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Fiat Fullback

2016 Fiat Fullback review: the Italian L200

 

Fiat FullbackTo men of a certain age, the mere mention of ‘Turin’ and ‘fullback’ might conjure up memories of Stuart Pearce missing that penalty against Germany in Italia ’90. Fast-forward 26 years (yes, it really is that long), and Fiat chose its Mirafiori plant in Turin as the base at which to launch its new Fullback pick-up.

‘Versatile in any situation, robust and reliable’ is how Fiat would like you to think of the Fullback – a little like Stuart Pearce, then. Although fans of the Azzurri would much rather reference the great Paolo Maldini, one of the greatest fullbacks the world has ever seen.

But enough footballing chat, because the Fiat Fullback is meant for serious business – the final piece in the Fiat Professional jigsaw. It sits alongside familiar names such as the Ducato, Fiorino and Doblo, and sees Fiat entering the lucrative medium-size pick-up segment for the first time.

And lucrative it is. In 2015 alone, some 40,000 units were registered in the UK, a jump of 20% compared to the previous year. Across the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa), the figure extends to 650,000 vehicles a year.

Incredibly, the medium-size pick-up accounts for a whopping 62% of the commercial vehicle segment in the Middle East and Africa, and 6% in Europe. The likes of the Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi L200 and Nissan Navara are almost household names.

A Mitsubishi L200 in all but name

Fiat Fullback rear

So you can hardly blame Fiat for wanting a slice of the pick-up pie. Little wonder the Italian giant spent billions on research and development and many years perfecting the Fullback prior to its launch. Only it didn’t. Instead, it turned to something Mitsubishi made earlier.

That’s right. In case it had escaped your notice, the Fiat Fullback is little more than a badge-engineered Mitsubishi L200. The recipe is simple: take one highly successful pick-up, sprinkle on a few Fiat badges, invite the world’s press to Turin and, hey presto – your own ready-made Fullback.

All of which means we could, as one motoring journalist intended to do, copy and paste a review of the Mitsubishi L200 and present it as our Fiat Fullback first drive. That’s because the Fiat is mechanically identical to the Mitsubishi: the same chassis, the same 2.4-litre diesel engine, the same performance and economy figures.

Even the styling is, to all intents and purposes, the same, although Fiat’s corporate face presents a more rugged and tasteful look. Compare and contrast with the all-too-blingy look of the L200 Barbarian. Sorry, Mitsubishi, but we think the Fullback’s styling is more in keeping with the tough and rugged nature of the pick-up.

Doing lifestyle things at the weekend

Fiat Fullback motocross

The Fullback highlights just how far the pick-up has travelled in recent years. What was once a vehicle built for tradesmen and farmers is now expected to serve as a ‘work hero’ (Fiat’s term, not ours), able to work tirelessly Monday to Friday, before doing more lifestyle type things at the weekend.

Lifestyle things like sticking a motocross bike in the back of your pick-up, or the slightly less exciting trip to the tip. Try finding a crossover that offers seating for five, a 1,045kg payload and — in the case of the 180hp version of the 2.4-litre Fullback — the potential to tow up to 3,100kg in weight.

Remember what we were saying about being versatile in any situation?

OK, so you’ll have to make one or two compromises to live the pick-up dream. To drive, the Fullback is a world away from pick-ups of old, but the rear leaf springs take you back to a different age.

The result is a somewhat bouncy ride, although this is less noticeable when you’re carrying a full load. To demonstrate this, Fiat loaded our test car with a Euro pallet of salt, which served to settle the ride and provide more traction at the rear.

Perfect for delivering salt to the top of a mountain

Fiat Fullback loaded

In normal conditions, you’ll leave the Fullback in two-wheel drive, which essentially transforms your pick-up into a tail-happy, rear-wheel drive toy. Even with our shipment of salt, the traction control light flickered as we made our way up a series of tight and steep mountain bends.

We also found the Fullback ran out of puff rather quickly, forcing us to change down to first to pull away from yet another switchback. Real-world conditions – if you happen to live on the edge of the Italian Alps and find yourself delivering salt to somebody at the top of a mountain.

In everyday circumstances, the Fullback is remarkably composed and far more refined than you’d think. The initial diesel clatter soon settles to a smooth idle and only becomes noisy once you reach the upper reaches of the rev range. It’s forgivable, because it’s accompanied by the thrust of 317lb ft of torque.

Off-the-line pace is impressive, and there’s enough mid-range pull to encourage you to tackle overtaking manoeuvres without consulting your life insurance policy. The steering and gearchange are far more car-like than pick-ups of old. Put simply: driving a Fullback doesn’t feel like a workout.

As good off-road as an Opel Agila

Fiat Fullback off road

Given the nature of the beast, there’s a good chance a medium-size pick-up will spend some time off-road; certainly more than you’d expect of a crossover or SUV. The entry-level 150hp Fullback SX features an on-demand four-wheel drive system with three electrically-selected settings: 2H, 4H and 4L, while the LX has four electrically-controlled settings: 2H, 4H plus 4HLc and 4LLC with a locking central differential.

Helpfully, Fiat included an off-road section as part of our test route – a muddy track through an Italian forest. The ruts and camber changes made it slightly trickier to navigate than a New Forest car park, but when we point out we were met by an Opel Agila and two-wheel drive Fiat Panda emerging from the opposite direction, you’ll appreciate that it was hardly a huge test of the Fullback’s off-road abilities.

But given Mitsubishi’s off-road heritage, you can rest assured that the Fullback will be no slouch when the going gets tough.

Who needs a Nissan Qashqai anyway?

Fiat Fullback interior

Overall, although more car-like than pick-ups of old, the Fullback errs more on the side of commercial than it does lifestyle. It’s not as easy to drive as a crossover and it leans through corners in much the same way an SUV would have done 20 years ago. But the commanding driving position at least puts you on a par with the Qashqais and Evoques of the world.

Just don’t expect your Fullback to feel like an Evoque on the inside. Fans of soft-touch plastics are likely to be disappointed, but some piano black surfaces and brushed-aluminium detailing help to lift an otherwise sombre interior. The touchscreen infotainment system is Straight Outta L200 and suffers from the same usability issues. It’s not the most intuitive system on the market.

On the plus side, the steering adjusts for reach and rake, while the leather seats on our LX test car were both comfortable and supportive. Being critical, we’d have liked more in the way of storage compartments, as this is one area where the Fullback/L200 lags behind the Isuzu D-Max. On the plus side, the Fullback trounces the D-Max in terms of perceived quality.

In the rear, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Some passengers will revel in the ‘theatre’ seating, which provides a commanding view over those in the front, but conversely it does provide a feeling of being perched on the car. Headroom won’t be an issue for even the tallest of passengers, but some adults might find their knees are pressed against the back of the front seats.

Lights, camera, action

Fiat Fullback launch

The entry-level Fullback SX offers a generous level of standard equipment, but we’d recommend upgrading to the LX, not least because of the reversing camera. Parking a pick-up can be a game of chance, especially if you’re carrying a load or have fitted an aftermarket canopy to the back. A camera will reduce your reliance on a tow bar acting like a rudimentary parking sensor.

The LX will also feel the more car-like of the two trim levels, something you might be thankful of if you intend to use your pick-up for family duties. Heated leather seats, keyless go, climate control, bi-xenon headlights, additional body styling, privacy glass and 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system will ensure you’re living the SUV dream. Almost.

Your important car-like figures for the Fullback LX are: 173g/km CO2 for the 180hp manual, increasing to 189g/km for the automatic; 42.8mpg combined (manual), 39.2mpg combined (automatic); £22,995 plus VAT and OTR charges (manual) and £24,395 plus VAT and OTR charges (automatic).

Your important commercial vehicle figures for the Fullback LX are: length 5,285mm; width 1,815mm; height 1,780mm; kerb weight 1,875kg; towing (unbraked) 3,100kg; payload 1,045kg; off-road angles: approach 30°, departure 22°, ground clearance 205mm.

Fiat Fullback: Early verdict

Fiat Fullback verdict

The Fiat Fullback is about as Italian as that Hawaiian pizza you ordered from the takeaway on Friday night. But does it matter? The fact that it’s a Mitsubishi L200 should at least provide some reassurance to prospective customers.

To our eyes at least, the Fullback looks slightly more appealing than the L200 and some well-chosen Mopar accessories should enhance the look even further. This double cab pick-up is a realistic alternative to a me-too crossover or SUV and could even offer as much as 42.8mpg on a combined cycle.

Given the specification, practicality and near car-like dynamics, the prices, on paper at least, look like a bargain. If a Fullback fits your lifestyle, you’ll find much to like here. Mitsubishi’s entry-level L200 4Life might be cheaper than the Fiat’s entry-level Fullback SX, but the superior LX is good value when pitched alongside the Warrior and bling-tastic Barbarian.

What a shame that Fiat has wimped out when it comes to naming its trim levels. Against the hard-as-nails Warrior, Barbarian, Invincible, Blade and Huntsman, SX and LX just sound a bit lukewarm. May we suggest the Fullback Stuart Pearce or Fullback Julian Dicks? Then again…

We’d like to say the Fullback will be available in all good Fiat dealers, but it won’t. Not for now, at least. Fiat told us the Fullback will be available via Fiat Professional dealers, so don’t expect to see it sat alongside the Panda, 500 and Punto in the showroom. Instead, find it alongside the likes of the Doblo, Ducato, Fiorino and Talento. If this world sounds alien to you, eating a Ginsters pasty, reading the Sun and tuning into Talksport should provide some adequate training.

For:

  • It’s a Mitsubishi L200 with Fiat badges
  • Generous standard specification
  • Practicality and space

Against:

  • It’s a Mitsubishi L200 with Fiat badges
  • Dated infotainment system
  • Ride quality when not carrying a load

2016 Fiat Fullback LX manual: specification

Price: £22,995 plus VAT and OTR charges

Engine: 2.4-litre turbo diesel

Gearbox: six-speed manual

Power: 180hp

Torque: 317lb ft

0-62mph: 10.4 seconds

Top speed: 111mph

Fuel economy: 42.8mpg

CO2 emissions: 173g/km

2016 Fiat 124 review: it's a more refined Mazda MX-5

2016 Fiat 124 Spider review: it’s a more refined Mazda MX-5

2016 Fiat 124 review: it's a more refined Mazda MX-5

Before the days of overweight faux-SUVs and customisable city cars, if we’d said the words ‘Fiat 500’, you’d have pictured a cute little Cinquecento from the 1960s. The sort you’d expect to see in pictures of Italian restaurants – less than three metres long and powered by a two-cylinder air-cooled engine.

Then Fiat cashed in and introduced the new 500, and its subsequent offshoots the 500L and 500X. And what a success that has been for a company responsible for the less-than-aspirational Fiat Punto.

Retro works for Fiat. Which is why it’s bringing back the 124 Spider. That’s its sexy, Pininfarina-designed 2+2 sports car, which was built between 1966 and 1980. However, we do wonder whether the Fiat 124 Spider quite works as well in marketing terms as the 500. How many non-enthusiast Brits remember the original?

Like the Fiat 500, which shares a platform with the Ford Ka, Fiat went elsewhere to find a base for its reincarnated 124. Hoping to compete directly with the ever-popular Mazda MX-5, who better to work with than the experts? A deal was done, and it was decided that the two firms would work together to create the fourth-generation MX-5 and its Italian cousin.

Only it wasn’t that simple. The Fiat 124 Spider was originally mooted as an Alfa Romeo – but then Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne piped up something about Alfa Romeos only being created in Italy. And the deal precluded that the Mazda/FCA sports car would be built at Mazda’s Hiroshima plant in Japan.

So, like it or not, it’s a Japanese-built Fiat. But has the Italian manufacturer done enough to give the 124 some Italian flair? We headed to Lake Garda to find out just how Italian this sporty little number actually is.

It’s very similar to the Mazda inside

It's very similar to the Mazda inside

Fiat hasn’t done a lot to the 124’s cabin to differentiate it from its Japanese relation. The dashboard is the same, the infotainment screen is the same… only the steering wheel and some of the materials are different.

They didn’t want to be pushed into saying it, but the team behind the 124 were suggesting on its launch that they felt the 124 was ever-so-slightly more upmarket in terms of finish compared to the MX-5. The difference is negligible, but there is something about the Fiat 124 that feels more like a boulevard cruiser than the very focused MX-5.

Materials inside, it’s no more suited to a long journey than the Mazda. Despite being 139mm longer, the 124’s cabin feels just as cramped. This isn’t helped by a large bulge in the floor of the left-hand-drive model tested here. This is to do with the gearbox, says Fiat, and unavoidable.

It hasn’t got any more storage space than the Mazda, either. The Fiat 124 very definitely isn’t a Lotus Elise – buyers will expect a glove box and various storage spaces for, at the very least, a day at the beach. They’re going to be disappointed – although, at 140-litres, the 124’s boot space is marginally up on the Mazda’s.

…But it drives differently to the MX-5

...But it drives differently to the MX-5

Unlike MX-5 buyers, who get a choice of a 1.5 or 2.0-litre engine, Fiat 124 buyers only get a 1.4-litre turbo engine (those wanting a little more performance can opt for the Abarth version, revealed at the Geneva Motor Show and on its way to the UK soon).

On paper, the 1.4 engine slots neatly between Mazda’s two powertrains. It produces 140hp, compared to the 1.5-litre MX-5’s 131hp and 2.0-litre’s 160hp. It’s a typical turbocharged unit – with 177 lb ft of torque at 2,250rpm. That’s much lower than the Mazda’s naturally-aspirated unit, meaning you don’t have to work it as hard, but it is quite a narrow band. It’s easy to bog the engine down at low revs – you have to be willing to use the gearbox often to keep the turbo spooled up.

It doesn’t sound particularly good, either – those who want to be heard will need to invest in an aftermarket exhaust system. We’re not saying sports cars such as the 124 need to be loud, but a bit more of a rasp would make the 124 feel more special.

Congested roads on the Fiat 124’s launch event in Italy meant we’d like a little longer with the car before coming to a full conclusion about how well it handles. Fiat’s done its own thing to the suspension, using its own springs and dampers, as well as the steering ratios.

The result? It’s not quite as focussed as the MX-5, but it does provide fun while, we suspect, not becoming quite as wearing on longer journeys. The steering is lighter than we’d like, and doesn’t transmit quite the same amount of information through to the driver as the Mazda. But as we recently criticised the MX-5 for being overly communicative (bordering edgy), this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The gearbox, although originally the same ‘box as that used in the MX-5, has been heavily adapted to take the extra torque, and it doesn’t seem quite as slick to use. The throw feels longer, from our brief drive, and we didn’t find ourselves changing up and down quite as eagerly as we did with the MX-5 Sport Recaro we recently had on test.

Fiat 124 Spider: Early verdict

Fiat 124: Early verdict

It’s difficult not to treat this as a twin test with the Mazda MX-5. The truth is, neither the Mazda MX-5 or Fiat 124 is the better car. They’re both obviously very similar, with negligible differences.

But the differences are there, if you look closely. OK, the engine is the most noticeable. It’s clear from the launch that this could be divisive – some journalists, as you may well read in other reviews, prefer the punchy turbocharged Fiat unit to Mazda’s offerings. But we love ragging the naturally-aspirated Mazda units – and they sound better than the Fiat four-cylinder.

The Fiat 124 is less sharp than the Mazda, but that results in a less frantic drive. Will 99.9% of buyers miss the Mazda’s limited-slip diff? We suspect not – and those who do can opt for the Abarth instead.

That could partly explain why the Fiat isn’t as hardcore as the Mazda. By increasing refinement in the regular model, it leaves room for the Abarth – which will have more power, an LSD and a sports driving mode.

As we’ve previously questioned whether most MX-5 customers will find the Mazda a little bit over-the-top for their needs, we wonder whether Fiat’s strategy of offering a softer, more refined model, then a more hardcore model above it, might be the way forward.

For:

  • Looks great
  • Fun to drive
  • More refined than Mazda

Against:

  • Mazda likely the better option for serious petrolheads
  • Not as practical as we’d like
  • Sounds like a Ford Focus

2016 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso Plus: specification

Price: £23,295

Engine: 1.4-litre turbo petrol

Gearbox: six-speed manual

Power: 140hp

Torque: 177lb ft

0-62mph: 7.5 seconds

Top speed: 134mph

Fuel economy: 44.1mpg

CO2 emissions: 148g/km

Fiat 500

Fiat 500: Retro Road Test

Fiat 500The current Fiat 500 has been the darling of the city car market and beloved of young and trendy urbanites since it was launched in 2007. But there is another way to go if stylish retro motoring tickles your fancy. The current 500’s predecessor – the Nuova 500 – first won over city drivers in 1957. Designed in part to get a country on wheels, its diminutive dimensions, simple two-cylinder engine and cute-as-a-button looks immediately earned it many fans. And, of course, it proved so popular, it unashamedly provided inspiration for its newer (and much larger) ancestor.

Replacing the front-engined 1936 Fiat 500 ‘Topolino’ (or ‘little mouse’), the Nuova (‘new’) 500 made use of the popular rear-engined template of the time. It followed in the tyre tracks of its larger 600 predecessor, and was part of the ‘economic miracle’ that was post-war Italy’s decade-and-a-half of sustained economic growth. Like the contemporary Volkswagen Beetle and Citroën 2CV, it can be considered one of the earliest mass-market ‘people’s cars’. It enjoyed an 18-year production run from 1957-1975.

Replaced by the angular, but similar-in-concept Fiat 126, the Nuova 500 is now a popular classic car. With a simple outlook and endearing character, it’s easy to see why over four million Nuova 500s were produced. Our test car is a 1966 500 ‘F’ with a 499cc 18bhp engine, which is owned by Great Escape Cars. Available to drive on the company’s road trip or corporate event packages, the car has also been used on the Antiques Road Trip TV programme. It was imported from Milan in January 2015.

MiniWhat are its rivals?

As its production run encapsulated almost two decades, the Nuova 500’s rivals are varied. Perhaps the most obvious is the ground-breaking Morris Mini Minor/Austin Seven/Mini of 1959, which brought front-engined, front-wheel-drive technology to the mass market. Similar in size to the 2,970mm Nuova 500, the 3,054mm Mini was more powerful: its 848cc four-cylinder developed 33hp – almost twice as much as the little Fiat’s unit. The Fiat weighed less, though; the tiny Italian car tipped the scales at 470kg, against the Mini’s 617kg. 

As the Nuova 500 entered the 1960s, more rivals appeared in the shape of the similarly-powered two-cylinder 1961 NSU Prinz 4, as well as the four-cylinder Hillman Imp of 1963. Both newcomers shared a rear-engined layout with the Nuova 500, but had larger dimensions than both the Italian car and its British Mini rival. Coincidentally, there was another NSU link: the pretty Neckar Weinsberg 500 Limousette and Coupé were based on the Nuova 500 and produced by NSU/FIAT Weinsberg Karosseriewerke in Heilbronn, Germany.

Fiat 500What engine does it use?

The first 500 models were powered by a two-cylinder 479cc engine (500cc nominally, which gave the car its name) that initially developed 13hp, then 15hp. A larger-capacity 499.5cc ‘Sport’ variant produced 21hp. The 500 ‘D’ arrived in 1960 and ushered in an enlarged 499cc two-cylinder engine, this time with 18hp, which powered the little car – including our 1996 500 F test model – until 1973. The last incarnation of the 500, the ‘R’, borrowed its 594cc engine from the similarly diminutive 126. It produced a heady 23hp. Abarth versions were even more dizzying: engines ranged from 593cc to 689.5cc with power outputs from 27hp to 38hp.

Fiat 500What’s it like to drive?

The first thing that strikes you when you first get into a 500 is the amount of space inside. Despite its bijou size, it uses what interior space it does have to much better effect than the newer model that shares its name. Thanks to its rear-engine, rear-drive layout, there’s no bulky transmission tunnel to get in the way (unlike the current car), and its large and upright glasshouse makes it feel spacious and easy to place on the road.

On the move, the engine really has to be revved to get any decent performance, and although our mildly hilly, open-road test route wasn’t best suited to the little Fiat, it coped well. Once the engine is on song, it does assault the ears somewhat, but don’t worry – it might sound like you’re doing it some damage, but that’s just the way it is. Quiet it’s not, but then that’s one part of the original 500’s multi-faceted character. Top speed is just 59mph, so motorway cruising is something denied to Nuova 500 drivers.

The hardest thing to master if you’ve not driven one before, is the non-synchromesh ‘crash’ gearbox. You need to double de-clutch every time you change gear – you’ll do it very often – and it can be a tricky thing to get the hang of. The steering can feel vague out on the open road, too, but the 500 feels quite nimble and light on its tyres. The brakes work well enough, and you’ll be glad when you have stopped, just to give your ears a rest if nothing else. For a small car, the little Italian can feel quite demanding and tiring to drive for long periods. But isn’t that just part of the fun?  

Fiat 500Reliability and running costs

Although the downsized two-cylinder engine was a departure for Fiat, it has a reputation for being a tough little unit. The car’s non-synchromesh gearbox was used throughout its life, but thankfully is also famed for being strong. If it does need repair, though, it’s not a simple task.

The 500’s dinky dimensions mean parts prices aren’t too prohibitive: a front panel can cost from as little as £72 from an independent specialist, while bonnets start at around £95. Door hinge kits are as little as £6, while doors themselves range from £288 to almost double that. 

With not much power – and therefore not a huge amount of speed – the 500 has an advantage when it comes to economy, with 53mpg commonly reported. Most now fall under the VED historic vehicle exemption rule for cars registered before 1 January 1976, too, meaning they cost nothing to tax. To further keep costs to a minimum, a classic car insurance policy would be a wise investment. 

Fiat 500Could I drive it every day?

For today’s congested streets, the Nuova 500’s pint-sized footprint is perfect. A modern Smart Fortwo may still be shorter – so 90-degree parking facing the kerb may be off the cards – but the 500 can nip through narrow streets that would be out of bounds to bigger cars, its later relative included.

If you want more practicality, the equally cute ‘Giardiniera’ estate version of the Nuova 500 was made from 1960 to 1977 and enjoyed a larger carrying capacity, thanks to the engine being turned on its side and mounted under the boot floor.  Don’t forget the sunroof on the standard car, though – fold it back to carry long loads and you’ll possess the coolest load-lugger in town.

While longer journeys out of town may prove more of a challenge due to that small engine, our 1966 test car provided modest fun out on the roads surrounding the Welsh borders. However, you do have to rev the little unit to its absolute limit, so it’s best to keep to the urban landscape. 

Fiat 500How much should I pay?

Most early-1970s, good-condition 500 F, L or R models command around £6,000-£8,000, while top collectors’ cars can go for upwards of £20,000. Restoration projects start as low as £1,500, with fully-restored 500s priced around ten times that much. A car around the same age as the 1966 car pictured here can be had for around £8,500, while 1970s-era 500s can be advertised for up to £1,000 less.

Cars that need importing may be cheaper still – mid-1960s cars can be around £3,500, but don’t forget you will need import duty and VAT adding to the total bill. It goes without saying that cars that have been better cared for fetch higher prices – we’ve seen one 1971 500 F that has been resprayed, serviced and kept in a garage for £12,500. Later 500 Rs see peaks in demand as they offer a combination of the later running gear with the early, retro-style ‘round speedo’ dashboard, rather than the plastic padded one of the 500 L.

Fiat 500What should I look out for?

As with almost all classic cars, rust is one of the biggest enemies of the 500. Examine the front panel behind the headlamps closely, along with the areas around the front and rear windows, as well as the engine cover. Don’t forget the usual spots, too, such as the bottoms of the doors, sills, wheel arches, and wings. Open the front ‘bonnet’ and check there, too, paying particular attention to the battery tray and spare wheel well. The floor can need attention on cars that haven’t been looked after, too. Rot is usually caused by leaks from that same large sunroof that gives the car a certain amount of its character.

Oil leaks from the engine are common, but a lot of smoke from the exhaust suggests the little two-cylinder will need a rebuild. The dinky unit also relies on its cooling flaps working correctly – if they don’t, it can overheat and substantial engine damage can result. Also look for worn carburettors, timing chains and clean, regularly-changed spark plugs. A check of the suspension morning points is also worth doing, too. Look at both the rear semi-trailing arms and the transverse front leaf spring for corrosion. Every 1,000-1,500 miles the front kingpins need greasing, too. 

With so many leaving Fiat’s Lingotto factory in Turin, a great number of Nuova 500s will be left-hand-drive like our test car. If it’s known that a particular car has been subject to a steering wheel swap to right-hand drive, an independent specialist can check if the conversion has been carried out properly. As befits its car-for-the-masses roots, the 500’s interior is refreshingly simple. Wear and tear will be noticeable, but parts (as well as exterior panels) on early cars can be difficult to find. 

Fiat 500Should I buy one?

As with almost all classic cars, there’s characterful appeal to the 500 that rubs off on you as you drive it. A happy little car with plenty of personality, for retro-chic appeal, a Nuova 500 beats the current Fiat 500 hands down. Healthy production figures mean there are still plenty around, and the tiny silhouette is one of the most well-known and endearing on the classic car scene. We’d buy one and keep it for high days and holidays, unless its condition and patina dictates everyday use.

Later 500 F and L cars from the mid-1960s onwards will probably be the most reliable, for those considering a longer-term proposition. As well as the engine, last-of-the-line R cars shared some of the chassis with their 126 successor and so will be more robust still. But, even the final examples will now be more than 40 years old. However, even though it’s so instantly recognisable, we’d probably have a Nouva 500 over a similar vintage Mini, purely for the added style and Italian character it offers. With a starring role as Luigi in the first Cars movie, your kids will thank you, too. 

SMEG fridgesPub facts

For the first eight years of its life, the Nuova 500 had reverse-hinged suicide doors, but they were phased out in 1965 due to safety concerns. However, the Giardiniera stuck with the rear-opening doors for all of its production run. The estate version of the 500 also had its wheelbase extended by four inches. The original 500 was also the first car to be offered with a flexible finance package, set to appeal to the bank of mum and dad.

If you love your 500 that much and want to park it indoors rather than in a garage, you can also buy a Smeg fridge that immortalises the little Italian. ‘Because a refrigerator is not just a domestic appliance and a bonnet is not just a car’, the SMEG 500 has been available since 2013, and is based on the front of a Nuova 500. It has a 100-litre capacity under its ‘bonnet’, and is available in traditional Italian red, green or white.

Fiat 500 review: 2015 first drive

Fiat 500 review: 2015 first drive

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

Fiat 500X review: 2015 UK first drive

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Fiat pumps up the 500 to create the 500X and may have created the best small crossover in the process.

Gavin Braithwaite-Smith | April 2015

The Fiat 500X is proof that you can make a silk purse out of a silk purse. It was always questionable how many hip and trendy 500 owners would actually want to upscale to the overtly mumsy and aesthetically-challenged 500L, but in the new crossover, Fiat has a good chance of keeping hold of these loyal customers.

And what a customer base it is. Even now – some seven years after the 500 was launched in the UK – sales continue to rise. Last year, Fiat sold 44,005 units, making it the most successful year ever. By the end of the year, Fiat expects to break the quarter of a million mark. If only 10% of these owners go on to buy a 500X, Fiat will be on to a good start.

If you’re one of the 30,000 or so Fiat 500 owners who are coming to the end of your PCP agreement in 2015, be prepared for some heavy targeting. Fiat reckons it can convince 10% of you to order a new 500X. Not that you’ll need much convincing. In the 500X, has a genuinely impressive, potentially sector-leading crossover. It really is that good.

Of course, the Fiat 500X shares more in common with the new Jeep Renegade than it does the 500 city car, but the designers deserve great credit for managing to migrate the 500’s cutesy looks into something altogether larger. As Fiat proved with the 500L and 500MPW, this isn’t an easy task. Not only does the 500X look good, it also hides its dimensions rather well.

For a car that measures 4250mm in length and 1600mm in width, the 500X actually looks much smaller. It’s not until you see it alongside a more familiar car from the B or C segments that you realise just how big the 500X is. This translates into a sizeable cabin, but more on that later.

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By the time the Fiat 500X is up to its full quota of variants later this year, buyers will be faced with a bewildering array of six engines, three transmissions and three different ways of applying power to the road. Tellingly, such is the nature of this fast-growing segment, Fiat outlined the various options, before moving on to the “most important” aspect of the 500X – the infotainment system. Whether it is the most important consideration is up for debate, but you suspect it sits high up on the list of priorities for the typical crossover buyer.

What’s the Fiat 500X like to drive?

Conditions were perfect for the launch of the Fiat 500X. The combination of the majestic Longleat House, the roads surrounding the estate and some unseasonably warm weather meant the crossover could have no excuses if it didn’t deliver. Fortunately it did, but there are a couple of reservations.

Existing Fiat 500 owners will feel right at home in the 500X as it feels every inch the grown-up city car. For absolute driving pleasure – and the closest in spirit to the 500 – you should opt for the 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol engine and switch the Drive Mood Selector to Sport.

The steering weights up nicely and the car feels more playful and alive. It’ll spin its wheels for fun in first and second gear and you’ll have to tussle with the meaty steering wheel to keep within the white lines. Some buyers won’t like this, in which case they can opt for the diesel-engined and/or four-wheel-drive versions, which feel decidedly more mature.

But hopefully the 500 owners will embrace this sense of fun. It’s more in keeping with the 500 brand and feels less like admitting you’re approaching the land of pipe and slippers. Fiat calls the typical buyers ‘spirited adventurers’, although Jeep told us the same about the Renegade. We suspect Renault, Citroen, Nissan and MINI are also chasing the same buyers, although with the segment attracting 50,000 new customers a year, there is plenty of pie to go around.

In all cases, the 500X corners flat and there’s barely a hint of body roll. Sure, the steering could offer more feedback, but will buyers in this segment really care? It also rides well, even on optional 17-inch alloy wheels, with only the most pitted of Wiltshire and Somerset roads managing to unsettle the car. Curiously, it’s the low-speed ride comfort that comes in for the most criticism, potentially making town driving a bit of a pain.

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On the plus side, the six-speed manual gearbox is smooth and satisfying, with the oversized round gear knob a delight to hold. The optional nine-speed transmission is – for the majority of the time – smooth, but it can feel laboured and you’ll find it hunting for the right gear. It’s especially noticeable when traveling downhill or when exiting a corner.

But it’s hard to find any serious cause to complain about how the 500X drives. You sit ‘in’ the car, as opposed to ‘on’ it and there’s plenty of scope for adjustment in the steering wheel and seat. It’s just shame the seats don’t offer more in the way of support.

So is the Fiat 500X the best in the segment?

Sticking our necks out here, we’re tempted to say yes, the Fiat 500X is the best in its class. To us it feels like the Fiat 500 has finished school, been through college and has turned into a fun-loving and well-rounded 20-something. It offers the charm of the C4 Cactus and Captur, the bold styling of the Juke and the premium-feel of the Countryman.

Take the interior, which looks and feels like a bigger and more grown-up version of what you’ll find in the 500 city car. From the chunky steering wheel to the well-positioned 6.5-inch infotainment screen, the 500X provides plenty of subtle, but not overly done, hints of the 500.

It’s also spacious, with enough headroom and legroom in the back for adult passengers. The generous amount of room in the back does come at the expense of boot space, which at 350 litres is hardly class-leading. The high boot lip also means that you need to look elsewhere if load-lugging is high on your list of priorities.

Further criticisms include the cheap-feeling leather on the door cards, some scratchy plastics below eye-level, hard-as-nails head restraints and poor rearward visibility. But the 500X does enough things very well for it to be excused these minor indiscretions.

Crucially, Fiat reckons the 500X will hold its value better than all the other cars in the segment – even the MINI Countryman. Given the strength and appeal of the 500 brand, it’s not hard to imagine this being correct. Time will tell.

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Verdict: Fiat 500X (2015)

We really like the Fiat 500X. It manages to succeed where the Jeep Renegade fails by offering a feel-good-factor and not relying on quirky ‘Easter Egg’ details to ram its message home. Fiat has created a car that enhances the 500 brand, rather than exploits it.

You may have a tough job choosing the right car for you – the range of options is longer than a list of pizza toppings at your local trattoria. Woodya like-a this petrol engine? Or that petrol engine? Diesel? Diesel with four-wheel drive? Manual? Automatic? Twin-clutch transmission? How about the trim – Pop, Pop Star, Lounge, Cross or Cross Plus?

And that’s before you consider the 12 different body colours and eight alloy wheels. Or even the range of personalisation options. Good luck to the dealers who will be tasked with simplifying this for the customers.

There won’t be a shortage of customers. The Fiat 500X is a great car that’s entering a market that’s continuing to grow. It deserves to succeed.

Rivals

1. Citroen C4 Cactus

2. Renault Captur

3. Nissan Juke

4. MINI Countryman

5. Vauxhall Mokka

Right now, we’d put the 500X at the top of the tree. The Cactus trumps it when it comes to quirkiness, but neither that or the Juke can offer the same amount of space in the back. Subjectively, the 500X also looks better than the Captur and is likely to offer better residual values. It also shows MINI that you can put a small car through the photocopier, increase its size and come out with something visually appealing at the other side.

Specification: Fiat 500X

Engines (at launch) 1.4-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol and 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel

Gearbox Six-speed manual and nine-speed automatic transmission

Prices at launch £17,595 – £25,845

Power 120-140hp

Torque 169-258lb ft

0-62mph 9.8-10.5 seconds

Top speed 116-118mph

MPG 47.1-68.9mpg

CO2 109-144g/km

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