Model/Engine size: 1.3 16v Multijet
Fuel economy combined: 67.3 mpg
The Fiat 500 manages to be a green car while at the same time having bags of character. The design is based on the 1957 Fiat 500 – the car that is still held up as a design icon around the world. The new exterior manages to be retro yet also modern and cute.
Although the profiles of both old and new are similar (however the new one is rather bigger), there is one fundamental difference: the original was rear-engined. Today the new Fiat 500 is based on the Panda and therefore front-engined and front wheel drive, and in diesel guise, the 1.3 16v Multijet manages 67.3 mpg fuel consumption and emissions of just 110 g/km of CO2.
The diesel engine is actually very smooth and quiet; more refined in fact than the petrol versions. It is also responsive bearing in mind the power of just 75 bhp – although it’s lively, it’s not particularly quick.
As soon as the Fiat 500 was announced, comparisons with the Mini became commonplace. On everyone’s mind was the question: “Will the 500 be as much fun to drive as the Mini?” While the 500 is perfectly pleasant to drive, it’s certainly very different from the Mini. Rather than the Mini’s solid go-kart like handling, in comparison the 500 is rather bouncy and it does not instill sure-footed confidence in corners – especially in bumpy corners. So despite all the comparisons, the Mini and the 500 are very different animals. The Fiat is the cheeky Italian style-conscious city car. Great for nipping around Rome’s twisty-cobbled streets, less suited to twisty British back roads.
On the inside, the dash looks great, and the speedometer has a rev counter inside it – the needle chases the speedo needle around the clock. The interior reflects the external white colour, even down to the steering wheel – great design, but we do wonder how practical the white steering wheel will be as the years take their toll on this car. The 500 retains the slightly quirky Fiat button on the dashboard to change the weight of the steering from normal driving to lighter city driving. The turning circle is good, which helps its city driving credentials.
Another strange design feature is a driver’s seat control that is positioned right next to the handbrake – we’d be interested to find out how many of these plastic levers have been broken through being mistaken for the handbrake.
Space in the driver’s area is fine, however as you progress more rearwards you are reminded that this is a small city car, reflected by one of the smallest-ever rear parcel shelves.
There are three trim levels, starting with Pop, then Lounge and Sport. However, again in keeping with the Mini, the range of options to personalise this car is huge – ranging from various alloy wheels choices to Italian flag-coloured stripes – Fiat claims that there are more than half a million option combinations!
The diesel options come with a five speed gearbox which is mounted quite high on the dash and the change is perfectly functional, but not hugely inspiring.
Although smaller than the Mini, the fuel consumption is not quite as good, at 67.3mpg rather than the Cooper D’s 72.4mpg. This is despite the light weight of the 500 at just 980 Kg.
In terms of safety, the 500 has seven air bags as standard and is the first city car to achieve a five-star EuroNCAP rating. And in terms of local air quality emissions, the 500 is also the first city car range to be Euro V compliant.
Where the Fiat really scores in comparison with the Mini is the price – with the cheapest diesel variant starting at £9305, this is significantly less than the Cooper D’s starting price of £14,420. If you go for a petrol engine, the 1.2 Pop starts at just £7,900.
Due to its desirability, the 500 should hold its value well – if not quite as well as the class-leading second hand values of the Mini.
The Fiat 500 is a real design statement, and also a green statement, especially in diesel form; this engine is refined, and the driving experience is perfectly enjoyable around town. Just don’t expect to break the laws of physics by having loads of space inside, and despite its heritage, don’t expect it to out-handle a Mini if you decide to imitate driving stunts from The Italian Job. Which is a shame, as the character looks suggest the driving experience will be more fun.
Fuel economy extra urban: 78.5 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 53.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 110 g/km
Green rating: VED band B – £35
Weight: 980 Kg
Company car tax liability (2008/9): 13%
Price: £9,305 (From £7,905 to £10,710)
Insurance group: 4
Safety: NCAP 5 stars
Max speed: 103 mph
0-62mph: 12.5 seconds
Also see the Fiat 500 Cabriolet version (Fiat 500C) – with sliding soft top in three colours which features a Start&Stop system