The original Fiat 500 was a city car made in Italy between 1957 and 1975. It cost next to nothing to run and was originally powered by a tiny engine. In 2007, the 50th anniversary of the 500's launch, Fiat launched the New 500. This is now one of the trendiest mini motors on the road, and you can still see hints of the original 1957 500 within it.
The entry-level Fiat 500 1.2 petrol isn’t quick, but it just about does the job of buzzing around town. The 0.9 Twinair turbocharged Fiat is far zippier, but the turbocharged 1.4 petrols in the Abarth variants are genuinely nippy off the mark. There’s also a 1.3 diesel 500, which delivers a respectable, economical drive – and is better for travelling a little further afield.
Ride and handling
The tiny 500 handles urban roads well, thanks to its minute dimensions and feathery steering. Cut loose from the commotion of city life though, and the Italian car starts to flounder. The handling gets erratic and the ride is far too twitchy and playful for long motorway commutes. What’s more, the car’s cabin becomes less than calm at speed, due to intrusive wind and road noise.
The Fiat is relatively spacious for what it is. The rear bench takes two child seats without any problem. If you need to take your children to nursery, you’ll notice that the 500 manoeuvres in the crèche car park with ease.
The only real downside if you have children, or you plan on doing lots of driving holidays, is the tiny boot will probably struggle to take anything other than a few shopping bags.
What to know before you buy
Fiat has recalled the 500 for problems with the airbags, brakes and steering. All the remedial work should have been carried out, but it’s worth checking. If you buy from a dealer then they should rectify any unresolved recalls. If you purchase privately it is possible that a past recall may have been ignored.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) publishes information of all safety recalls. Most recall notices include the VIN/chassis number range(s) and build date range of affected vehicles. Issues with the shock absorbers have been reported too, so listen out for any out of the ordinary sounds coming from the suspension.
Another issue is that the 1.2-litre 500 city car has been criticised quite publicly about its apparent lack of power when climbing hills.
The Fiat 500 is a bargain compared with its main rival, the MINI. Not only that, but MINIs are extremely poorly equipped unless you go up the range. Another competitor, the Smart ForTwo is a decent secondhand buy, but it doesn’t have the same “wow factor” as the Fiat.
The Fiat 500 makes a good used buy if you are not planning on commuting long distances. It is less pricey than many rivals, and its adorable appearance and retro styling add to its appeal.
The Twinair model produces very low CO2, too, so it is excused from the London Congestion Charge. Also, and very reassuringly, the Fiat scored a maximum 5-star rating in the gruelling Euro NCAP crash test safety programme.
When it achieved this, it was the first time that a car of such compact dimensions had achieved a top rating. Astonishingly, a vehicle of its type is also equipped with seven airbags as standard. This Fiat is an easy on the pocket, compact car that’s perfect for the urban driver.