The Fiat 500 is Fiat's triumphant return to what it does best; building small cars for people to fall in love with. Largely based on the Panda, itself highly praised and a sales success, the 500 draws on Dante Giacosa's 1957 original for its styling. The 500 loses a couple of doors and some practicality over the Panda but considerably ups the visual ante. The car is powered by the same 1.2-litre and 1.4-litre petrol engines or 1.3-litre diesel as the Panda. The original 500 sold nearly 3.9 million examples in its 18 year lifespan and no doubt Fiat, which finds itself enjoying something of a revival, is hoping for a similar success.
As well as sharing its underpinnings, the 500 is pegged fairly close to the Panda in terms of pricing, beginning at less than eight grand for the base 1.2 in Pop trim, rising to £9,300 for higher spec 1.2s and entry level 1.3 and 1.4s. The top level Lounge and Sport versions of the 1.3 and 1.4 come in at a remarkably low £10,700 given their level of equipment, helped by the fact that this most Italian of cars is actually built in Poland with its lower wages. The pricing places it squarely between higher spec Citroen C2s, funky new Mazda 2, ageing Ford Fiesta and Nissan Micra and entry level Peugeot 207s, Renault Clios and of course the Mini One.
The 500 Makes the Mini, the car with which it will undoubtedly be compared despite the price difference, look instantly uncool. It really is genuinely lovable in the manner of Fiats of old and its looks, heightened by detailing such as bold red brake callipers, raised smiles from onlookers of the convoy of cars nipping through south London. In the 1.4, turning the key has the same effect, the engine zinging into life with an Italian bark and revving con brio. It simply begs to be thrashed, doing its best work above 4,000rpm. This enthusiasm suits the car which always feels quicker than the speedometer claims. Not darting in and out of traffic and chucking it round bends would be an affront to its nature.
Fiat has been singled out as being one of the greenest car companies around (presumably ignoring its ownership of Ferrari and Maserati), averaging 144g/km across its range in 2006. The 500 fares even better with the 1.2 petrol and 1.3 diesel both slipping under the 120g/km CO2 threshold (119g/km and 111g/km) and sipping fuel at the miserly rate of 55.4mpg and 67.3mpg respectively. The 1.4 is itself hardly a dipsomaniac, averaging 44.8mpg and emitting 149 grams of CO2 per kilometre.