Does the new, 2015 Fiat 500 improve on the previous version? Find out in our road test review.
The Fiat 500 is one of the most popular cars on the planet. Fiat sold around 45,000 in the UK alone last year, despite the fact that it’s been around in its current form for donkeys years – people love it.
But it is getting a bit long in the tooth. Luckily Fiat’s introduced a new version that they hope maintains all the things we loved about the previous model while introducing a few new bells and whistles. Nearly 2,000 new bells and whistles, to be exact… But do they improve a classic, or spoil the winning recipe?
At first glance, the new Fiat 500 looks like a carbon copy of the old car. Look a little closer, however and you’ll see it’s gained a bit of a nip and tuck, mainly at the front and rear. The front has new headlights, which now seem to have a subtle eyelash-style effect that makes the face especially expressive, although we can’t help but be reminded of aftermarket car lashes, for better or worse.
The lower lamps are new, too housing the main beam as well as day running LED lights that resemble the zeros in the 500 logo, helping the car stand out at night.
You’ll also find some splashes of chrome and a fancy new ‘3D’ grille that makes it look as if the car’s been driven head-first into a Swarovski shop window. We’d suggest Fiat has taken inspiration from the Mercedes-Benz A-Class in this area, as that car features similarly sparkly additions.
The new Fiat 500 has clever new light clusters at the rear. These have a very contemporary triangle-cum-rectangle (tritangle?) shape with body-coloured metal centres that are unlike any other we can think of in the market, let alone the sector.
If those changes aren’t enough for you, you can also opt for what Fiat refers to as Second Skin – essentially factory-applied vinyl stickers for your 500. Numerous designs are available, from camouflage to tartan, all of which help make your car more individual, costing between £140 and £780 depending on the complexity and size required. Thankfully these can be removed (with a bit of effort) if you get bored of them.
The new Fiat 500 is largely the same as the previous car where practicality is concerned. There’s ample room up front – you’re unlikely to be touching elbows with your passenger – and there’s a surprising amount of legroom in the rear, although headroom is a little limited back there if you’re pushing six feet tall.
Fiat has upgraded the entire dashboard. This time around it’s all centered around a reasonably user-friendly five-inch Uconnect touchscreen display (optional), which lets you access the TomTom navigation system (also optional), digital radio and – if you pair your internet-connected mobile phone – a host of internet radio stations that provide access to millions of streamed tracks.
In the instrument binnacle ahead of the driver, there’s an LCD display showing vehicle speed, revs, mileage and economy in an attractive, contemporary way.
Importantly, the new Fiat 500 comes with a glovebox with a closable lid, unlike the previous car, which just came with a shelf that left all your belongings on display to help thieves decide whether it was worth their while smashing your window.
Performance & handling
Under the new skin, the 2015 Fiat 500 is largely the same as the previous car, so not much has changed where performance and handling is concerned. It’s still easy to drive, with light steering, light pedals, and a high-mounted gear lever that has a slick action. As a result, it’s absolutely brilliant through town, allowing you to carve through back streets, or ooze your way through traffic with little stress.
There are drawbacks, however. The ride is rather jiggly over roads that are less than perfect. The feeling isn’t a million miles away from that of sustained turbulence at 38,000 feet, particularly if the surfaces you drive on are anything other than red carpet smooth.
Speed bumps are best taken slowly. In most modern cars, it’s possible to traverse such obstacles at a reasonable pace, but in the Fiat 500 every speed curbing measure feels as if you’re attempting a rapid expedition over Mount Everest.
The new Fiat 500 comes with a range of engine options. Those desperate for performance should opt for the TwinAir 105hp unit, which propels the car from 0-62mph in 10 seconds dead. It’s no speed demon, but it’s tolerable enough, and noticeably better than the gutless 1.2-litre engines, which take a couple of seconds longer to achieve the sprint.
That said, the agile, responsive handling of all Fiat 500 models goes some way to making up for the lack of straight line performance. Fiat, for some reason, has increased the size of the brakes on the 1.2-litre cars, but you could probably stop them by dragging a foot outside the door, Flintstones-style.
Economy & Environment
Fiat has lofty claims about the Fiat 500’s economy, as ever. The best figures (on paper, at least) come from the 0.9-litre TwinAir 85hp engine, which manages a claimed 74.3mpg. We’d take this with a generous pinch of salt though. Real world testing with that engine in the previous car would routinely yield urban figures in the mid 30mpg range – even driven sensibly. CO2 is rated at a very respectable 90g/km.
The 1.2-litre 69hp petrol engine we tested returns a claimed 60mpg with CO2 at 110g/km, but again your mileage will vary.
Equipment & value
The new Fiat 500 is available in three trim levels; Pop, Pop Star and Lounge. The entry-level car gets Uconnect Radio with six speakers, aux-in and USB ports for connecting external audio devices and steering wheel remote controls as well as LED daytime running lights.
A five-inch touchscreen version of Uconnect, which also features music streaming apps, is available for £250. We’d tell you not to bother, as your phone will do everything it does and more, but this also gets you Bluetooth, which will prove useful for making hands-free calls. You’ll have to add a further £100 for DAB radio, which seems a bit cheeky, and a further £250 if you want TomTom Navigation.
The Pop Star version adds air conditioning, defrosting wing mirror with body-coloured caps, 15-inch alloys and 50:50 folding rear seat backs, while the Lounge model gets all the above plus a panoramic glass roof, rear parking sensors, leather steering wheel, front fog lights, a chrome front grille and a touchscreen version of the Uconnect system – all as standard
We wouldn’t want to be involved in a crash in the Fiat 500 (or anything else, for that matter) against a larger vehicle, but the previous car earned a full five-star rating from Euro NCAP, so it’s plenty tough. Active safety systems include ABS, electronic brake force distribution, electronic stability control, and hydraulic brake assist to help you come to a stop more quickly.
The previous Fiat 500 was hardly what you might call broken, so there wasn’t any point Fiat trying to ‘fix’ it. All this hugely popular car needed was a nip and tuck in key areas, and that’s what the company has delivered.
Yes, they could have made the styling more radical, yes they could have made it bigger and more practical, but then we’d all be complaining that it wasn’t a real fiat 500. Equally they could have made it smaller and less practical, but we’d be complaining that they’d made it less usable.
What they’ve done really well is to refine this car; they’ve kept all the best bits, given it more modern technolgy inside and enhanced that styling which we all know and love.
They had a great blueprint to work from, but the important thing is that they haven’t ruined that blueprint. Ultimately they’ve made the best in the sector even better.