Enduring fashion: Funky little Fiat 500 still stealing hearts
It's been around for ages, but the Fiat 500 is still a big hit. You can thank its retro styling and cute personality for that
The Fiat 500 received a mild update for summer 2019, so it's bang up to date in terms of vintage. That revamp builds on a successful 2016 facelift.
Hard to believe maybe, but the Fiat 500 is 62 years old. Or twelve years. It depends on what you reckon the 500 is.
Was the modern car, launched in 2007, just a clever marketing trick - slapping a favourite old name on a brand-new Fiat?
Or was it a genuine attempt to breathe fresh life into a beloved bit of Italian heritage, the Nuova or 'New' 500, first launched in July 1957.
Cynics will prefer the first explanation, but it's probably a bit of both. One reason to be confident in the latter are the design similarities between the two cars and, crucially, Fiat hasn't messed about with the exterior design of the 500.
The modern 500 is basically still the same shape as it was at launch a decade ago. Unlike, for example, the Mini - another successful heritage car but one that has tinkered with the size and design.
The decision to re-launch the 500 was quite inspired. The original - known back in the day as 'New' as it replaced a quite different type of post-war vehicle - was a cheap and practical three-door town car that sold in spades and was popular across Europe.
The modern 500 is, well, a cheap and practical three-door town car that sells in spades and is popular across Europe.
For the uninitiated, the Fiat 500 remains a great choice as a funky city runabout.
What does it look like?
Superficially, not that much has changed from the 2007 car, however a well-executed 2016 facelift left it looking rather more modern.
Most changes were found at the front, the new model retaining 500 the "face" of its predecessors with headlights which are still circular in shape, but which adopt polyellptical modules for improved night vision and extra safety.
These clusters integrate the dipped-beam headlamps and turn signals, while lower light cluster integrates the main beam headlights and LED daytime running lights, which adopt the circular profile of the lamp to graphically reproduces the zeros of 500.
The bonnet retains its distinctive, traditional clamshell form, another nod to its legendary predecessor, while the trapezoidal nose gets more pronounced ribbing and the auxiliary air vent is now fed via a three-dimensional grille (with chrome-effect buttons on the Lounge version) flanked by chrome brightwork to give the car stronger visual presence. New alloy wheel designs are also introduced.
Specifically for 2019, there were changes to Star and Rockstar, which made their debut near the top of the range and featured more avant-garde styling. More of that later.
What's it like inside?
Charming, retro and rather funky. The cabin isn't to everyone's taste, but for those who do like it, it's a real heart-stealer.
So popular in fact that many of the features of the 2007 model - including the body-coloured dashboard - remained for the 2016 revamp, although the tech has obviously received regular updates.
The circular instrument cluster, with analogue dials for speed and engine revs and digital secondary gauges, was retained for lower level models, while the innovative seven-inch TFT display, developed in collaboration with Magneti Marelli, is an option on the higher variants.
It also integrates with the Fiat's Uconnect and Nav so that the media player, telephone and navigation messages also appear on the screen.
The front seats were given a more ergonomic shape and the interior upholstery is available in nine colour combinations with contrasting "crescent" upper portions and head restraints in black or ivory eco-leather.
What's under the bonnet?
Historically a wide range of engines were available, but these are now restricted to two, both front-wheel driven with five-speed manual gearboxes.
The current offering starts with a 1.2-litre 69hp petrol engine. Overtaking isn't quite its forte, but it is fun about town.
Much more popular is a newer, and nippier, 0.9-litre Twinair two-cylinder turbo petrol engine with 85 horse power.
This is an excellent little engine that will pull your around characterfully in town and also although you a bit more power on the open road.
Officially, the newest engine will return 52.3mpg. In short, it's lively, fun to drive and reasonably economical.
There was a 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engine on offer, but this has now been withdrawn. It was never a big seller in the UK.
Trim levels and other models
Let's set aside the bigger cars spun off from the original 2007 Fiat 500 - cars like the 500L (for Large), and 500X (for cross-country, a sort of small lite SUV.)
And also setting aside all those special editions mentioned above, the current citycar trim levels are Pop, Lounge, Sport, Star and Rockstar. There's also a range-topping Dolcevita special edition doing the rounds at the moment.
Pop trim, currently costing from £12,165, comes reasonably well equipped with power steering, Start&stop, five airbags, ESP, and hill-holder.
There's much more interest in the new Star and Rockstar trims. Star (from £15,395) comes with some neat new paint options matched with chrome details, 16-inch alloy wheels and fixed glass roof as standard.
There is new upholstery available in two colour combinations, white sand and black, and in the new Matelassé finish with techno-leather details and bordeaux embroidered 500 logo. The dashboard, which until now was only available in matching body colour, can now be chosen in one of the two new shades; matt white or matt Bordeaux.
In the centre of the dashboard, the digital instruments present stand out with the standard 7-inch TFT screen with sat nav. You can even choose a convertible version.
Rockstar, as the name suggests, is brasher, and slightly pricier at £15,565. It combines the bumpers and side sills from Sport trim, with details such as the fixed glass roof, 16-inch alloy wheels and satin finish chrome bodywork details. It can be specced in hatchback or cabriolet guise.
Fiat's latest Uconnect system is a foil to any previous grumbles about the 500's connectivity. The 7-inch HD LIVE touchscreen supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth hands-free interface, audio streaming, text reader and voice recognition function and USB ports with iPod integration and steering wheel controls.
The current range-topping Dolcevita (from £17,995) is a special edition introduced this summer to celebrate the 500's 62nd birthday.
It sports an exclusive Bossa Nova White livery, enhanced by a red and white beauty line drawn around the entire silhouette. Designed to "reflect the elegance" of the Fifties, it has a cursive "Dolcevita" chrome badge on the rear that complements the chrome bonnet line, the chrome door mirror covers and the body coloured side moulding with the "500" logo.
The look is completed by 16-inch white alloy wheels and fixed glass roof on the hatchback version. A convertible is also available.
Who would buy one?
It's far from being the cheapest city car around, but it does have the biggest personality.
It's fun to drive, has a sunny disposition and recent tech upgrades mean it's much more connected to its passengers and the outside world than before.
It's not going to do for transporting families or lots of kit around, but if your needs are more intimate and more urban, then it is small and rather perfectly formed.
If retro style and cool funk are what you look for in a city car, the Fiat 500 could well be for you.