Fiat 500 1.2-litre Review

It's always a good week when there's a Fiat 500 to test

fiat 500 irish car review
The Fiat 500

Scroll down to read the review or watch my Fiat 500 video review!

The Fiat 500 needs little in the way of introduction – it’s a modern icon. But 2008, the year the 50’s Italian icon was relaunched, seems like a long time ago now, and as the car ages Fiat faces the challenge of how to move the design forward without upsetting the core market.

So they’ve taken a very gentle approach for this latest model update so the 500 still looks very much like a 500. However, according to Fiat there are 1,900 new components.

If you look closely there are some visual changes – some new lights front and back including LED DRLs in the shape of the ‘0’ from the 500 logo, squarer edged bumpers, and a new 3D effect grille. But I’m pleased to say the 500 is still cute as a button.

fiat 500 irish car review
Fiat 500: Some very small visual tweaks for 2016

You can make your 500 stand out from the crowd now with new ‘Second Skin’ personalisation options – factory-fitted themed graphics that add more wow factor, for example “Comics”, which has a cool two-tone appearance of black-yellow or black-red. There are new alloy wheel designs and two brand new colours, “Glam Coral” pastel and “Avantgarde Bordeaux” metallic, which bring the total number of colours available to 13.

The interior has lost none of its retro charm with familiar body coloured panels and circular instrument binnacle. But it now looks even better than before with a new centre console design where the new Uconnect infotainment system now takes centre stage. The 500’s interior is one of the brightest, most fun and playful interiors around and can’t but make you feel a bit happier than you were when leaving the house.

fiat 500 irish car review
Fiat 500: New centre console and Uconnect infotainment

However, there are a few problems that have not been addressed with this update. The standard speedometer is not the easiest to read and the seating position could be awkward for you because the lever to adjust the seat height doesn’t really move the rear cushion up and down properly, it tilts it instead, which is a bit weird.

And remember this is a small car, fine up front for driver and passenger but rear space is snug with just two designated seats and the boot is also on the small side at 185 litres.

There are three trim levels available for the Fiat 500 and standard equipment on Pop includes LED daytime running lights, electric windows and mirrors, Uconnect and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Step up to Pop Star for air con and alloys and to Lounge for front fog lights, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear parking sensors, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and a more advanced Uconnect system.

fiat 500 irish car review
Fiat 500: Loads of fun to drive

The engine line-up has been carried forward so there’s the 1.2-litre petrol, with 69bhp, two TwinAir turbo petrols with a bit more power (85 and 105bhp), and a 1.3 litre diesel (95bhp), which is actually the only diesel you will find in this segment.

My test car had the basic 1.2 litre, 69bhp petrol engine. It is modest in terms of power and performance – fine at urban speeds but it’s slow to pick up pace out of town and if you meet any steep hills you will be dropping gears rapidly to maintain that pace! But this engine is the bigseller in the 500 range and the pricing keeps the car cheap and cheerful. The turbocharged units are more powerful but they do have their own peculiar noise, which you will find irritating or irritating.

Little has changed in the way the 500 drives, which is largely a good thing because this is a genuinely fun little car to drive. Nothing to do with outright power of course, but it has good grip and road holding ability, the body feels nice and rigid, and the steering is direct and accurate.

fiat 500 irish car review
Fiat 500: Cheap and cheerful

But if there is to be a chink in the armour it’s the ride comfort – not the 500’s strong point. But this was really only an issue for me on the motorway – and you can excuse it because the car is not designed for motorways. It just never really settles, there’s this feeling of constant movement underneath you, which can grate on a long journey.

But you can forgive it some more when you look at the pricing and start thinking about how cool you will look behind the wheel for so little money. The 500 range starts at €13,450 for your basic 1.2 litre in Pop trim. Pop Star models start at €14,400 and Lounge models start at €15,800. The cabrio is available from €16,450.

The Fiat 500 is not the perfect small car, some are more spacious and some a bit more comfortable. But in terms of pure desirability, presence and style, the Fiat 500 leads the way and there are few cars that move in such fashionable circles with the same sort of pricing as the 500.

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: Fiat 500 Lounge 1.2-litre
Price: €15,800 (500 range starts at €13,450)
Engine: 1.2-litre petrol
Power: 69bhp
0-100km/h: 12.9 seconds
Economy: 60.1mpg
CO2 emissions:  110g/km
Tax band: A3 (€190 per year)

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