When you set eyes on the Fiat 500, you could believe you’re sat outside an Italian cafe in the height of a 1950s summer, supping espresso while flicking through the day’s Corriere della Sera with the tranquillity of a silent mountainous sunset your only company.
And that’s what makes this small city car special; its connection to the past, its tribute to a simpler time – that hard-to-describe feeling.
Everyone takes something different away from their first 500 experience. Its pathway to nostalgia, perhaps. Its impressive modern take on a ‘50s classic, maybe. But whatever it is, it does something many of its rivals don’t and never could – it gives you a feeling of being at one with the car’s heritage.
However, despite what your heart thinks, you need to be sure your decision is right in your head, too. And that’s where the finer details of the Fiat 500’s excellence come into play.
A lot of modern city cars, albeit while looking great, don’t have a great deal of independence and originality.
And if that’s important to you, you can’t really look past the Fiat 500. From its classic-shaped headlights to its retro chrome door handles and compact physique, it’s clear to see the evolution this car has taken since its first inception in 1957.
Then there’s the personalisation. If you believe a car represents its owner, then the Fiat 500 is as detailed and unique as a fingerprint.
There are over 500,000 – that’s right, half-a-million – ways to make your Italian city explorer your own, from a wide range of paint jobs to alloy wheels, roof patterns and body stickers. There is, in fact, not a lot you can’t customise.
And that originality carries on inside. Immediately you’re greeted by a sea of retro detail, and it’s that focus on the smaller things which makes the interior a truly incredible place to be.
Everything from the multi-function leather steering wheel, which typifies the retro-modern mix this car lives for, to the dash – where you’ll again find a melting pot of today and yesteryear.
Minimalist chrome-encased switches are joined by a multi-function touchscreen infotainment system which houses everything, from music streaming and radio to Fiat’s Uconnect and Sat Nav on higher-spec models.
The driver is also treated to a second screen behind the steering wheel which replaces the manual speedo, fuel gauge and other vehicle statistics buried away. Once again showing this car’s purpose; bringing the best the 1950s had to offer and combining it with 21st-century user experience.
While the Fiat 500 is by no means anything but a city car, inside it’s surprisingly spacious.
There’s comfortably room for four adults – two in the front and two in the back – and although we’re not talking Range Rover size, the boot space is generous. In fact, the Fiat 500’s boot is the biggest in its class.
And that can be increased, too. With mid to higher-spec models, you can flatten the rear seats, giving you a much greater load space.
But despite the lack of rear-door access, getting into the back isn’t the tricky task you might expect. Foldable front seats, which also slide forward creating an easier entry – quite an anomaly in a car of this size – makes the lack of five doors more than manageable.
With the Fiat 500, you have five engine choices. The standard 1.2 petrol, two 0.9 turbocharged petrol options or a 1.3 diesel.
Each brings with it something different. The two-cylinder turbocharged 0.9s, for example, give you a little more kick than the 1.2, although the latter gives you more miles to the gallon.
The diesel, meanwhile, is perfect if you’re doing longer journeys and spending a lot of time outside of town.
Really there aren’t many scenarios where the Fiat 500 can’t give you the power you’re looking for. And soon, there’ll also be a fully electric and hybrid version.
But let’s be honest, the city is where it belongs.
Fiat 500: The Perfect City Car
With light, agile steering, a small physique, and head-turning looks, the Fiat 500 is well suited to the tight turns of modern city life.
And I suppose that’s why this car is so brilliant. It takes you back to the time where styling was everything and combines it with what sets us apart today; technology.
It’s the best of both worlds. You can have your 1950s Italian heritage with a five-star safety rating and seven airbags.
Really, in its class, there’s nothing else like it, which is what the Fiat 500 was born to be.
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