In reality, this years update to the Fiat 500 has very little to prove. Its majesty and monopoly in the small car stakes is equal to that of the BMW M3 over the Sports Sedan market or the Golf GTI over the medium sized hot hatch market. There are offerings from other manufacturers that are objectively as talented, possibly more, but the staple label and indomitable image keep the punters flooding back.
The car that it replaces is due to go out on a high, with a 7 year record of over 40,000 UK sales in 2014. That’s in spite of the segment to which it belongs experiencing a decline. Worldwide, Fiat have managed to shift 1.5 million of the 500 since its inception in 2007.
So what does the update bring to the table over it’s predecessor? Actually, quite a lot. The car is 40% new throughout according to Fiat, which, given that it looks so similar, is quite a comprehensive update underneath.
Exterior first, and it’s fairly good news. Some would criticise Fiat for the low key visual changes, but we like that they’re not straying too far from such a timeless winning formula.
New front and rear bumpers are subtle with a new 3D effect grille being about as fiddly as it’s styling gets. New lighting rejuvenates the car significantly with DRLs on the lower sections mimicking the ‘0’s found in the 500 badging and the soft triangular graphic in the main lights linking the 500 to its larger X sibling.
At the rear the now quite aged solid block clusters are swapped out for a hollowed LED graphic which is a fantastically simple yet effective detail.
The new 500s “I am a new car” aesthetic message is subliminal yet somehow protuberant. I think it’s all the better for its subtlety.
It moves the game on far more significantly on the inside with the quite plasticky cheap feeling control surfaces being swapped out for glossier more premium items. The steering wheel is a much nicer more modern item to use and look at too. The new instrument cluster replaces the retro dials with a beautifully clear LCD graphic display in our higher specced “lounge” model.
Also available on the pricier models is the new 7” TFT infotainment display which could both do with being a bit more driver centric and within reach, as well as more responsive to the touch, especially given we’re all now used to our capacitative iPhones.
The screen seems somewhat small, too, especially given the thickness of the binnacle that surrounds it which itself is festooned with buttons. It seems a bit behind the curve compared to the ICE gimmickry of something like the new MINI. In spite of all that it all remains nicely appointed and very attractive inside. The sat nav and uConnect bluetooth utilities functioned pretty much flawlessly and after a couple of days of usage was easy enough to get used to.
Driving wise our testing was deliberately devoid of the regimental rigour you might come to expect from a conventional road test. Body control and steering feel are I reckon unashamedly extraneous in Fiats priority list with this car. All I asked of it was what a typical 20 something might ask of their new 500. So we saddled up for a slog from London to Norwich for a gig.
The 500 swallowed our luggage breaking little sweat, used less than a quarter of a tank of fuel on a 120 mile journey and was one of the easiest vehicles to jockey I think I’ve ever tested. The 1.2 65bhp engine was certainly wanting for a bit more shove when faced with typical motorway accelerative tasks, but was no more or less than adequate in an urban environment, and nicely muted at a cruise too. Getting the engines best means working the gearbox, so the fact that it has a satisfying action and is well spaced saves grace there. Its a lovely transmission to use.
For the record, Engine C02 has been lopped and power sprinkled across the range, so Millie won’t spill her Starbucks when reading the road tax bill.
The steering is perfectly suited to urban driving with the “city” mode being your best friend in tight manoeuvres. At motorway pace it could become twitchy and at higher speeds it came a bit unstuck deeper into it’s lock, but these aren’t exactly requisite A+ areas for a little city car.
Overall I was enamoured with just how easy and how much of a pleasure the little 500 was to operate in its home environment. The one finger steering and idiot-proof clutch had my inner 17 year old relieved: stall proof on even the steepest inclines. Even the seating height that makes the driving position in the Abarth so top heavy allowed for a clearer view out and therefore a more confident command over the cars extremities in tighter spots.
All of this real ability, underneath that ny on irresistible timeless chic aesthetic with endless customisation. Why the average punter in this market wouldn’t spend a maximum of £169 a month with £1500 down (for the £14,000 “Lounge”) is a tough one for me, though for some lads it could be an image thing. Best they wait for the Abarth… A more future proof tech offering in the cabin would have topped off what remains an excellent little car.
2015 Fiat 500 – Fresh styling additions, small touch screen, ultimate city car?