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Fiat's mature bambino. Image by Dave Jenkins.

Fiat's mature bambino
Time to try out the new Fiat 500 in turbodiesel format.


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| A Week at the Wheel | Cambs, England | Fiat 500 |

Inside & Out: star star star star star

Let's be honest about it: appearance is the 500's raison d'Ítre and its kerb appeal is impossible to deny. Clearly the new 500 is much larger than the original but the two are clearly from the same gene pool and the modern version bears many of the stylistic hallmarks of its much loved forebear. Universally loved by all who saw it during its weeklong stay with us the 500 is arguably the most successful of the modern interpretation of the classics with cutesy looks combined with contemporary solutions to manufacture and style.

This theme continues inside where the huge dials and steering wheel clearly echo those of the original. The speedometer runs concentrically around the rev counter and the dial-in-dial appearance is as pleasing on the eye as it is novel. It could be argued that the digital readouts for things such as fuel and radio are a little bit of a lost opportunity though. Some good old-fashioned needles on gauges would fit in better. Many interior features bear close resemblance to those in the Panda, which is no bad thing, but the two interiors are like chalk and cheese thanks to the innovative styling and high-quality materials used in the 500.

The external form does impact interior space slightly in terms of rear accommodation and boot space, but very few buyers will be put off by these tradeoffs. Perhaps the biggest weakness is the poor visibility due to the large A- and C-pillars, both of which can impede one's view of the outside world when trying to manoeuvre in tighter spaces or at junctions and roundabouts.

Engine & Transmission: star star star star star

Our 500 test car was fitted with Fiat's compact 1.3-litre common-rail diesel engine, driving through a slick five-speed 'box actuated via the dash mounted lever. Offering a fine blend of economy, performance and refinement this engine works well in the 500 but lacks a little of the emotion and soul so prominent in other parts of the car. It's very rare these days to recommend a petrol alternative over a diesel model in many applications, but in this case you can't help but feel that a fizzy little petrol engine would fit the personality and character of the 500 much more closely for a minimal hit in economy.

Ride & Handling: star star star star star

Interestingly, given its urbanite remit, the 500 has been endowed with a surprisingly firm ride, reminiscent of that of the Panda 100HP, skipping over mid corner bumps and being fidgety and unsettled around town. As ever the obvious trade of excellent smooth road dynamics and grip apply but in practice this firm chassis does feel at odds with a car of the 500's persona and softer, more compliant suspension would have been preferable.

Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: star star star star star

The 500 is clearly a premium niche product in the Fiat line-up and it is priced accordingly. Of its competitors, somewhat ironically, there is only the MINI that can challenge it in terms of image and personality. In practice the two cars are quite different and aim at different parts of the marketplace, but they do share a raft of options that enable the owner to create their own individual car - an appealing trait for image cars. For many the 500 will more than justify the cost thanks to the appearance; the fact it is well equipped and finished will merely add to the appeal.

Overall: star star star star star

It's very hard not to be charmed by the little Fiat. Superficially at least the 500 is a wonderful little car and for many whom would consider buying one it's appearances that count more than anything else. Dig a little deeper and there are some shortcomings in terms of ergonomics and comfort, but these don't add up to enough of a negative to offset the 500's considerable talents and appeal. Fiat will sell as many 500s as it can, or indeed want to. It's a very special little car.

Dave Jenkins - 2 Jul 2008    - Fiat road tests
- Fiat news
- 500 images

2008 Fiat 500 specifications: (1.3 16v Multijet Lounge)
Price: £10,900 on-the-road.
0-62mph: 12.5 seconds
Top speed: 103mph
Combined economy: 67.3mpg
Emissions: 111g/km
Kerb weight: 980kg

2008 Fiat 500. Image by Fiat.2008 Fiat 500. Image by Fiat.2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.

2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.

2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.

2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.

2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.

2008 Fiat 500. Image by Dave Jenkins.


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