Putting a price on fun, from £14,140, model on test £19,905
There’s a saying: Go big or go home. Well, the Fiat 500 is definitely not big, but let’s not write it off just yet.
My father owned one six years back, and he said you didn’t drive it so much as wear it. In fact, he had an original Fiat 600 back in the late 60s, and despite the practicality levels associated with a tiny 4 seat city car, he always said (and I wholeheartedly agree) that every time you get in it, you smile. But still, this model, let’s face it is almost twenty thousand pounds. And for that you get two cylinders. Not four, not three… two. I’ve known lawn mowers with the same, so how could the same engine power a car?
Simple. Fiat put a turbo charger on it.
And, my word, does it work. Delivering the highest power output in the range, with the smallest engine capacity and lowest emissions is quite a trick, and one that many other manufacturers could learn from!
This July is the 60th anniversary of the original 500, but in fact this car has so much style – call it personality – that I think we should say birthday, not anniversary. It was just so much fun to drive, despite the low power, high revving gearbox and stereo that occasionally decided to turn off for no apparent reason. It generally turned back on again, so I put this down as a quirk and promptly ignored it.
So the engine / gearbox combo: you can’t describe this car as fast – to do so would be foolish. But the word I would use is ‘nippy’. The engine is eager, and although it might not actually be that fast, it certainly feels it and while you’re getting where you going, fast or not, you are in what is undeniably a nice cabin. There is a lot of equipment as standard, mine had a workable sat nav, good stereo system with Beats audio and steering wheel controls that are at your fingertips. Mind you the actual controls aren’t that far away, but still… Manouveuring in the 500 is simple – given its size, that’s not surprising, but you are also assisted by reversing sensors to fit into spaces only marginally bigger than the car itself.
The downsides? Well, let’s ignore the radio cutting out for no reason – Italian cars aren’t always renowned for electrical finesse, but that wouldn’t phase me. Let’s not pass judgement on the annoying selection for reverse, which involves a strange combination of a lift up collar and then pulling the lever towards you and back – that may sound odd, and maybe it’s just me but it didn’t seem logical – try it and maybe you’ll see what I mean. Some of the switches (actually the power knob for the stereo for one) seemed a little low-grade in the plastic selection, and not what you would necessarily expect from a car costing more than £19,900. And that’s perhaps the biggest thing I need to address; the cost.
Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, you can buy much bigger more powerful cars for the cost, but that’s not the point… it’s a Fiat 500; it’s a fantastic nod to the design of the past, while embracing modern technology, it’s somehow managed to become iconic in this second era already, and people love it. I love it, and for the first few days behind the wheel I could’t get past the cost. But then I started thinking differently…
If you want a small, easy to drive four-seat city car, there isn’t anything that has the same style. It is a lot of money for the size, but you’re buying style, design and a part of 60 years of history. I initially doubted that this was enough to justify the cost, and that perhaps is the issue – it takes a few days to understand this car, and a short test drive may not be enough. But then it sells; it’s been selling for years, and continues to do so. All I can therefore say is: well done Fiat. I don’t know how you’ve done it, but I’m glad that you did.
And Happy Birthday!