The 500 has been a great success story for Fiat, offering buyers a cute, retro citycar at affordable prices.
With more than 1.5 million sold since 2007, the Italian brand has decided it was time for an update. There’s nothing too radical here, but it should usefully refresh this car’s appeal. The experts and Car & Driving investigate.
Fiat’s trendy little 500 citycar may look a little different, but it’s been significantly improved. Outside, the only changes are a re-styled front grille and sleeker rear tail lights, but under the skin, the Italian brand claims that over 1,800 modifications have been made. There are cleverer infotainment systems across the range, extra efficiency under the bonnet and more options in terms of personalisation.
If ever a car has built its brand, it’s this one. In fact, it’s done so twice. First at its original launch back in 1957. And more recently with this modern era version, first launched in 2008. Ever since, it’s been a money-spinner for the Italian brand, who’ve never stopped trying to improve it. We got quite a wide-ranging package of updates in early 2014 that added a more powerful 105bhp TwinAir petrol unit to the line-up and gave buyers of more expensive versions the company’s ‘UConnect’ infotainment technology.
Now those UConnect systems have been rolled out across the range as part of a wider-ranging update that also brings us a slightly smarter look and a more extensive range of personalisation options. It all means that on paper at least, this car remains a strong proposition. The small, fashionable citycar segment though, has changed substantially since this model’s original launch. Does this Fiat still have what it takes to compete? Let’s find out.
Fiat promise improvements to both ride and handling for this revised 500, though this will probably be of limited interest to the car’s urban-minded audience. The petrol engine range is pretty familiar from before, which means that the entry level option is still a 1.2-litre naturally aspirated four cylinder petrol unit with 69PS. Cars fitted with this engine now receive bigger brakes to help safety and get the option of an ‘Eco’ package. Spend a little more and you can choose one of the two far more modern and efficient ‘TwinAir’ two cylinder turbocharged petrol powerplants, with either 85PS or 105PS. There’s a 95bhp 1.3-litre MultiJet engine option if you want it. Plus, as before, there are potent 1.4-litre turbo petrol Abarth models on offer for hot hatch fans.
Go for a 500 with a TwinAir petrol unit, as many buyers will, and you’ll find that the engine can get a bit vocal if you work it hard. Even then though, the gruff, slightly throbby note is characterful rather than unpleasant and, around town, refinement is more than acceptable. If you are urban-bound, you might also want to consider the optional (but rather jerky) Dualogic gearbox, a kind of manual transmission without a clutch. Unless you like all that left-foot pumping of course. City dwellers will also appreciate the tight 9.3m turning circle.
Fiat would’ve been unwise to mess with the 500’s shape too much, so sensibly, they’ve kept exterior styling tweaks to the minimum with this improved model. As before, there’s a single three-door bodystyle, though you can order it in soft-topped ‘500C’ form if you like the idea of having an electric fabric-folding roof. As for those design changes, well up front, there’s a sleeker chrome grille that sits below revised headlights and is positioned at more of an angle than before. Between these two elements are smarter daytime running lights, with a shape that echoes the zeros of the ‘500’ logo. Rounding the front off are updated chrome trims and a ribbed bonnet that looks a little more stylish.
At the rear, there are smarter tail lights that incorporate a body-coloured panel in the centre. This has meant the reversing and fog lights have moved from the clusters to the lower rear bumper. Your Fiat dealer will also offer you a more fashionable choice of wheels, graphic packages and paint colours to round off the updates.
Inside, the biggest change is the inclusion of ‘Uconnect’ infotainment systems on all models, although only the top ‘Lounge’ variant is fitted with a touchscreen as standard. Redesigned air vents flank the screen, leading to a much more integrated feel than you’d get in many more expensive cars. Drivers will also appreciate the smarter steering wheel with its chrome-plated switches.
Plus, if they’re in a plush ‘Lounge’ model, they’ve the benefit of an optional 7” TFT instrument cluster. The 185-litre boot remains as before, no bad thing as this still trumps many rivals.
As before, there’s a choice of fixed-top and convertible 500 models. The open-topped 500C variants require a premium of around £2,500 over their standard counterparts. If you’re happy with tin-top 500 motoring, then you’ll find pricing that’s a fraction higher than before, yet which still starts just shy of £11,000 for the baseline 1.2-litre Pop version.