New Fiat 500 offers upmarket feel

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ALTHOUGH the shape may be vaguely reminiscent of the 1957 original, little else about the Fiat 500 sticks to its predecessor’s back to basics appeal.

This time round, the 500 is unashamedly chic, offering an upmarket look and feel that enables urban buyers to own something with a MINI’s chic appeal for significantly less money.

Fiat has latterly built a reputation for having a wide range of excellent powerplants, especially at the smaller end of the product portfolio. But none is clever than the 0.9-litre 85bhp two cylinder TwinAir petrol unit that 500 buyers increasingly gravitate towards, slotting as it does between the more conventional 69bhp petrol 1.2 and the 100bhp petrol 1.4-litre engines on offer. There’s also a 95bhp JTDm diesel.

Five or six speed manual transmissions are offered and the 500 has been designed to replicate the original car’s nimble feel and ability to put a smile on its driver’s face. A 155bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged Abarth model is also available, fully tooled up with beefier steering, retuned suspension and a few aerodynamic tweaks.

Much of the underpinnings are based on Panda running gear - no bad thing as the Panda is a fun steer. Like the Panda, the 500 uses simple MacPherson strut suspension up front and a basic torsion beam at the back. A few centimetres have been added to the width of the car’s track, giving it a foursquare appearance and Fiat claims that body rigidity is around 10 per cent better than the Panda.

Delicious design details drip from the 500. It’s like a tiny pearl, especially inside when the ivory finish interior is specified. There’s a very well-judged blend of retro chic and ruthlessly modern contemporary design inside, with circular head restraints, a glass roof and iconic 500 badging on the Panda-sourced dashboard. The 500C convertible is a further option.

Chrome-ringed vents and a fascia that can be specified in the same colour as the body, mirroring the painted metal dash of the Nuovo 500, are just some of the interior design features. The exterior treatment is cool and clean with only the front grille and door handles differing significantly from the Trepiuno show car. Hats off to Fiat in this regard. So often we see cars that look fantastic as prototypes on a show stand only to arrive in production form virtually unrecognisable.

Fiat’s Panda is one of the cheapest cars to own, so the 500 will prove little different. The Multijet diesel version will average over 65mpg, with the 1.2-litre TwinAir petrol unit able to increase that to about 69mpg. As well as incurring zero road tax costs due to its 95g/km emissions, the 500 TwinAir is also exempt from London congestion charge fees. It’s probably not the sort of car we’d recommend to those covering higher mileages but it works extremely effectively in traffic, its Start&Stop system making queuing a curiously serene experience.

Depreciation won’t be anything like at MINI levels but will be much better than you’d expect on a Panda. Which is good news since insurance costs shouldn’t be much more expensive.