The Fiat 500 has always been a great success within the small car industry, offering buyers a cute, retro citycar at very affordable prices. But does it still have what it takes against newer and flashier rivals?
Fiat's little citycar, the 500, is a stylish vehicle that remains as popular as ever. With the addition of the new model year, it's introduced a clever 1.0-litre mild hybrid petrol engine to its lineup but other than that, the 500 hasn't been fundamentally changed in recent times - but then again, loyal buyers didn't really want it to be. These people will enjoy the smart appearances, the up to date media options and the very individual feel. You can tell that Fiat knows its consumers.
If a car has built its brand, it's this one, Fiat's 500. In fact, it's done so twice in its history. 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 popular choice for the Italian brand, who've never stopped trying to improve it throughout the years. We got quite a few updates within the 2014 model year which gave customers more expensive & premium versions of the company's 'UConnect' infotainment system. Then in early 2020, the brand announced a 1.0-litre mild hybrid three cylinder petrol engine. Fiat has also put much time and effort into a wide range of personalisation options available. This all means that on paper at least, this little car remains a strong statement to rivals. The small, fashionable citycar segment though, has changed dramatically since this model's original launch. Does this Fiat still have what it takes to compete?
The big news for the Fiat 500 is the introduction of a mild hybrid 70hp 1.0-litre three cylinder petrol engine to replace the old & dated, 69hp 1.2-litre conventional four cylinder this car has been using since launch. The mild hybrid powerplant improves overall fuel efficiency without impacting the performance. It also promises a high standard of driving comfort thanks to a 12-volt 'BSG' 'Belt-integrated Starter Generator', which allows for a quiet, vibration-free restart of the internal combustion engine in Stop&Start mode. The engine puts out 92Nm of pulling power and works via a 6-speed manual gearbox integrated with that 'BSG' set-up we just mentioned above. The 'BSG' system is mounted directly on the engine block and is operated via the belt that also drives the auxiliaries. The new system also involves lowering the entire power unit 45mm so the car handles better on the road due to the lower centre of gravity. As was the case before, there's still a 1.4-litre petrol turbo unit available for the Abarth models. Within the past few years, Fiat has tried to improve the drive and handling of the 500, however this will probably not appeal to the car's urban-minded audience. You'll find that the engine can get a bit vocal if you work it hard especially on the motorway. Even then though, the slightly throbby note is characterful rather than unpleasant and around town (where this vehicle will mostly be used), refinement is more than satisfactory. 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. With the Dualogic gearbox though, it is currently only available in the older, less efficient 1.2-litre 69hp engine. City dwellers will appreciate the tight 9.3m turning circle too.
Fiat would've been silly to alter the 500's iconic shape too much, so reasonably, they've kept exterior & interior styling tweaks to the minimum. As like before, there's a single three-door bodystyle, though you can order it in soft-topped '500C' convertible form if you like the idea of having an electric fabric-folding open top roof. Fiat will now also offer a fashionable & extensive choice of wheels, graphic packages and paint colours. This helps to make the 500 feel really individual. Within the interior, the most noticeable change to more recent versions of this car has been the inclusion of the 'Uconnect' infotainment systems across all models, Smart air vents surround the screen, leading to a much more integrated feel than you'd get in many more expensive branded vehicles. Drivers will also notice the smart steering wheel with its chrome-plated, premium switches. Plus, if you are driving in the comfortable 'Lounge' specification, you will have the optional 7" TFT digital instrument cluster. In the rear, adults may find their heads brushing against the roof and will need to make full use of the elbow rest cut-outs indented into the side panels. Most people though, will find the space in the rear of the 500 just about enough for two people on short to medium trips and it will be more than adequate for kids. The 185-litre boot remains as before with no real changes, not a bad figure as this still improves on many rivals within this sector. If you need to carry more, then you can push forward the rear bench seats, which split-fold in all specification levels except but entry-trim. This frees upto 550-litres. If you opt for the 500C convertible version then the luggage capacity will fall slightly to 182-litres as the rear accommodates for the folding roof.
As like before, there's a choice of fixed-hard top and convertible models of the 500. The open-topped 500C convertible require an extra premium of around £2,500 over their standard counterparts. If you're happy with standard 500, then you'll find pricing that's a fraction higher than before, which still only starts at around £12,600 for the base Pop specification. Above this variant, there are also the 'Lounge', 'Sport', 'Star' and 'Rockstar' trim levels. While there are cheaper and more practical cars out there, these prices are equal with other similar rivals like Vauxhall's ADAM - and they are cheaper than what you'd pay for a comparable MINI Hatch 3-door. Key items on the specification list include the Dualogic semi-auto gearbox which requires an extra of around £750. The base 'Pop' trim has LED running lights and a Uconnect infotainment system with six speakers dotted around the cabin, plus AUX-& USB ports along with mounted steering wheel controls. The higher 'Lounge' specification meanwhile, gets you a panoramic glass sunroof, rear parking sensors, a chrome front grille, front fog lights, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and a Uconnect 5" touchscreen infotainment system with smartphone integration for Apple CarPlay & Android Auto. If you want to go even further up the specification line, then Fiat will want to tell you about the latest addition of so-called 'Second Skin' decal packages.The new Fiat 500 models are very safe on the road too, with a five star NCAP safety rating, seven airbags, ABS with electronic brake control, electronic stability control, a Hill Holder clutch to make pulling away on an incline much easier and hydraulic brake assistance to help with emergency stops. The 500 seems to be quite the package!
One of the main advantages of such a small city car is that tiny fuel efficient engines are more than adequate for hauling you and your little 500 around. In particular, the newly introduced mild hybrid 1.0-litre engine unit is now fitted to most versions of this car. The electrified system used recovers energy during braking and deceleration, stores it within a battery, and then uses it, to restart the engine in Stop&Start mode and to assist it during acceleration for a quick injection of power. This technology allows the standard combustion engine to switch off by shifting into neutral, even at speeds below 18mph. The dashboard displays various pieces of information on the hybrid system, along with prompting the driver on when to shift gear. The mild hybrid unit works with the 6-gear manual transmission with the aim of improving the fuel economy in out-of-town driving, thanks to new low-friction bearings and gaskets and the use of a specific high-efficiency lubricant. You should expect well over 50mpg (53.3mpg WLTP) in regular use and an NEDC-rated CO2 emissions figure of 88g/km (down from 114g/km from the model year before). If you decide on the open-topped 500C convertible variant with this mild-hybrid engine, you'll see no penalty for either economy or emissions. Along with all of these benefits, the 500 should definitely be cheap to insure. The warranty that Fiat offer is for three years but with a 100,000 mile limit, that's significantly higher than some other brands will give you hinting at the trust Fiat have in this vehicle. 500 models hold their value very well and that's unlikely to change any time soon. Don't be tempted to go customisation-crazy with the options list though as these can quickly add up and not everyone will share your taste or want to pay extra for graphics when it comes time to sell.
Fiat hasn't needed to do a whole lot to retain this 500 model's popularity. It still looks, feels and drives great, it's always been a pleasure to drive and providing the pricing doesn't get too inflated, the market will still remain. As for this newly updated version, the mild hybrid technology is a step into the future along with plenty of personalisation options to fit almost anyone needs. Apart from this, things are very similar to before which means that the sound and eager response you get from the various engines very much suit the style of the vehicle and though the quoted running costs are difficult to achieve in a real-world motoring scenario, there's no doubt in my mind that this will be a very cheap vehicle to run and maintain thanks to the newly introduced mild hybrid technology. The 500 remains small insideand out, however, the smallness is what this vehciel is all about. This will be appreciated when zipping around town in one. In summary, Fiats small city car remains as likeable as ever. Choosing a 'fashionable' little runabout can often be a risk upon many different rivals to choose from but here though, is one you can enjoy without a worry.
27th January 2021
21st Century Motors Limited are a credit broker and not a lender, we are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered No : 682528
Registered in England & Wales with company number : 08901938 | Data Protection No : ZA105350 | VAT No : 214205361
Registered Office : 16a Cann Bridge Street, Preston, PR5 4DJ
Disclaimer: All vehicle images and descriptions are for illustration and reference purposes only, all vehicle leases are subject to credit approval and subject to change at any time. E&OE.
Copyright © 2021 21st Century Motors Limited, All rights reserved.