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Abarth 695 70th Anniversario review: double espresso to go

Abarth 695 70th Anniversario

“There’s a certain satisfaction in humiliating bigger and more expensive cars with a modest hatchback.” So said Carlo Abarth (1928-1979), the larger-than-life motorcycle racer and pioneer of bolt-on car tuning kits, who spent his life doing just that. Today, the highly modified Fiats that bear his name – and scorpion star sign – still squeeze feisty performance into a pint-sized package.

Abarth was always obsessed with speed. Aged 11, he wrapped leather belts around the wooden wheels of his scooter to win races against local children. He was European motorcycle champion five times, and also beat the Orient Express train on two wheels, racing 850 miles from Vienna to Ostend. In 1949, he set up his own company, preparing cars for competition and selling parts. If you owned a Fiat but dreamed of a Ferrari, Carlo ‘The Magician’ Abarth was your man.

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The new 695 70th Annniversario celebrates 70 years since Carlo nailed his name above the door. In true Abarth tradition, it’s loaded with go-faster goodies: 17-inch OZ alloys, Sabelt seats, Koni shock absorbers, Brembo brakes and a quad-tailpipe Record Monza exhaust. There’s also a manually adjustable rear spoiler that delivers real downforce, plus the option of ‘Monza 1958’ green paint (seen here) – a tribute to the first Fiat 500 Abarth. A total of 1,949 will be made, marking the firm’s founding year.

Abarth Days 2019

Before I drive the Anniversario, however, there’s more celebrating to be done. More than 5,000 Abarth fans and 3,000 cars – most of them modified – have descended on Milan for ‘the largest official Abarth meeting in history’. They have come from all corners of Europe, including the Czech Republic, Portugal and the UK. And they have come to party.

The pounding Euro-techno starts at 9am and doesn’t stop for the rest of the day. Thankfully, the cacophony of revving engines, hissing dump valves and popping exhausts mostly drowns it out. There’s boundless creativity on show, including Abarths with rust-look wraps, bouncing air suspension and upwards-opening ‘Lamborghini doors’. One crowd-pulling 595 has a 370hp Alfa Romeo 4C engine, ultra-wide wheels and four-wheel drive. I suspect Carlo would approve.

Launched at the event (in a blizzard of dry ice and even louder techno), the 70th Annniversario also turns plenty of heads. On the inside, it’s still unmistakably a Fiat 500 – a car first launched in 2007 – but the hip-hugging seats, alloy gearlever and Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel all feel suitably special. The 180hp 1.4-litre engine ignites with a throaty gargle and I swiftly leave Milan behind, heading south towards Modena and Italian supercar country.

Abarth 695 70th Anniversario

Not much happens until 3,000rpm, then the 695 abruptly necks a double espresso and races to the redline. This waaaait-for-it turbo lag seems oddly old-school, but ramps up the intensity and sensation of speed. For the record, 0-62mph takes 6.7 seconds and VMax is 139mph. The manual gearbox is slick and snappy, although it only has five ratios where most rivals offer six. It’s vastly preferable to the clunky auto ’box, however.

On rural roads, the Abarth is like an eager puppy: bouncy, boisterous and brimful of Italian brio. Turn-in is immediate, the brakes are tenacious and its mechanical limited-slip differential bites into corners. Switching to Sport mode sharpens throttle response, too. It’s a shame the light steering doesn’t offer more feedback; there isn’t the sense of connection you feel in a Ford Fiesta ST.

The Fiesta has another notable advantage: even the top-spec ST-3 is around £7,000 cheaper. And Abarth’s own 595 Esseesse, which has the same engine, costs £4,000 less. So spending £29,695 on the 695 70th Anniversario doesn’t really make sense. But as a surefire future classic that will impress the Abarthisti – and humiliate some bigger and (even) more expensive cars into the bargain – it has its place.

Price: £29,695

0-62mph: 6.7sec

Top speed: 139mph

CO2 G/KM: 155

MPG combined: 36.7

Abarth 695 70th Anniversario: in pictures

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Fiat Panda Trussardi is the first ‘luxury Panda’

New Fiat Panda Trusardi

The Italians know a thing or two about fashion. They’ve also pretty good at building small cars. So the Fiat Panda Trussardi should be a match made in heaven.

Cynics might suggest this fashionable makeover is little more than an attempt to mask the zero-star Euro NCAP rating and the fact that the current Panda should be considering retirement.

In fairness, the Panda wears its Trussardi clothing well, although what we know about fashion can be written on the back of an M&S receipt for a pair of beige slacks.

It costs £14,060, which is a lot for a Panda, but fashion doesn’t come cheap, darling.

Besides, thanks to its faux-SUV styling, it looks well equipped to deal with a rumpus in Rome, a melée in Milan and a near-miss in Napoli. Other Italian cities are available.

A luxury Panda?

Fiat Panda Trussardi

Further enhancements include black roof bars, mirror caps, 15-inch alloys and skid plate, plus a Caffé Italiano Brown colour, which is available in matt or metallic finishes, baby.

There’s a smattering of Trussardi logos, including, for the first time, one in the centre of the steering wheel. Still, according to Fiat this is the first ‘luxury Panda’. Does the world need a luxury Panda?

The world of fashion is far too highbrow to concern itself with the oily bits, but the Panda Trussardi is powered by a 69hp 1.2-litre engine mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. City Brake Control is an option (although it’s arguably a must-have in Rome).

Fiat Panda Trussardi interior

Olivier Francois, president of Fiat brand, said: “Panda can boast 39 years of success and has been the most popular car in Italy for six years. It has been the best-selling city car in Europe since 2003. In total, 7.5 million units have been sold, of which five million are still on the road.

“It is also a record-breaker. It was the first 4WD city car, the first small car to fit an automatic transmission, the first urban SUV and the first car to climb Mount Everest. Today, we have the first ‘luxury Panda’, the Panda Trussardi.”

Tomaso Trussardi, CEO of Trussardi, added: “Today, Fiat Panda is wearing the Trussardi style and turning itself into a contemporary and functional car with great attention to detail. I am very satisfied with this collaboration and thank the Fiat team for having believed in this project with us.”

The Fiat Panda is available in showrooms (and on catwalks) now.

Fiat wants to build 80,000 electric 500s per year

Electric Fiat 500 2020 production

Fiat has marked 80 years since the opening of its famous Mirafiori factory by readying it for the future. New robots have been installed to help build an electric version of the 500 city car.

Due for introduction in 2020, the battery-electric Fiat 500 will keep 1,200 people in jobs once in production. The line will have an estimated 80,000 per-year production capacity. For context, there are around 70,000 electric cars on UK roads, in total, at present. We suspect the electric 500 won’t be built in those numbers just yet…

The total investment for the project, and production of the car, is just under £630million. 

Electric Fiat 500 2020 production

The updates are also with general production of EVs in mind, not just the Fiat 500. This is a provision for a range of battery-powered FCA products to come, with the cutesy 500 being the poster child.

“This car was entirely conceived, designed and engineered here,” said Pietro Gorlier, FCA COO for the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region.

“It is a genuine product of ‘Made at Fiat’ and ‘Made in Turin’ ingenuity. It is another excellent example of the ability to create and innovate, which abounds in our company and in this city. In Turin, we are developing a new electric mobility centre of excellence that currently employs 260 people.

Electric Fiat 500 2020 production

“The new Fiat 500 electric represents just the first phase of our investment plan for Mirafiori.”

In Italy, FCA Group has plans to install over 900 charging stations at production sites and in parking areas. It will also add 1,200 charge points at Leasys Mobility stores and more than 1,100 at dealerships. The group is investing nearly £30 million on infrastructure.

Overall, it’s putting £4.5billion into refreshing a significant amount of product across the group, with 12 electrified versions of new or existing models on the way.

Electric Fiat 500 ‘Jolly’ is the ultimate holiday hire car

Hertz electric classic Fiat 500

Meet the Fiat 500 Jolly Spiaggina Icon-e, an all-electric version of the Italian icon. And it could be your next holiday hire car.

Hertz has commissioned the conversions from custom auto coachbuilder Garage Italia, with an electric motor sending power to the rear wheels. There’s no word on how many miles you’ll get from a battery charge, though. We suspect not many…

The Spiaggina features hand-woven seats in natural rope, heritage bodywork and matching wheels. It’s a classic Fiat 500, then, but with an electrifying twist.

This isn’t the first electric Fiat 500, though: a previous effort was inspired by Tesla.

Hertz electric classic Fiat 500

Enrico Vitali, CEO of Garage Italia calls the Icon-e “a perfect blend of tradition and modernity”.

In the Icon-e, “aesthetic research and production craftsmanship meet technological innovation and electric redevelopment, in the name of sustainability and style”.

Hertz electric classic Fiat 500

The Icon-e 500 Jolly will be available to rent from early July and will be the jewel in the company’s ‘Selezione Italia’ all-Italian offering.

“We are very proud of this new initiative with Garage Italia, offering our customers a fun-to-drive, tailor-made electric Fiat 500 that sports true Italian flair,” said Massimiliano Archiapatti of Hertz Italy.

Hertz electric classic Fiat 500

Selezione Italia is much more than a rental offer, it’s a philosophy; it’s the way we honour the relationship with our guests. In Italy we are proud of our traditions, of our distinctive culture that embodies authentic design, fashion, food, art, but most of all, hospitality – all embedded in Selezione Italia.”

From Freddie to Fifi… the most popular names for Fiat 500s

naming Fiat 500s

After all the excitement around the royal baby’s name (spoiler alert: he’s ‘Archie’) Fiat has revealed what buyers of its trendy 500 supermini call their cars.

Fiat offers free name stickers to 500 owners, and more than 3,000 have taken up the offer via the ‘my-500.com’ website.

Whether that’s a reflection on the car or the people who buy it, you can decide for yourself…

naming Fiat 500s

Anyway, Fiat has taken a look at the 3,000 sticker requests and established the top-five most popular names for new 500s, as chosen by their proud owners.

In reverse order, they are: Freddie, Minty, Luigi, Bella and –most popular of all – Fifi. 

Looking at the most popular names for cars overall, none of Fiat’s names makes the top 10 list. Betty comes top for other cars, with Tilly, Katy, Peggy, Alfie, Bertie, Amy, Dave, Bert and Bob following. 

naming Fiat 500s

“The fantastic response we had from owners shows how the Fiat 500 is so much more than a car to its owners. It becomes a member of the family,” said John MacDonald, Mopar service director.

“With the birth of the Royal baby, I predict the popularity of Archie will increase.”

What would you name your Fiat 500? We’d go with Enzo – as a nod to Ferrari – although Luigi is probably our favourite from the top-five.

Turin proud: a tour of Fiat’s amazing classic collection

FCA Heritage Hub

Welcome to Italian car heaven – and there isn’t a Ferrari or Lamborghini in sight. Housed inside Fiat’s former Mirafiori factory in Turin, the new FCA Heritage Hub contains more than 250 classics from Fiat, Lancia and Abarth. Concepts, prototypes, coachbuilt one-offs, iconic race-winners… they’re all here. Pitched as ‘not so much a traditional museum space as a three-dimensional archive in constant growth’, it opens to the public soon, but we had a privileged first look. Join us for a guided tour.

Fiat S61 Corsa

FCA Heritage Hub

One of the oldest cars in the collection, this 1908 Fiat S61 Corsa finished third in the first Indianapolis 500-mile race in 1911, then won the US Grand Prix in 1912. Its 10.1-litre (!) four-cylinder engine develops 125hp – good for a heady 99mph. Slowing down was clearly less of a priority: there are no front brakes. The car recently emerged from a 10-year restoration by FCA craftsmen, with many parts fabricated from scratch.

Fiat 500

FCA Heritage Hub

Leapfrog to the present day, and the 500 is the cornerstone of the Fiat range. This is 500 number 001 – the first off the production line in 2007. Its cute styling is a homage to the 1957 Cinquecento, but the 500 was forward-thinking in other ways: the first city car with seven airbags and the option of electronic stability control (ESC). A modern icon, it shows no sign of losing its appeal.

Fiat 500 Coupe Zagato

FCA Heritage Hub

This slightly sleeker 500 is the work of legendary Italian coachbuilder, Zagato. Debuting at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, it was the first car to use Fiat’s two-cylinder Twinair petrol engine. Other highlights include Zagato’s trademark ‘double bubble’ roof, lowered suspension, 17-inch alloys and custom ‘Pop Yellow’ paint. A special edition 500 with more than simply stripes and stickers, then.

Fiat Uno and Panda

FCA Heritage Hub

Fiat’s small-car heritage extends well beyond the 500, of course. Pictured are the Uno – first launched in 1983 – and 1980 Panda. The Uno was Italy’s answer to the Ford Fiesta and notched up nearly nine million sales by the time production finally ceased in 2013. Penned by Giugiaro, it anticipated the trend for taller, MPV-style hatchbacks. The Panda was more radical still, with completely flat glass and hammock-style seats. Its no-nonsense functionality still inspires car designers today.

Fiat Panda Elettra

FCA Heritage Hub

Proof that electric cars are nothing new, the Panda Elettra was manufactured by Austrian company Steyr-Puch from 1990 to 1998. Its 9.2kW motor relies on heavy lead-acid cells and top speed is just 43mph, with a fully-charged range of 62 miles. Those batteries also fill the back of the car, so there are only two seats. The recent Fiat Centoventi concept – which previews the next Panda – does rather better, with a predicted 300-mile range.

Fiat ESV 1500

FCA Heritage Hub

Impact bumpers have come a long way. The 1971 Fiat ESV 1500 (‘Experimental Safety Vehicle’) was the first prototype ‘safety car’ built in Europe. It’s based – believe it or not – on the contemporary 500, although borrows many parts from the 126 city car. Those huge bumpers and side rubbing strips are made from solid foam, while the gawky bodywork conceals a passenger safety cell and reinforced roof.

Fiat ESV 2000

FCA Heritage Hub

This larger ESV 2000 is also on display at the Heritage Hub. A Fiat 127 underneath, the ‘2000’ figure refers to its weight in pounds. For the metrically-minded, that translates to 1,165 kg – around 360 kg more than standard, and certainly enough to give its 1.3-litre engine a good workout. Fiat built 47 ESV prototypes in total.

Fiat 500 ‘Topolino’

FCA Heritage Hub

The 1936 ‘Topolino’ (‘little mouse’ in English), musters a mighty 13hp from a 569cc four-cylinder engine. It helped get Italy mobile again after World War Two, with 520,000 eventually made. In theory, this original 500 is a two-seater, but whole families would often squeeze inside the tiny, 3.2-metre-long car.

Fiat Coupe and Barchetta

FCA Heritage Hub

Fiat doesn’t only do small and sensible. The radical-looking 1993 Coupe was designed by Chris Bangle, who went on to reshape a generation of BMWs. In flagship 2.0-litre 20v Turbo Plus form, it could hit 62mph in 6.3 seconds and 155mph flat-out. The Barchetta (‘little boat’) roadster was launched in 1995, taking on the Mazda MX-5 with a 131hp 1.7-litre engine and a chassis derived from the Mk1 Punto. Only sold in left-hand drive, it was a rare sight in the UK.

Fiat 124 Sport Spider

FCA Heritage Hub

The Fiat 124 Spider recently made a comeback, but this is the 1966-1985 original. Styled by Tom Tjaarda and built by Pininfarina, it was particularly popular in America, where a three-speed automatic transmission was offered from 1979. Power comes from a variety of engines, including a rare Volumex supercharged version. The hard-top Abarth 124 Spider was a successful rally car, winning events in Germany, Greece and Poland.

Fiat Ecobasic

FCA Heritage Hub

Back to the sensible stuff, here’s the 1999 Fiat Ecobasic concept. Its aerodynamic body (Cd 0.28) devotes 88 percent of its volume to passengers and luggage, while all panels are made from recycled plastic. Maintenance access for the 1.2-litre diesel engine is via a flip-up panel between the headlights, and fuel economy is a thrifty 81mpg. Inside, the Ecobasic has plastic flooring and seats that fold sideways, transforming it into a small van.

Fiat X1/23

FCA Heritage Hub

Presented at Turin’s own motor show in 1972, the dinky X1/23 concept was later fitted with batteries and an electric motor. Its roofline arcs sharply over occupants’ heads, while the unusual front bumper frames the headlights. An equally minimalist interior features a single-spoke steering wheel, seats upholstered in synthetic cloth (very 1970s) and large shelf beneath the windscreen.

Fiat Campagnola AR 51

FCA Heritage Hub

We love the perfect patina on this Campagnola AR 51. In 1952, the proto-SUV drove the length of Africa, from Cape Town to Algiers, in a record 11 days. The Campagnola was originally designed for the Italian army, but soon found favour with farmers and off-road adventurers. Its 53hp 1.9-litre engine has a four-speed gearbox with low-range transfer case. Independent front suspension was innovative for the time, while the rear employs conventional leaf springs.

Fiat 124S

FCA Heritage Hub

You might know the Fiat 124 better as the Lada Riva. The small saloon, first launched in 1966, gained a second lease of life in Russia, where it lived on – incredibly – until 2012. This particular 124S is another car from the ‘Epic Journeys’ section of the Heritage Hub, and also started out in Cape Town, travelling to Norway’s North Cape in 50 days in 1970. Epic indeed, especially with no air conditioning or creature comforts.

Fiat 130 Familiare

FCA Heritage Hub

Giovanni Agnelli founded the company that became Fiat in 1899, and his family still holds a controlling interest. This one-of-four 130 Familiare estate was made for Dr Umberto Agnelli by a coachbuilder called Introzzi on Lake Como. Powered by a 165hp 3.2-litre Lampredi V6 mated to a three-speed auto ’box, it’s about the most stylish family car we can imagine.

Fiat City Taxi

FCA Heritage Hub

Revealed at the Turin Motor Show in 1968, the City Taxi was Fiat’s vision of a fare-paying future. Its asymmetrical body has a conventional door for the driver on one side, and a sliding door for passengers on the other. Other clever ideas include a padded dashboard with built-in radio-telephone and taxi meter, a semi-automatic gearbox and straps to attach luggage to the roof.

Fiat Punto

FCA Heritage Hub

We’d forgotten how crisp the original 1993 Punto looks. Once again, it’s designed by Giugiaro – the maestro behind the Panda, Uno, Volkswagen Golf Mk1, Lotus Esprit, BMW M1 and many more. Produced as a hatchback and (somewhat less stylish) convertible, the Punto would later become Europe’s best-selling car. Bizarrely, the third-generation model was phased out in 2018 with no direct replacement.

Lancia Stratos

FCA Heritage Hub

We’ve focused on Fiat here, but this sublime Alitalia-liveried Lancia Stratos is a reminder that other brands built in Turin also share the FCA Heritage Hub. The wedge-shaped Stratos borrowed its mid-mounted engine from the Ferrari Dino and weighs less than 1,000kg. It was a formidable rally car, winning three consecutive World Rally Championships from 1974 to 1976. This particular car took victory in the 1976 Rally of Portugal.

In pictures:

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Fiat 500

New Tesla-inspired ELECTRIC Fiat 500 confirmed for next year

Fiat 500 Fiat CEO Olivier Francois has confirmed an all-new electric-only Fiat 500 will launch at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show. And the new city car will be inspired by Tesla.

“We should think of the new 500 EV as an urban Tesla,” he said. “The beautiful style, coolness of concept, the statement it makes that the driver is cool, refined, sophisticated and cultivated.”

Although this means the entry-level price of the electric 500 may increase, Francois is not concerned. Half of customers already pay between £19,000 and £21,000 to buy a high-spec 500.

Fiat sold almost 200,000 500s last year. Taking a theoretical £26,000 entry-level price for a supermini-sized electric car, Francois argued that, once government incentives are factored in, Fiat already has evidence 100,000 people are prepared to pay what an electric 500 may cost.

Fiat 500

The current model, he added, will remain on sale, as a ‘classic 500’, with a range of small petrol engines. “We will keep on updating it to keep it fresh.”

Shifting the new 500 to an electric-only model is only possible because of the strength of the 500 brand. “People love the 500. Some will take it as an electric car even if they don’t need it. We will not lose customers by going only EV.”

Fiat will use sales of the zero-emission electric 500, along with a potential electric replacement for the Panda, to keep its European FCA fleet CO2 emissions within 2021 targets. 

“Small cars do not make lots of profits, but the contribution they can make to our group emissions will allow us to sell greater numbers of higher-margin Jeeps, Maseratis and Alfa Romeos.” 

500 Spiaggina 58

Spiaggina 58 – the latest uber-cool Fiat 500

 

500 Spiaggina 58

The Spiaggina 58 is the latest special in a long line of bespoke 500s. The models appeal clearly isn’t waining even in its 11th year in production.

If you google “La Dolce Vita” a few things come up. First, the cult classic movie from 1961 and second, the phrase born of the film’s name that it cemented, meaning something like “The good life, full of pleasure and indulgence” or, literally translated from Italian: “the sweet life”.

That’s exactly what this charming new Fiat 500 special edition wishes to embody, along with celebrating a couple of anniversaries and the era in which the original cultivated its icon. The new Spiaggina 58 celebrates both the 60th anniversary of the first 500 special – the Jolly Spiaggina – and the year of that special’s birth.

What’s changed?

This 1,958-limited production run car is packed with distinctive details that mark it out as a Spiaggina 58.

First and foremost, that exclusive colour – Volare Blue. Fiat describes it as “a name and colour that takes us straight back to 1958, to the Sanremo Festival of that year, when a young Domenico Modugno teamed up with Johnny Dorelli to give the first public performance of “Nel blu dipinto di blu”, the famous song also known as Volare”.

As well as the colour and the “white belt liner”, you’ll notice the ultra-cool retro wheels and Fiat badging, along with the convertible-only configuration and two-tone cabin.

While the production special edition joins a host of different 500 specials and specifications, the show car – developed by Garage Italia and Pininfarina – goes even further to capture the spirit of the original Spiaggina Jolly spirit. A roll hoop, folding tailgate and decking evoke the original Spiaggina “Beach Buggy” build by Carrozzeria Ghia.

Whether customers will be rallying their Spiaggina 58 500Cs across sun-blasted sandy beaches this summer remains to be seen. Regardless, the new special serves as a pleasant reminder of the rich heritage and cultural significance of the original model.

A heart-over-head buy, perhaps, but then the modern 500 has always majored on fashion and coolness, so what harm is there in yet another romanticised special edition? La Dolce Vita indeed.

Read more:

The 2 millionth Fiat 500

Fiat has now built 2 million new 500 city cars

The 2 millionth Fiat 500The success story of the new Fiat 500 continues, with the company announcing the two millionth reborn retro city car has been produced at the factory in Tychy, Poland.

The total comes 11 years after the current car was introduced. Although it’s been updated several times, it’s still the original recreation, making its current sales rate of over 200,000 a year even more impressive.

Indeed, for five years running, the 500 has been the best-selling city car in Europe, despite the constant arrival of newer rivals. Last year, it had a market share of almost 15 percent, and the latest quarterly sales of almost 60,000 is actually an all-time record.

The Fiat 500 is the favourite city car of the UK, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia. It’s also a top-three in Italy, Germany, France, Sweden, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

It’s fair to say Europeans still love the Fiat 500.

They also love special edition 500s, it seems: there have been 30 of them in the 11 years the new car’s been on sale. UK 500 prices may well start from £11,620, but many buyers are still happy to spend plenty more on top.

Current specials include the Collezione, which is a follow-on from last year’s 500-60th and Anniversario models, built to mark 60 years of the 500.

The new car still has some way to go to beat sales of the original 500, though. Twice as many were sold following its introduction in 1957, although in fairness, rivals were far fewer in number back then. Whether Fiat decides to keep the current car in production for another decade in order to chase the original’s sales figure remains to be seen…

Fiat 500

Fiat 500 1.2 Lounge (2016) road test review

Fiat 500Around one in five city cars sold in the UK is a Fiat 500 – not bad for a car launched nine years ago. The 500 was updated in 2015, with minor styling tweaks and a new touchscreen media system. Can it still compete with newer, cheaper rivals? We drove the best-selling 1.2 petrol to find out.

Prices and dealsFiat 500

The 500 isn’t cheap to buy. Prices start at £11,050 for the 69hp 1.2 Pop, rising to £15,350 for the 95hp 1.3 S. There’s a big premium of nearly £3,000 for the 500C convertible, too.

Fortunately, there are plenty of discounts available. The 1.2 Lounge model we tested retails at £12,800 before options, but the same car is just £9,908 from online car broker, Drive The Deal. Equally, ‘reverse auction’ website Auto eBid offered a price of £10,056.

What are its rivals?Fiat 500 rivals

In terms of style and emotional appeal, the 500’s closest rival is the MINI. However, BMW’s retro-remake is larger and more expensive: a supermini rather than a city car.

The Toyota Aygo, Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Up are all direct competitors. The Toyota – along with its near-identical sisters, the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108 – also majors on style and is usefully cheaper than the 500. The Hyundai also plays the value card, and is fun to drive.

The Up, meanwhile, offers Germanic build quality and plenty of interior space. It’s also one of triplets: the SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo are the same under the skin, but cheaper to buy.

What engine does it use?Fiat 500

Our test 500 is powered by a 69hp 1.2-litre petrol engine. You can also opt for the noisy but zesty two-cylinder, 0.9-litre Twinair – available in 85hp and 105hp outputs. Unusually for a car this size, Fiat offers a diesel engine, too: the 95hp 1.3 Mulitijet.

Fancy something sportier? The Abarth 500 hot hatch produces up to 180hp and costs from £15,090.

How fast?Fiat 500

Back in 2014, the Fiat 500 1.2 was featured on BBC Watchdog, amid allegations that it could “barely get to the tip of a hill.” It showed a presenter driving up a one in 10 incline in (what appeared to be) second gear, claiming she could “feel the lack of power.” Former Stig Ben Collins reached a similar verdict.

Fiat has since applied a software update, which is claimed to improve driveability. Nonetheless, this still isn’t a fast car. The 0-62mph dash takes a leisurely 12.9 seconds and maximum speed is 99mph.

Is it comfortable?Fiat 500

Park a 500 next to an original (1957-1975) Cinquecento and it looks huge. However, it isn’t as efficiently-packaged as many rivals – not least the mechanically-similar Fiat Panda.

We found it comfortable in the front, although the driving position is very upright: you feel like you’re sitting ‘on’ the car, rather than in it. Rear-seat passengers are likely to complain about the lack of headroom. Blame that cute-and-curvaceous roofline.

Will I enjoy driving it?Fiat 500

The 500 is a very easy car to drive, particularly in town. Its controls are light (the steering even has a ‘city’ mode for fingertip-twirling) and the lofty driver’s seat offers good visibility. A compact footprint makes it a doddle to park, too.

Escape the urban jungle and the little Fiat is less convincing. Its over-assisted steering doesn’t inspire confidence and there’s lots of body-roll in the corners. The 69hp engine hardly fizzes with enthusiasm either, particularly when it comes to steep hills…

Fuel economy and running costsFiat 500

Official fuel economy for the 500 1.2 petrol is a thrifty 60.1mpg, with CO2 emissions of 110g/km. The latter equates to free car tax (VED) in the first year, and just £20 per year thereafter.

Both versions of the two-cylinder Twinair petrol are more efficient on-paper: 74.3mpg and 67.3mpg for the 85hp and 105hp engines respectively. However, the Twinair rarely gets anywhere near these claimed figures in independent tests. Perhaps its rev-happy nature encourages lead-footed driving?

The 95hp 1.3 diesel manages 83.1mpg – but you’ll need to drive a very long way to justify the upfront cost (around £3,500 more than a similar-spec 1.2 petrol).

What’s the interior like?Fiat 500

The 500’s characterful cabin sets it apart from more strait-laced superminis. We love the body-colour dashboard, retro steering wheel and quirky seat fabrics. There’s seemingly endless scope for customisation, too.

The entry-level Pop comes with remote locking, electric front windows and a radio with USB and Aux sockets. Upgrading to Pop Star adds air conditioning, electric mirrors and a split/fold rear seat. The Lounge seen here has the Uconnect touchscreen (more on that shortly), a leather-wrapped wheel and rear parking sensors.

Is it practical?Fiat 500

Not particularly. There’s no five-door version, so rear passengers must clamber behind the front seats. And lifting child seats in and out is hip-twistingly awkward.

Luggage space is a modest 185 litres: enough for a weekly supermarket-shop, but much smaller than the 251-litre Volkswagen Up.

Tell me about the techFiat 500

Fiat’s latest Uconnect touchscreen ‘infotainment’ system is mounted high on the dashboard and proves straightforward to use, despite a small, five-inch screen. The TomTom sat nav (£350 – with DAB radio included) is particularly good, with bold graphics and live traffic data.

Our car also had the option seven-inch TFT screen in the binnacle behind the steering wheel (£350). It displays lots of useful driving data, along with a neat graphic of the car itself.

What about safety?Fiat 500

Euro NCAP awarded the Fiat a full five stars when it crash-tested one back in 2007. Standard safety equipment includes seven airbags and Isofix mounting points for child car seats.

Which version should I go for?Fiat 500

Simple is often best when it comes to small cars – and so it is with the Fiat 500. The 69hp 1.2 engine might struggle to pull skin off a panna cotta, but it’s peppy enough for pottering around town and decently economical. The 500 isn’t sporty, or even particularly fun to drive, so why pay more?

Likewise, we’d go for the mid-range Pop Star, rather than the fully-loaded Lounge seen here. With all the options fitted, our test car came to a faintly ludicrous £15,950. You could (and should) get a nice Ford Fiesta for that much.

What’s the used alternative?Fiat 500

The 500 has been on sale since 2007, so there are plenty in the classifieds. Prices start at around £3,000 for an early example with 80,000-90,000 miles on the clock. Just bear in mind that the three-year warranty will have expired and Fiats aren’t renowned for reliability; the brand is always among the backmarkers in the annual Which? Car Survey.

Should I buy one?Fiat 500

The 500 has been a sales phenomenon for Fiat. Indeed, the Italian marque has ended up modelling most of its range on it: witness the 500L and 500X.

Despite its faults, the 500 is classless and effortlessly cool. Yes, the VW Up is a better car in most respects – and cheaper, too. But many 500 customers simply won’t care. We wouldn’t buy one, yet even after nine years on sale, we’re sure thousands will.

Pub factFiat 500

More than 1.5 million examples of the current Fiat 500 have been sold since 2007. That puts it well on the way to catching the original 1957 500, which took 18 years to sell four million.