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
Current Fiat 500 model history
January 2008 – Fiat 500 goes on sale in the UK in three trim levels: Pop, Lounge and Sport. Engines consist of 1.2- and 1.4-litre petrol engines, and a 1.3-litre Multijet diesel. All engines come with manual transmissions, with a Dualogic automated manual gearbox available on the two petrol units.
December 2008 – Fiat 500byDIESEL special edition available to order online, with a model run of 10,000 models. Created in association with fashion label Diesel, it’s available with all engines in the line-up, and is based on Sport trim, but adds metallic green, black or brown paint, 16-inch alloy wheels and denim fabric for the interior.
March 2009 – Stop-start fitted to 1.2-litre petrol models of the 500, boosting fuel economy slightly and lowering CO2 emissions.
January 2010 – Fiat 500 Pink special edition goes on sale, limited to 500 units. Based on 1.2 Lounge spec, it comes with pink exterior paint and a black interior, with extra details including a pink key.
February 2010 – The 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engine receives an upgrade, with a boost in power from 75hp to 95hp. Economy is up and CO2 emissions are down, and features stop-start technology.
July 2010 – Based on 1.2 and 1.4 Sport, the Fiat 500 BlackJack special edition is added to the range, limited to 200 examples and adds matt black paint, matt black alloy wheels and red brake calipers.
November 2010 – New two-cylinder TwinAir petrol engine added to the range. Just 0.9-litres in size and producing 85hp and 145Nm of torque, it’s capable of emitting just 95g/km of CO2 and will sprint from 0-62mph in 11.0 seconds.
May 2011 – Fiat 500 by Gucci special edition introduced, available with 1.2 petrol and 0.9-litre TwinAir engines. It comes with white paint and side stripes in Gucci colours, with matching interior.
June 2011 – TwinAir and TwinAir Plus become models in their own right with a slightly sportier look, black alloy wheels and sport kit and sports seats. As the name suggests, they’re powered by the 0.9-litre TwinAir two-cylinder engine with 85hp.
July 2012 – Six new exterior colour options added to the range, as well as new interior colour combinations, with two-tone leather options coming later in the year.
August 2012 – Sitting between Pop and Lounge, new Colour Therapy model introduced in a nod to the 1970s with a range new colours and white exterior detailing. Available with 1.2-litre and 0.9-litre TwinAir petrols. Also introduced this month is the 500 Street, adding dark tinted windows, black alloy wheels and chrome finishing details. Available with all engines, buyers can choose from matt black, or metallic white, red, black or grey paint.
August 2013 – Fiat teams up with GQ magazine to produce the 500 GQ, coming with two-tone grey and black paint and is based on the 500S. Inside, black leather with orange stitching appears.
May 2014 – Updated Fiat 500 goes on sale with new 105hp TwinAir engine and range-topping 500 Cult trim level. Other changes to the range include a TFT instrument panel, new colour choices, upholstery and wheel options across the range. Engine line-up now consists of 69hp 1.2-litre petrol, 85hp and 105hp versions of the 0.9-litre TwinAir and a 95hp Multijet diesel. Trim level line-up made up of Pop, Colour Therapy, Lounge, S and Cult.
February 2015 – Limited edition 500 Ron Arad goes on sale, limited to 200 examples in the UK. Created in partnership with Ron Arad, a designer, architect and life-long fan of the original 500. Features a graphic of the original car on the side, white mirrors and comes exclusively with the 1.2-litre petrol engine.
April 2015 – New 500 Vintage ’57 goes on sale, a ‘50s-inspired model finished in pastel blue paint with white roof, vintage-style alloy wheels, white dashboard and tan and ivory leather upholstery.
September 2015 – Fiat 500 facelifted with revised exterior styling (new bumpers, lights and colours) and upgraded interior with tweaked dashboard, new infotainment systems and a new steering wheel. Also featuring are more colour options both outside and in with new decal options and alloy wheel designs. At launch, the engines available consist of 1.2 petrol and 85 and 105hp versions of the TwinAir petrol. Trims available are Pop, Popstar and Lounge.
January 2016 – The 1.3-litre Multijet II diesel available to order in the facelifted 500 range with 95hp, available in Popstar and Lounge trims. In the same month, an Eco version of the 1.2-litre petrol added to the range, with stop-start technology, low rolling resistance tyres and aerodynamic enhancements to boost economy and efficiency.
June 2016 – Facelifted 500S available to order with tweaked bumpers, side skirts and rear spoiler, with new alloy wheel designs and Satin Graphite exterior detailing for the mirrors, and grille surround. Inside features 500S-branded sports seats, black roof lining, 7.0-inch UConnect infotainment system and the option of a Beats audio system upgrade. It’s available with all engines.
August 2016 - The 500 Riva, a collaboration with the luxury yacht manufacturer goes on sale. It’s finished in an exclusive blue exterior colour, 16-inch alloy wheels and ivory leather seats and mahogany and maple wood trim on the dashboard to match that of a yacht. It’s available with 1.2-litre petrols and both TwinAir engines.
April 2017 – Fiat 500 Mirror added to the range to mark the introduction of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the range with the 7.0-inch UConnect system. It comes with 14-inch steel wheels, a choice of five exterior colours and is powered by the 1.2-litre petrol engine.
June 2017 – To celebrate 60 years of the Fiat 500, the 500 Anniversario is introduced, finished in Riviera Green or Sicilia Orange with chrome accents on the bonnet door mirrors and 16-inch vintage-style alloy wheels. Striped seats and body coloured dashboards trim complete the look inside. Arrives in showrooms in July.
January 2018 - Orders open for the Mirror limited edition, featuring MirrorLink technology, special blue paint and the 1.2-litre 69hp petrol powerplant.
March 2018 - Collezione special edition available to order, featuring two-tone paintwork, special upholstery and the sole choice of the 1.2-litre 69hp petrol engine.
October 2018 - Collezione Fall limited edition available to order with the 1.2-litre 69hp engine and two-tone bodywork. MultiJet diesel engine discontinued.
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.