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48 hours with… the Fiat 500

We put the Fiat 500 to the test on a 48-hour jaunt around Glasgow

The Fiat 500

The Fiat 500

From its snub nose and rounded headlights to its curvaceously retro rear, the quirk-packed Fiat 500 is cute enough – but how does it stand up to a busy weekend flitting around Glasgow?

First impressions...

It’s dinky and delightful – a bit like a black cab that got shrunk in the wash. Or a remote-control toy that’s been blown up to 200x magnification. What makes the Fiat 500 special is its throwback appeal – and with its wide-eyed headlights, twinkling front grille and eager stance, I’m already smitten when I pick up my test model – a three-door, 1.2 litre in the mid-level 500 Lounge trim.

The first thing that strikes me when I clamber inside is just how airy and bright it is, thanks to the fixed glass sunroof. This is amplified by the cream trim on the roof and pillars, which bounces light around to create the illusion of a much bigger space. I’m also pleasantly surprised by the decent ride height (shout out to the 15-inch alloys) and commanding visibility that’s made possible by the 500’s curving A-pillars and high wheelbase.

The inside scoop

In fact, there are just as many playful departures from convention in the interior as there are on the outside – from the natty checked upholstery and tadpole-shaped chrome door handles to a nubby, gleaming little lever that looks more like an arcade joystick than a gearstick. Factor in the round analogue speedometer and generous steering wheel, and on a sunny day, you’ll feel like Audrey Hepburn or Cary Grant in Roman Holiday.

But if you’re starting to worry that this is sounding a bit too retro, you’ll be relieved to hear there’s plenty of newfangled tech, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. There’s a responsive touchscreen infotainment system and Bluetooth. And the Lounge edition is kitted out with rear parking sensors, which, coupled with its compact back end, will help you commandeer even itsy-bitsy city spaces. (If you’ve ever seen the micro cars crowding the cobblestones for space in Rome, the Fiat 500 starts to make perfect sense.)

Discover the origin story. Read our history of the Fiat 500.

Little wonder

Speaking of compact… let’s be clear. This is a three-door car, so you do sacrifice a bit of boot and head room in the back. Tall people might not appreciate a prolonged road trip, because they’ll have to hunch. But as a driver or front passenger, the Fiat 500 never feels cramped or imposing, and in the back, there’s a clear view of the road ahead – and even a couple of cupholders, if you need them.

But all of this means very little if you can’t enjoy the driving experience. And to be frank, I’d imagined toiling through the gears and dealing with a fair whack of acceleration lag with just 69bhp to play with. How wrong I was.

In the driving seat

Weaving through Glasgow’s Merchant City on a Saturday afternoon is nothing short of joyous. Acceleration is eager, and once I’m used to the height of the gear lever and boxy gait, I’m soon smiling at how fun it all is – somewhere between whizzing around in a dodgem and playing Mario Kart.

I’m soon smiling at how fun it all is – somewhere between whizzing around in a dodgem and playing Mario Kart.
I almost expect to see green turtle shells zooming past in the rear-view mirrors. From here, there’s a barbecue in Greenock to get to – the question is, how exactly will this tiny car cope with 70mph on the M8 with a driver and three passengers on board?

We set off with a little trepidation, but soon we’re bounding happily along the motorway. Granted, there are a few yelps and giggles from the back seats – especially when we pinball through the many roundabouts that punctuate the drive – but overtaking is surprisingly effortless, and for a moment, it’s almost like cruising the Italian Riviera. Albeit we’re in Inverclyde, and there’s a thunderstorm forecast.

Parking space: the final frontier

On Sunday, it’s off to a retail park for some art supplies. Time to run the car park gauntlet and see how this bold little Fiat fares. And it’s fun. Instead of cautiously approaching the ramps in fear of my alloys getting grated, it’s easy to ascend the concrete helter-skelter because there’s loads of space on either side. Plus, the airy vantage point takes the edge off tight corners, concrete bollards and the many other obstacles you have to contend with in a multi-storey maze.

It’s only when I’m making my way back to the car, joyfully toting a 100cm by 120cm canvas under my arm that I remember the 500 is much smaller than my five-door, mid-size Vauxhall Astra. There’s no way I’m fitting in the equivalent of a 60-inch flatscreen TV… is there? Lo and behold – the flat little back seat bench flips down obligingly, and with the skimpy parcel shelf stowed and the front seats pushed forward a smidge – the colossal canvas is in.

The verdict?

Like a freshly brewed macchiato, the Fiat 500 has a decent bit of kick lurking beneath its frothy surface. This is not a car for people who want to sit back, relax and cruise through life. But if you’re looking for a perky city car that’s full of beans, you should give the 500 a shot.

Spec panel
Model Fiat 500
Price £9298
Engine 1.2-litre
Power 69 bhp
Torque 75 lb/ft at 3000 rpm
Transmission Manual
0-62mph/Top speed 12.9 secs / 101 mph
Economy 55.4 mpg
CO2 emissions 114 g/km

Personal contract purchase representative finance example – 19 Fiat 500 1.2 Lounge 3dr
Monthly payment Deposit Term (months)
£139 £139 47
Fixed interest rate Cash price Credit amount
3.03% £9298 £9159
Completion fee Guaranteed future value Total amount payable
£1 £4175 £10,848
Contract mileage Excess mileage charge Representative APR
32,000 6.0p per mile 5.9%

Arnold Clark Automobiles Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority for general insurance and consumer credit purposes. Harry Fairbairn Limited is an appointed representative of Arnold Clark Automobiles Limited.

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About the Author

Kirsty Leckie-Palmer

Kirsty Leckie-Palmer is a copywriter. When she’s not having a dalliance with a Fiat 500, she drives a Vauxhall Astra.