The entry-level 1.2 petrol isn’t fast, but it’ll be perky enough for most 500 buyers. The 0.9 Twinair (turbocharged two-cylinder) engine is lively if you keep it above 2000rpm, while the turbocharged 1.4 petrols in the Abarth versions give proper hot hatch pace. There’s also a 1.3 diesel option, which gives adequate performance and is worth a look if you plan to do a lot of miles.
No surprises to learn the 500 is at its best when picking its way through crowded urban streets. This is thanks to its small dimensions and light steering. Break away from the hustle and bustle of the city, though, and the 500 doesn’t sparkle. The handling is too roly-poly and the ride is far too fidgety and bouncy.
Living with the 500 on a day-to-day basis shouldn’t prove too tiresome. Although wind and road noise become increasingly evident as speeds rise, they never get to an irritating level. The diesel engine is a little noisy at low speeds, but the 0.9 Twinair is the big offender; it produces far too much noise and vibration.
The 500 seems a solid financial proposition. It costs less to buy than many rivals, and its cute looks and retro styling add to its desirability. True, you’ll struggle to get a discount, but resale values are solid. The Twinair model generates very low CO2, too, making it exempt from the London Congestion Charge, although we have found that it doesn’t even get close to its official average economy.
Most of the plastics and fabrics used in the interior fit with the retro image of the 500, but although it looks good in parts, many panels looks disappointingly drab. Time will tell as to how well it fares on reliability, but the first signs aren't too promising: in the 2012 JD Power customer satisfaction survey, owners rated its reliability as no better than average.
All models come with front, side and curtain airbags, plus one to protect the driver’s knees. These helped the car achieve a five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests. It’s a shame, then, that entry models miss out on stability control.
The driving position is upright, but it’s irritating that instead of adjusting the height of your seat, the lever on the side of your chair merely changes the angle of the base. The steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, either. Still, most of the controls are easy to use, and the all-round visibility is pretty good.
There shouldn’t be any major complaints about front-seat space, and even the small rear seats will take a couple of adults for short journeys. Many rivals provide more rear space, though. The boot has enough room for a few shopping bags, but entry-level Pop models don’t have split-folding rear seats.
Entry-level Pop cars are basic, coming with remote locking, a CD/MP3 stereo and electrically adjusting door mirrors, but little else. It’s still out favourite, though, because upgrading to Lounge trim is such an expensive affair. Still, the upgrade earns you air-con, alloys, Bluetooth, a split-folding rear seat and a fixed-glass roof. Twinair models have their own trims, with air-con standard on every one, and top-spec Twinair Plus models having climate control and smarter interior trim.
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