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Fiat 500 review

Can a late life update bring the Fiat 500 back to the top of the city car pile?

Paul Healy

Words: Paul Healy - @P_aulHealy

Published on: July 15, 2015

Words: Paul Healy - @P_aulHealy

Published on: July 15, 2015

Tech Specs

Model testedFiat 500 1.2 69hp Lounge
Engine1.2-litre four cylinder petrol
Transmissionfive-speed manual, front wheel drive
Body stylethree-door city car
RivalsCitroen DS3, MINI hatch, Opel Adam
CO2 emissions110g/km (Band A2, €180 per annum)
Combined economy60.1mpg (4.7 litres/100km)
Top speed192km/h
0-100km/h12.9 seconds
Power69hp at 5,500rpm
Torque102Nm at 3,000rpm
Bootspace185 litres
EuroNCAP rating5-star; adult, 5-star; child, 3-star; pedestrian, 2-star*

Overall rating: 3/5

The 'barely there' update may freshen up the looks of the Fiat 500 but the changes cannot mask the fact that this is an eight-year-old car. With no meaningful mechanical upgrades, this really does seem to be something of a missed opportunity.

*Pre-2009 test. Facelift car not tested yet.

In the metal 3/5

Updating the Fiat 500 was always going to be a problem. How do you refresh a model that achieved iconic status the moment it hit the market without alienating buyers? It is something that Fiat has struggled with for a long time, which explains why it has taken the better part of eight years for this update to arrive. The line 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' seemingly firmly attached to the computer screens of the Fiat design team.

Nevertheless, change it must, if even only to tide us over until an all-new 500, based on a new platform, arrives in two years' time. So, the designers made a tweak here and a tuck there to give the 2015 new headlights with LED daytime driving lights in the shape of the 500's split-0, revised 500x-esque grille and foglights more prominently mounted than before. Out back the reverse lights and foglights have been moved away from the main cluster to make them more visible while the rear lights themselves sport a new design.

The new Fiat 500 also gets two new alloy wheel designs, a couple of new colours and Second Skin personalisation in the form of vinyl decals to the shoulder line or completely two-tone paint work. However, fundamentally, this is a 'lights and grille' facelift. The interior gets the same 'light touch' update as the exterior. The steering wheel is new, the USB and aux slots have been moved to a more logical place, there is an actual glovebox and the UConnect infotainment system has been updated to make it easier to use. Furthermore, there are now 10 interior trim options instead of the usual seven and Magnetti Mareli contributed a fully digital TFT instrument display but that is optional and only available on the top-of-the-range Lounge model.

But, and there is a but, the layout of the 500's interior works. Sure, some soft touch plastics for the dashboard would be nice but considering the design is trying to mimic the Bakelite look of the original 500 there is only so far designers can venture. What cannot be so easily excused is the size of the infotainment screen - five-inches in the world of the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note does not cut it.

Driving it 3/5

Of the 1,900 component changes, (seemingly forty per cent of the 500) few of them seem to be mechanical. The engine line-up is fundamentally unchanged save for some tweaking for better emissions and fuel economy. The brakes at the rear are still drums on all but the most powerful TwinAir model and the entry level, Pop 1.2, gets the same 257mm front disc as the rest of the range.

So, same as before then, which is both good and bad news. It's good news because, around town, there are few cars that can compare with the Cinquone. Light, communicative steering paired with engines that demand to be pushed makes it the ideal city car. Scooting away from lights, carving up traffic with gusto. It is delightful. A shame then that it all falls apart out of town. The soft suspension that previously soaked up bumps and cobbles now comes unsettled while cornering at speed. The engine, adequate around town, is completely flummoxed out of it. The 500 really should have those wheel locks that shopping trolleys have to stop it from leaving the confines of the city.

What you get for your money 4/5

It has yet to be confirmed by Fiat Ireland but Completecar.ie suspects that prices will follow those of the UK and stay unchanged meaning the range should start at €13,400 for a Pop specification car with the 1.2-litre, 69hp engine. This is a refreshing move, with manufacturers ordinarily using mid-life updates as a way to sneak an extra €500 onto the price, citing better standard equipment as a cause. What we do know is that the 500 is set arrive in November, just in time for the hectic 162 sales period.

Summary

The difficult second album is still to come for Fiat - will an all-new 500 be able to repeat the success of the Nuovo 500? For the time being, we have to make do with a remixed (or reloaded as Fiat calls it) version of that first album. Some will love it, marvelling in some of the small touches that only came to mind after the original car hit the market. Most will probably bide their time and wait for the follow up. Or pick up a cheap(er) original while they wait.



Alternatives

Car Reviews | Citroen DS 3 1.6 THP 165 | CompleteCar.ie
Citroen DS 3 vs. Fiat 500: stuck in the same sort of position as the 500 and itself subject to a blink-and-you-miss it facelift - let down by interior that is not special enough.

Car Reviews | MINI Hatch | CompleteCar.ie
MINI hatch vs. Fiat 500: really from the class above but the one car the 500 will always be compared to. It has managed to morph from generation to generation with much more success.
Car Reviews | Opel Adam | CompleteCar.ie
Opel Adam vs. Fiat 500: lacks the image of the 500 but has more modern engines and better interior. Not as good around town though.

Tech Specs

Model testedFiat 500 1.2 69hp Lounge
Engine1.2-litre four cylinder petrol
Transmissionfive-speed manual, front wheel drive
Body stylethree-door city car
RivalsCitroen DS3, MINI hatch, Opel Adam
CO2 emissions110g/km (Band A2, €180 per annum)
Combined economy60.1mpg (4.7 litres/100km)
Top speed192km/h
0-100km/h12.9 seconds
Power69hp at 5,500rpm
Torque102Nm at 3,000rpm
Bootspace185 litres
EuroNCAP rating5-star; adult, 5-star; child, 3-star; pedestrian, 2-star*