s modern retro looks and large choice of personalisation has really captured the imagination of UK buyers.