What is the Fiat 500?
Modern cars retro-styled to replicate older models usually sell well initially, but interest soon wanes – not so for the reborn Fiat 500, which itself has been a mainstay of the Italian brand’s range for over a decade.
In essence, the 500’s a compact city car, competing against other micro machines such as the SEAT Mii, Skoda Citigo and Volkswagen Up, but its classical looks also mean that many buyers compare it against the much larger and more expensive MINI Hatch.
Perhaps less well known is that the 500 was the basis of the second-generation Ford Ka. Not only was the Blue Oval-badged car based on the same underpinnings as the Fiat, sharing its engines and transmissions, it was also built alongside it in the same Polish factory.
Previewed by the Trepiuno (three-plus-one) concept in 2004, the production version of the Fiat 500 Hatchback arrived in the UK in 2008 as an urban-centric three-door with just about enough room for four adults and not much luggage.
Within a year the range was cleverly expanded to a pair of models with the introduction of the Fiat 500C – a two-door soft-top that uses the bodywork of the hatchback to keep prices modest.
There’s been a wide range of engines powering different 500s over the past decade, including 1.2- and 1.4-litre petrols, as well as a 1.3-litre diesel, but the most well-known is the TwinAir. This is a turbocharged, two-cylinder 0.8-litre petrol that loves to be revved hard – conspiring to sound like a bucketful of angry wasps when you press the throttle hard.
Regular trim levels have typically been Pop, Pop Star, Lounge and S, but there’s also been an enormous range of special editions too, such as Colour Therapy and Collezione.
What is the Fiat 500 Abarth?
Let’s clear this one up immediately: there wasn’t a car sold as the Fiat 500 Abarth in the same sense as there had previously been models such as the older Fiat Bravo Abarth. Instead, Fiat’s parent company reintroduced Abarth as a brand in its own right, which in turn allowed more money to be charged for the quicker 500s.
First to arrive in 2009 was the Abarth 500, a range that remained on sale until 2015.
Somewhat confusingly – initially, at least – a decision was made to resurrect older model names meaning the pumped-up Abarth 695 (from 2010) and Abarth 595 (from 2012) also look like Fiat 500 derivatives, aside from their more purposeful bodywork.
All 595s and 695s feature turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engines with power ranging from 140-190hp. If you’re looking for something particularly extreme, but 500-shaped, then hunt-down a stripped-out 695 Biposto – the name means ‘two-seater’, signaling that there’s a bracing bar where the rear bench would normally be found.
Peel away the 500’s cutesy bodywork and underneath are a version of the same front-wheel drive underpinnings that are used by the previous- and current-generation Fiat Panda – its more practical and spacious sibling.
While the styling of the 500 is clearly based on its 1950s predecessor, the details are far more contemporary. Fiat's bold use of colours makes the 500 especially appealing, in part explaining how it’s remained on sale for so long with few visual alterations.
Fiat freshened-up the 500 in 2016, introducing LED daytime-running lights, LED tail lamps with a body-coloured fillet in their centres and interior improvements.
Like the majority of small cars, the 500 is easy to manoeuvre around town and can be a giggle to drive along a winding B-road, but it’s not especially satisfying – the VW Up or one of its siblings is far more nimble and enjoyable.
However, the 500 is a characterful thing and there’s a sense of occasion given the interesting dashboard design. What spoils it is an odd driving position, which make you feel as though you’re sat high up and stretching to reach the steering wheel.
How much does the Fiat 500 cost?
Study the Fiat price lists and the 500 doesn’t look to be that cheap – in fact, a premium’s being charged for those chic good looks. But, that only tells half the story and the 500’s age is now counting against it.
Dealers will offer attractive discounts, while finance deals make the Fiat even more appealing. Its success isn’t down to cuteness alone.
Discover what drivers of the Fiat 500 think about their cars with our detailed owners’ reviews.
Fiat 500 Model History
Although today’s Fiat 500 is designed to resemble the late-1950s model of the same name, it’s shares little else with the ‘Nuova’ 500, or the distinctly different 1930s ‘Topolino’ model.
Within Fiat’s UK range, the 2008 500 didn’t directly replace any car, with its most immediate predecessor, the Fiat Seicento – Six Hundred in Italian – having being discontinued back in 2004.
The Seicento had been introduced in 1998 as a heavily facelifted version of the Fiat Cinquecento – you’ve guessed it, Five Hundred – which arrived in the UK in 1993.
After a year’s hiatus, the Cinquecento had replaced the nearly twenty-year-old Fiat 126, a small rear-engined car that had effectively taken over from the ‘Nuova’ 500 in the early-1970s.