From £16,8007
First UK test of Fiat's best-selling city car, which has been overhauled for 2015

What is it?

This season’s must-have fashion accessory. For the autumn/winter 2015 collection, the Fiat 500 has undergone more than 1900 changes. Yes, really; squint really hard and you might even be able to spot a few of them. Five points for noticing those new headlights, a gold star for picking out those new bumpers.

Fiat has quite deliberately applied the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach (other clichés are available) in overhauling the 500. But when it still looks as fresh and cool as this, why tamper with the formula?

Of those 1900 changes, which account for some 40% of the car, not all are trim and spec tweaks aimed at the fashionistas. The engineers have got their hands dirty tweaking the suspension to improved the comfort and handling, bigger brakes have been fitted and the launch range of petrol engines has been revised to boost economy and reduce emissions.

We’ve already sampled the 0.9 Twinair version in Italy, so now it’s time to test the best-selling 1.2 normally aspirated model on our capital’s streets.

What's it like?

Let’s be honest: if you’re already sold on the way the 500 looks, you’re always going to forgive the way it drives. Indeed, your experience in the online configurator is likely more important than the steering feel or how much you can load up the front tyres in a corner.

But for the record, the 500 as a driving tool lags behind its most obvious fashion rival, the Mini. It rates as ‘okay’ across the board; the ride isn’t great, particularly at low speeds, without ever being too uncomfortable, the steering lacks any real feel and there’s never any kind of encouragement from the car to push it into a corner. It’s all a bit wobbly if you do.

This isn’t helped by the fact that it’s tricky to find a good driving position, what with the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel and the overall perception that the 500 is a car you’re sitting on rather in.

The 1.2 engine is hardly a belter either. It’s fine for pottering around the city, but beyond that it soon runs out of puff; getting up hills in particular is not a strong point of this engine. Best move to Norfolk.

If you want the kind of characterful drivetrain to match the looks, that comes form the Twinair engine. This also has its limits, but the performance is delivered in a much cheerier and more involving way.

This all sounds rather downbeat, but even the most hardened road tester cannot step out of the 500 without a smile on their face. Not from the way the car drives, but from the way it makes you feel; the cabin is bright, fun and a doddle to use, and of course there are those looks. It’s a cheerful car, one that it’s almost impossible not to be endeared to. If only it drove better…

Should I buy one?

To refer you back to the previous section, if you like the looks of the 500, the way it drives is a bit of a moot point. Some 80% of buyers go for this 1.2 version, the entry-level engine, so there’s evidence to suggest 500 buyers aren’t looking to pay for any extra performance when they can spend the difference on a higher trim level.

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Indeed, the top-spec Lounge spec, which brings with it all the connectivity and infotainment features, and the plushest, most sparkly trim, is the most popular, and Fiat will let you have one for £169 per month with £1500 down. This will tempt many.

More choice is coming later this year in time for the 2016 spring/summer collection: an ‘Eco’ version of the 1.2 will cut CO2 emissions to 99g/km, and a 94bhp 1.3 diesel version with 89g/km is also on its way. Even if they’re no better to drive, don’t expect any drop off in popularity or desirability.

Fiat 500 1.2 Lounge

Location London; On sale Now; Price £12,640; Engine 4 cyls, 1242cc, petrol; Power 68bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 75lb ft at 3000rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 865kg; 0-62mph 12.9sec; Top speed 99mph; Economy 60.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 110g/km, 17%

Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
MrJ 4 September 2015

Drove one of these to

Drove one of these to Yorkshire and back recently: a pleasant little car with better interior ergonomics than a Mini.

The gobby new lights don't help its looks though, neither do the chrome bits.

catnip 5 September 2015

MrJ wrote: Drove one of these

MrJ wrote:

Drove one of these to Yorkshire and back recently: a pleasant little car with better interior ergonomics than a Mini.

The gobby new lights don't help its looks though, neither do the chrome bits.

I often read of the poor interior ergonomics of the MINI, but after 11 years with first and second generation models I've never had any problems. What aspects in particular do you think are poor?

Him 4 September 2015

seat lever

1900 changes, and no-one thought to see if they could fix the stoopidest feature of all - look at the pics above... see the handbrake? Look just to the right... yup, that really is a seat adjustment lever that scrapes your knuckles every time you apply the handbrake, assuming you haven't actually grabbed the nearer, bigger lever by mistake. How this continues in production baffles me.
Adrian987 4 September 2015

Right hand drive ergonomics

Wouldn't be the first time a right hand drive model has had to suffer some ergonomic problems. My guess is that they have only developed one seat design with adjustment, and on the left hand drive model with the same seat being on the left, the lever would be fine by the door. Elsewhere, we learn of Marchionne's view on where the car industry is going (excessive spend on development costs etc). This lever could be make or break, perhaps. But even the likes of VW cut corners. It always annoyed me that the handbrake lever on my Mk5 Golf was sited to the left of the central unit, which was the "wrong" side of the cup holders and was also very close too to a passengers thighs! On the Mk7, it is still there, but is electronic, so not as much of an issue.
si73 4 September 2015

fiat 500

Whilst I know this magazine is aimed at enthusiasts you have to remember we are in the minority, most car purchases are made without any reference to a car magazine so I think the 500 will continue to sell really well as it is still one of the nicest city cars to sit in and own, I personally found it quite good fun to drive the 1.2 that I had a go in, certainly no worse than any other city car and compared with the mini it is far better equipped and still 1300 cheaper, if you get a lower specified car it is considerably cheaper than the base mini, I don't really see them as competitors, the mini is bigger for one thing, in the same way that the vw beetle isn't a competitor, 3 different size retro cars selling in different price points, of course there is crossover, always is with high spec small cars and low spec next size up. I didn't find it anywhere near as bad as the review, perhaps they need to give it a chance to be run in as I found the 1.2 to be quite gutsy at low revs and a pretty lively performer throughout, it is after all a base spec low powered engine.