Fiat 500 review: 2015 first drive

Yes, honestly, this really is the new Fiat 500. No, it’s not very different to the outgoing model, but Fiat insists there are 1,800 tweaked components in it. Somewhere.

Grab your magnifying glass and we’ll take you through some of them. The 500’s ‘face’ has been tweaked (Fiat insists the 500 adopts a personality like a human…), with a new grille, lights and front bumper giving it a look similar to the bigger Fiat 500X. To the rear, the taillights have been revised, as has the bumper.

Increasingly in this sector, buyers are demanding more personalisation options – fancy colour schemes, showy stickers and the like. Just see the Vauxhall Adam and Toyota Aygo for evidence of that – as well as the bigger MINI.

So, Fiat is offering just that. Along with a couple of new colours, buyers can now opt for striking black and yellow or black and red variants as well as a number of ‘second skin’ options. These start at £140 for a pattern along the window line, going up to £780 for a pattern along the upper half of the 500.

Is all this enough to tempt the fashion-conscious buyers Fiat so badly relies on for the 500?

2015 Fiat 500: on the road

2015 Fiat 500: on the roadWe tried two engines: the 1.2-litre 69hp four-cylinder petrol, and the more potent, turbocharged 0.9-litre two-cylinder TwinAir producing 105hp.

The former has a rather old school feel to it – we’re starting to take for granted buzzy, turbocharged units in small cars such as the Fiat 500. But it’s quiet and refined, providing a fairly linear delivery of what little power it has. It perhaps lacks the fun factor of turbocharged units, but it ought to prove efficient unless you work it particularly hard.

The TwinAir engine is perhaps more suited to the Fiat 500. It’s a little less refined than the 1.2, and does get particularly vocal as the revs increase. But you soon start to accept that this is what the Fiat 500 is about – an eager two-cylinder engine that lacks refinement but makes up for it in character and tractability around town.

On the new Fiat 500’s launch route in Turin, we didn’t get the opportunity to try either at higher, motorway speeds. Fiat’s argument will be that it’s a vehicle that’s at home in the city, but increasingly people are expecting cars in this sector to be able to cruise at motorway speeds when required. Going by experience of the same engines in the previous model, we expect the TwinAir would be better suited to motorway speeds – if a little vocal.

On bumpy roads, the Fiat 500 does have a tendency to transfer harsh surfaces into the cabin. This isn’t helped by fitting fashionably large 15 and 16-inch alloys – of which, there are two new styles.

Handling is fun, particularly around town, while lower models come with a city steering button to make the steering ultra-light when required. The TwinAir 105, on the other hand, comes with a sports button to do the opposite. A little pointless on a car like this, we feel.

2015 Fiat 500: on the inside

2015 Fiat 500: on the inside

Like its predecessor, the one thing the Fiat 500 can’t be criticised for inside is its lack of character.

One of the most notable changes is the disappearance of the CD player. Instead, the new Fiat 500 now sports a new ‘Uconnect’ infotainment system with USB and auxiliary input across all models. Yet to be confirmed for the UK, higher models may come with Uconnect Live. This uses your smartphone to connect to the internet and access online services such as Tunein internet radio as well as news feeds and social networks including Twitter and Facebook.

It sounds good in theory but, as we found on our test route around the Italian city of Turin, internet radio soon loses its appeal when you can’t maintain a stable internet connection.

The interior also boasts a new steering wheel, its thin rim adding to the retro charms of the Fiat 500. Like its predecessor, a lot of attention has been paid to making the Fiat 500 feel a truly special car inside. It lacks the hard, bland plastics of many city cars (unless you look really closely), but the seats are a tad on the firm side for our tastes.

It might be a bit harsh to describe it as a case of style over substance, but practicality isn’t exactly the 500’s strong point. Only available as a three door, the rear seats would feel claustrophobic for anything but the shortest of journeys, and the 185-litre boot falls short of rivals such as the Peugeot 108 and Volkswagen Up!.

If you’re unlikely to carry many passengers and want a car that’ll make you feel good as you commute through urban streets, the Fiat 500’s interior firmly ticks that box.

Our only other complaint inside is the seemingly slack build quality. It’s a cliche to say Italian cars lack the robustness of German rivals, but our (nearly-new) test cars were already starting to display a few irritating rattles.

2015 Fiat 500: running costs

2015 Fiat 500: running costs

From launch, buyers get a choice of two engines: a 1.2-litre naturally-aspirated petrol producing 69hp and a 0.9-litre turbocharged unit available with 85 or 105hp.

The engines are the same as the outgoing model, although they were tweaked last year to meet Euro 6 regulations.

Both versions of the TwinAir unit emit less than 100g/km CO2, meaning free road tax, while the 1.2-litre emits 110g/km. An ‘eco’ version of the 1.2 is expected later in this year dropping below the 100g/km barrier, as well as a 1.3-litre diesel.

All models return over 60mpg on the combined cycle, with the 85hp TwinAir returning a very commendable 74.3mpg.

Going by these figures, and our experience of its (very, very similar) predecessor, the new Fiat 500 should be a very affordable car to run. Expect fuel consumption to dip if you’re using it for motorway journeys (only the 105hp version gets a six-speed ’box), but most buyers won’t feel the need to wait for the diesel version.

2015 Fiat 500: verdict

2015 Fiat 500: verdict

No, the Fiat 500 isn’t a lot different to the outgoing model. But the 2008 Fiat 500 has been such a success for the company, it’d be daft to change things drastically.

The updates bring it inline with competitors, offering new technology and a host of personalisation schemes – something the young buyers after this kind of car desperately want, if car manufacturers are anything to go by.

The interior might be a little fussy with some, but many will like it. Interestingly, Fiat insists it’s added a dose of masculinity to the latest 500 – making it a truly unisex car. Whether that’s worked, we’ll let you decide.

All we know is that, for traditional Fiat 500 customers, we reckon the manufacturer’s done just enough to keep them interested. The engines are nothing to shout about, although we do like the characterful TwinAir, while economy figures also stack up.

Specification: 2015 Fiat 500

Engines: 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol, 1.2-litre petrol

Prices from: £10,890

Power: 69 – 105hp

Torque: 75 – 107 lb ft (102 – 145nm)

0-62mph: 10.0 – 12.9 seconds

Top speed: 117mph

Fuel economy: 60.1 – 74.3mpg

CO2 emissions: 88 – 110g/km