Fiat 500 hatchback (2008 – ) expert review
Read the Fiat 500 hatchback (2008 - ) car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives.The Auto Trader expert verdict: 3.5 The cute, retro-inspired looks of the Fiat 500 give it an appeal few other city cars can match.
- Cute, cheeky looks
- Great retro-styled interior
- Low running costs
- Poor ride, disappointing handling
- Some lacklustre trim materials
- Cramped cabin
At a glance
The looks are what immediately identify the Fiat 500 as something rather special and make it stand out from its other city car rivals. Its cheeky face and dinky dimensions bring smiles to passers-by. The round headlights and front indicators are a direct evolution of those from the original car, as is the bulge where you’d expect a front grille to be. Even the bonnet shutline, which runs along the front wing, rather than hidden on an angle, is an homage to the 1957 masterpiece. There’s plenty of scope to create a unique 500, too, with a huge range of options and accessories to choose from.
With an exterior like a fashion show, anything less than retro chic inside would be a disappointment. Fortunately, Fiat has done a good job of making the cabin a really nice place to be, again standing out a mile from other city cars. The retro Fiat badge on the steering wheel beams back at the driver, while the instrument cluster features a rev counter around the outside, with a speedo inside it and the trip computer in the centre. On the move it’s as though the speedo needle is chasing the rev counter. The main fascia is colour-coded and stretches from door to door, interrupted only by some retro buttons. Although the steering wheel adjusts for height only, it’s possible to find a decent driving position, with every model having a height-adjustable driver’s seat.
Considering its size, the Fiat 500 is pretty spacious, and there’s enough room for a couple of adults in the front, although the narrow cabin means they may well end up having to rub shoulders. The rear seats provide a decent amount of legroom, but rear headroom is less impressive, and it would be uncomfortable for adults on anything more than short journeys. The boot is just big enough for the weekly shop, but it’s nowhere near as large as what you’ll find in a VW Up and the most basic models don’t have a split-folding rear seat.
Ride and handling
The 500 has a soft suspension, but unfortunately, that doesn’t translate into a cosseting ride because the suspension is poorly controlled. The wheels crash clumsily into potholes, while the body of the car bounces and bobbles on scruffy surfaces. This poor control doesn’t do the handling any favours, either, because the body leans over a fair bit in bends. The steering is disconcertingly light, too, but it does make the car easy to manoeuvre around city streets. And, if any extra assistance is required, a ‘City’ mode lightens the steering even more at speeds below 44mph. The Abarth hot hatch version has much firmer suspension than other 500s, but it’s uncomfortably firm and still allows a disconcerting amount of body movement. The even-more-powerful 595 versions have an uprated Abarth suspension, but we haven’t driven those yet.
Fiat offers mainstream 500s with a choice of two petrol and one diesel engine, and our favourite is the most basic, the 1.2-litre petrol unit. Although it’s the slowest on paper, it’s well suited to the urban crawl, offering more low-down power than its 68bhp might suggest. Beyond that, it’s also up to sitting in the outside lane of a motorway for hours on end. There’s no doubt that the 0.9-litre Twinair petrol engine provides useful extra performance, but the lack of refinement as it goes about its business puts us off. The most flexible engine is the 1.3 Multijet diesel, which has bags of pull at low revs and gives strong performance in the real world. However, it’s significantly dearer to buy than the 1.2, and we can’t justify the extra expense. The Abarth hot hatch versions have a turbocharged 1.4 petrol engine, giving 133bhp in standard form and 158bhp in the 595 versions. We haven’t driven the 595, but even the standard Abarth is plenty quick enough.
All three engines in the regular Fiat 500 sip fuel, and even the least frugal – the 1.2 – averages the best part of 60mpg. The most economical is the diesel (although the high purchase price counts against it), but the Twinair has emissions of less than 100g/km, which equates to no-cost road tax. The Abarth versions are much less efficient than the rest, returning just 43.5mpg. They’ll be pricey to insure, too, but insurance won’t break the bank on the other models, particularly if you stick to the 1.2 model. Any 500 will make a good long-term buy, as its desirability ensures strong residual values, so it won’t lose too much value over the course of its life.
The Fiat 500 shares plenty of parts with the generally-reliable
Fiat Panda, and only a couple of pieces of interior trim let the 500 down. Figures from Warranty Direct show that the 500 has been generally reliable, too, and customer reviews on our own website paint a very favourable picture. Perhaps the only major reservation is that the three-year warranty looks a little paltry when compared to what you get with rivals from Kia and Hyundai.
The 500 has achieved the full five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests. However, the test was carried out in 2007 and the tests became much harder in 2009, so it’s possible that the car wouldn’t achieve such a high rating were it to be tested now. Standard safety kit includes front, side and curtain airbags, plus another ‘bag to protect the driver’s knees. However, stability control isn’t standard on any version except the Abarth.
The entry-level Fiat 500 Pop is sparsely equipped, although fans may claim this is in keeping with the spirit of the original car. It features 14-inch steel wheels, electric windows and door mirrors, MP3-compatible CD/radio, ISOFIX rear child seat mountings, ‘City’ steering mode and body-coloured bumpers. Lounge models are more luxuriously appointed and feature chrome body detailing, a glass roof, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, air-con and 15-inch alloy wheels. At the top of the range, S trim gives the car a sporty makeover, with a sports bodykit and tinted windows. The Abarth models, meanwhile, are even sportier. Mind you, when you’re buying a 500, personalisation is the key, and if you buy one, you’ll be actively encouraged to choose from the extensive range of options and