Fiat 500 Review

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Fiat 500 Tested December 2007

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Rating

5 stars

Quick Summary

Highly recommended. One of the most interesting, desirable, charming, best value, fun city cars on the market. It's not the most dynamic to drive, but the forthcoming Abarth version could resolve that. Fiat's got the basics of its modern Cinquecento absolutely right - it earns a rare five stars.

Road Test

First the Beetle, then the Mini and now - fifty years after the original was launched - it's Fiat's turn to reinvent an icon.

The tiny, rear-engined city car that mobilised a nation has been brought bang up to date for the modern day. But the original script has changed. This new 500 isn't a simple utilitarian motor like its forebear. Like the BMW Mini, the baby Fiat's modern market appeal is as a heavily styled fashion object, majoring on premium build quality and desirability rather than engineering purity.

In fact, Fiat's offering so many cosmetic add-ons that you can specify - take a deep breath - 549,396 different possible spec combinations for a new 500. Compare that to the very first 'Nuova' 500, of 1957, a machine so basic it was conceived partly as an alternative to a scooter.

Today's fashionistas will appreciate the freedom to accessorise their new car. But it's nostalgia for the original that makes it so dangerously easy for the rest of us to fall for the Cinquecento's descendent. The proportions and dinky outline of the fifties car have been replicated, albeit on a larger scale. That's an impressive design success because the original's engine was located at the rear whereas the more conventional modern version has the motor up front.

But, although the stand-out styling is eyeball grabbingly good, don't believe every bit of the hype. This new supermini isn't an entirely unique proposition. Mechanically, it's heavily based on the excellent Fiat Panda - in fact it's built on the same production line in Poland, also shared with the Ford Ka. And the powertrains are basically the same, although the 500's engines are tuned to give more grunt than the Panda's.

Although the two cars are closely related underneath, the 500s interior design quality (as well as its looks) sets it apart from the Panda. The twin-binnacle speedo/rev-counter for example, is one of many typically Italian, incredibly stylish touches. The cabin's lent an air of quality seldom found on a £10k car, and it's more solid than any other small Fiat in history, with an almost-bespoke design and array of premium furnishings.

There is also the option of a convertible version - the 500C - for those that want to make sure as many passers by see them as possible. However, it is less a full droptop and more a huge sunroof. It folds back to sit where the back window would be, so impairs vision in the rear-view mirror. It is a quick moving system though, and adds an attractive element to the 500 range.

Despite the many accessory combinations, Fiat has made choosing your basic 500 very easy indeed. The three engines (not including the Abarth) are each available with three trim levels - Pop, Sport and Lounge. And happily even the entry-level Pop is strongly equipped with the basics like a CD player, electric windows and mirrors and a colour-coded exterior. It's excellent initial value for money, plus owners should benefit from strong residuals.

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