The Fiat 500 is a potential design classic. Following in the footsteps of the Volkswagen Beetle and the Mini Fiat have opted to create a small, cheap car that sticks as close to a simple design brief as possible. Have they created something as revolutionary or has the world moved on?
Fiat 500 Generation One (2007 - Present:
You can't argue with the cutesy styling of the 500, it harks back to the vintage car of the same name from the 1960's and this elegant tribute to the aesthetics of the era looks great. You could argue it resembles a smaller version of the modern Volkswagen Beetle, but most people think the Beetle has put on too much weight anyway.
The engine range offers three petrol driven options ranging from the 69bhp 1.2-litre through to the 1.4-litre that kicks out 135bhp. The range is evened out by the inclusion of a 1.3-litre diesel that offers impressive torque and some good fuel economy. All these setups are good options with only the entry level 1.2-litre lacking the necessary power for effective motorway driving. Inside the cabin it's a pleasant surprise to see the interior design matching the external looks nicely. There's very much a vintage feel to everything, and the embroidered steering wheel is almost a work of art. Although your surroundings are pleasant, they're not too spacious though. Whilst the front section is fine, rear passengers suffer from a low ceiling that could scare off anyone looking to transport full grown adults. Even family buyers with children may be put off by the lack of storage space in the rear, the boot giving only 185 litres of storage space.
The driving position is snug for shorter drivers, but particularly tall folk may find the lack of steering adjustment a real headache. If you can squeeze in the driving experience is much better than other small Fiats though. Rear axle changes have done much to banish the usual Fiat instability, and the suspension setup is surprisingly forgiving over rougher roads. That said, the short wheelbase effects handling too much and its hard to feel confident at speed. Road noise is civilised enough even at speed. Given the low price tag and potential design classic status, the Fiat 500 is an interesting addition to the competitive hatchback market.
Unfortunately, the pretty looks and vintage chic aren't enough to overcome some of the more annoying design flaws. However with good fuel economy and more than adequate city driving performance the Fiat 500 could make a good first car for the young urban driver. Those looking for a more well-rounded package are still going to be looking at the Ford Fiesta and Mini Cooper though, regardless of the slightly higher price.