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Driven: 2024 Fiat 500 Mild Hybrid. Image by Fiat.

Driven: 2024 Fiat 500 Mild Hybrid
With the electric 500e now established in the Fiat range, is there still space for the petrol-powered 500?

   



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2024 Fiat 500 Mild Hybrid

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As Fiat, like every manufacturer, heads towards its low-emission future, the popular 500 city car has evolved. The 500e has brought the car well and truly into the 2020s, with its modern style and cool interior, but the 'old' 500 remains on sale with the mildest of mild-hybrid powertrains. But is there still a place for the cheap runabout, or is the petrol-powered 500 on its last legs?

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2024 Fiat 500 Top Mild Hybrid
Price: 500 from £16,790, Top from £18,290
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder mild-hybrid petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power: 70hp
Torque: 92Nm
Emissions: 105g/km
Economy/Range: 61.4mpg
0-62mph: 13.8 seconds
Top speed: 104mph
Boot space: 185 litres

Styling

The 500's bodywork hasn't changed all that much in almost 20 years, which is testament to just how good the design is. The fact it still doesn't look too dated is hugely impressive. But the current 'facelifted' 500 has been with us for almost a decade now, and alongside the 500e, it does look a bit old-school. Nevertheless, that's kind of the point, so we won't judge it too harshly for that. After all, people still love the retro lines, and that's what matters.

Interior

As with the 500ís exterior, the cabin is designed to conjure images of the 1950s car, but add some distinctly 21st century features. Take, for example, the round instrument cluster filled with a digital screen, or the body-coloured dashboard panel crowned with a touchscreen infotainment system.

To tell the truth, some of the design features Ė while quirky Ė are an ergonomic nightmare. Why are the window switches by the gear lever, and why canít you see any of the cruise control switches? Worst of all, the seat height adjuster is right next to the handbrake, so itís easy to absent-mindedly raise your seat, rather than securing the car. The driving position isnít brilliant on long drives, either.

And all these modern touches, such as the touchscreen, are starting to feel a bit dated, particularly alongside the considerably more modern 500e. The screen, for example, is tiny and laggy, which makes it difficult to use. Even with your phone connected via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, itís frustratingly clunky, while the display is tiny. The digital instrument display is better, but even that is hardly a technological tour de force.

Like most small cars, you can tell the 500 has been built to a price, but in Fiatís defence, it isnít the worst thing in the world. Commonly cocked-up touch points such as the door catches still feel nice and upmarket, while the steering wheel buttons and the switchgear on the dash are all fine. Some of the things you touch less regularly, such as the door cards and the dash, feel a bit cheap, but the use of body-coloured trim manages to lift the mood without raising prices.

Practicality

Thanks to the tiny footprint, safety considerations and the design, space is at a premium in the 500, and though the cabin is perfectly comfortable for two (driving position aside), itís cramped for three or four. Younger kids might be happy on the rear bench, particularly with a shorter adult in front, but grown-ups are going to find the back seats cramped, if they can fit in there at all.

Boot space is similarly compromised, with just 185 litres of carrying capacity Ė a figure that looks paltry even in comparison with other city cars such as the Hyundai i10. There are quite serious sports cars with noticeably more boot space than that. But in a strange way, for everyday tasks, itís something of a blessing in disguise. At least it means your shopping wonít fly around the boot when you go around a roundabout, as it might with something more spacious.

Performance

With a 1.0-litre engine and no turbocharger to help out, it's no surprise to find the 500 lacking somewhat in the performance department. But 70hp is just about adequate for driving around town, and the short gearing of the likeable six-speed manual gearbox means it doesn't feel too weedy at low speeds. Get much above 50-60mph, however, and it begins to feel a little breathless, with lacklustre performance in fifth or sixth gear, even with your foot to the floor. And just getting to 62mph takes longer than it took you to read this paragraph.

On the plus side, Fiat has integrated that mild-hybrid technology pretty well, with the system essentially providing a glorified version of the stop-start tech with which we're all now familiar. While the electricity can't power the wheels directly, it takes some of the load off the engine, allowing official economy of 61.4mpg and real-world economy of well over 50mpg, particularly on longer runs.

Ride & Handling

While the 500's powertrain may not be especially sporty, the little Italian hatchback is a remarkably enjoyable car to drive. As long as you stick to its home turf, that is. The steering doesn't have all that much feel, but with the wheels at the corners, the 500 feels pretty responsive and agile, which comes in handy on city streets and fast B-roads alike. Combine that with surprisingly good control of that cute body, and the 500 is more fun to drive than you might expect, but it struggles with crosswinds on the motorway.

In fact, refinement is an issue in general, with too little soundproofing in the cabin to stop the road noise soaking through. And the engine, which makes a reasonably pleasant thrum at lower speeds, settles into a bit of a drone at motorway cruising speed. Ride comfort isn't what it could be, either, although the car's size counts against it on that front. By the time the front wheels have responded to a bump, it's almost at the rear, and that can make it feel a bit jittery over potholes and the like.

Value

Prices for the mild-hybrid 500 start at just over £16,000, which doesnít sound especially cheap. However, car prices have increased massively in the past few years, and the 500ís price tag must be seen through that lens. When the Dacia Sandero Ė a car that cost just £7,995 in 2021 Ė now costs just shy of £14,000, you realise the Fiatís pricing is hugely competitive. Particularly for a car with a seven-inch touchscreen, 15-inch alloy wheels and air conditioning all thrown in, not to mention Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. And even this Top version, with its digital instrument display, rear parking sensors and automatic climate control, barely tops the £18,000 mark.

Verdict

Although the Fiat 500 is imperfect, it remains a really appealing choice for those who want something small, stylish and perfect for driving around town. The image won't be to everyone's taste, and nor will the relatively meagre 70hp output, but the mild-hybrid 500 is very good at what it does, and it's more flexible than the newer 500e in some ways. It's just a shame the years are beginning to catch up with it.



James Fossdyke - 6 Feb 2024



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