Fiat 500 Hybrid review

Category: Small car

Strong on image, but rivals are more competent and offer better value

Fiat 500 2020 front tracking
  • Fiat 500 2020 front tracking
  • Fiat 500 2020 rear right cornering
  • Fiat 500 2020 RHD dashboard
  • Fiat 500 2020 RHD rear seats
  • Fiat 500 2020 RHD infotainment
  • Fiat 500 2020 front left cornering
  • Fiat 500 2020 rear left cornering
  • Fiat 500 2020 boot open
  • Fiat 500 2020 front tracking
  • Fiat 500 2020 rear right cornering
  • Fiat 500 2020 RHD dashboard
  • Fiat 500 2020 RHD rear seats
  • Fiat 500 2020 RHD infotainment
  • Fiat 500 2020 front left cornering
  • Fiat 500 2020 rear left cornering
  • Fiat 500 2020 boot open
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Introduction

What Car? says...

In terms of the number of times it's been regenerated, the Fiat 500 is arguably second only to Doctor Who. But keeping up with all that change can be hard. It can certainly take a little while for fans to transfer their loyalty to the latest incarnation of the popular Time Lord, and the old one is usually sadly missed.

Fortunately for devotees of the 500, though, the launch of the new pure electric 500 hasn't seen the demise of the previous version, which has now been renamed the 500 Hybrid. So the choice is yours.

More than a decade after its launch, the 500 is one of the best-selling city cars, not least because of its typically Italian, carelessly stylish about-town looks. But does it deserve its ongoing success?

Over the years, Fiat has made (very) minor tweaks to the 500's exterior styling and the interior, but more significant improvements to the engines and infotainment system. That said, the competition in this class is far from weak and rivals have more modern and sophisticated underpinnings.

So, has the 500 Hybrid been left behind? How does it stack up against similar-sized alternatives, such as the Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto and Volkswagen Up?

In this review, we're focusing on the regular 500 Hybrid hatchback. However, there's also a convertible Fiat 500C and a feisty hot hatch named the Abarth 595, which you can read about by clicking on the links. We also have a full review of the Electric Fiat 500.

Already decided the 500 is the car for you? Don't let your heart completely rule your head and just run straight down to your local Fiat dealer – check out our New Car Buying pages to find out how much you could save on the brochure price without any awkward haggling.

Overview

The 500 Hybrid certainly has style and image on its side, but plenty of rivals are better to drive and more practical – and cost less to buy as well.

  • Distinctive looks
  • Easy to drive around town
  • Plenty of customisation options
  • Poor driving position
  • Unsettled ride
  • Coarse-sounding engine
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox

If you've already checked out Fiat's website, you might have noticed the word 'hybrid' being used to describe the 500's entry-level 1.0-litre petrol engine. This is somewhat misleading. You see, you can’t plug it in, and it can’t travel on electric power alone. It just has a tiny electric motor and a minuscule battery to help the petrol engine out in certain situations. For example, if you engage the clutch while coasting to a halt, the stop/start function will cut in before you reach a standstill  – improving fuel economy in the process. 

What it doesn’t do, though, is make the 500 Hybrid's 69bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine any more zippy. Sure, there’s enough thrust to make progress in hectic city traffic, but if you need a meaningful burst of pace, you won't get it. This is not a car that sits particularly comfortably in fast flowing motorway traffic. If you want something with a bit more urge for open road driving, look at the Kia Picanto 1.25. 

Fiat 500 image
Skip the showroom and find out more online

There's also a 68bhp 1.2 petrol engine that's available exclusively with an automatic gearbox. We'll let you know what it's like as soon as we've tried it. We also have a full review of the electric car version of the Fiat 500.

Suspension and ride comfort

This isn’t the 500 Hybrid's strongest suit. Things are never uncomfortably firm or jarring, but the car never feels particularly settled – no matter what the road condition or speed.

Take the 500 along a typical uneven backstreet and you’ll often find yourself doing an involuntary impression of a nodding dog. The suspension also struggles to cope with potholes and larger intrusions, which occasionally send a shudder through the car's body.

As for the rivals, the Kia Picanto jostles you around a little less on scraggy town roads, but it’s still rather unsettled on the motorway. Really, if you want a city car with a nice supple ride, you’ll want to take a look at the Hyundai i10 – it’s easily the most relaxing car in the city car class.

Handling

You won’t be surprised to learn that the 500 Hybrid is most at home when picking its way through crowded urban streets. This is thanks to its small dimensions and light steering, which can be made even lighter by pressing a ‘city’ button on the dashboard.

Break away from the hustle and bustle of the city, though, and the model fails to sparkle. The body leans when you go round a corner with any gusto, and the steering doesn’t weight up very much, so you feel somewhat disconnected from what the front wheels are up to. Compared with, say, a Kia Picanto or a VW Up, the 500 Hybrid is completely outclassed when it comes to handling – particularly on faster roads.

Fiat 500 2020 rear right cornering

Noise and vibration

The 500 Hybrid isn’t too noisy when you're just pottering around town, but if you accelerate hard you’ll soon hear the engine wheezing away like an overly ambitious jogger on their first (and last) run of the year. You'll feel quite a lot of vibration through the pedals, too.

Wind and road noise become increasingly noticeable as your speed rises, and, while they never reach irritating levels, the Hyundai i10 is far more hushed inside.

The 500’s six-speed manual gearshift is rather notchy, too, and its vague clutch pedal makes it tricky to drive smoothly in stop-start traffic.

Interior

The interior layout, fit and finish

Driving position and dashboard

There’s no height-adjustable driver’s seat if you opt for entry-level Pop trim, and although Fiat claims you'll find one on Lounge and up, in reality the lever on the side of your chair merely changes the angle of its base, not how high it sits.

The driving position is further compromised by a steering wheel that adjusts for height but not reach, preventing many people getting comfortable behind the wheel. In fairness though, this is an issue that also affects most of the 500’s rivals, including the Kia Picanto and VW Up.

Still, at least the 500 Hybrid’s heater controls are relatively straightforward to use. The gearlever is mounted conveniently high up on the dashboard, too, where it’s within easy reach.

Visibility, parking sensors and cameras

The 500 Hybrid isn’t as easy to see out of as its boxier Fiat Panda sibling – nor the Hyundai i10 or Up for that matter. Its front screen pillars are relatively wide and there's a pretty poor view out of the back, too. However, at least the extremities of the car are easy enough to judge.

Rear parking sensors are standard from Lounge trim and up, and take some of the guesswork out of reversing. These are available as an option on entry-level Pop trim.

Sat nav and infotainment

Go for entry-level Pop trim and you get an extremely basic stereo that consists of a small screen surrounded by a handful of buttons. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to find in a Ford Fiesta from the early 2000s. That said, you do get a DAB radio, a USB socket and a multi-function steering wheel.

Every model from Lounge trim upwards gets a 7.0in touchscreen with Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. The screen is positioned conveniently high up on the dashboard, and is relatively easy to use. However, its angle gives it a nasty habit of reflecting sunlight, so it can be tricky to see on bright days.

Fiat 500 2020 RHD dashboard

Quality

Visually, the plastics and fabrics used in the 500 Hybrid’s interior suit its retro image. The face of even the cheapest Pop model’s dashboard is finished the same colour as the outside of the car – a feature that really livens things up. The result is an interior that’s as bright and bubbly as a children’s TV presenter, and a real contrast to the drab dashboards of its rivals.

You won’t find any soft-touch plastics, though, and overall build quality isn’t quite on a par with the rival Kia Picanto or VW Up – but the 500’s interior doesn’t feel at all cheap or shoddily assembled.

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

Front space

Although the front seats are mounted fairly high up, you’re only likely to have issues with head room if you’re very tall. Likewise, the seats slide back far enough to just about accommodate long-legged drivers. Somewhat less impressive is the cramped pedal area, and the lack of a proper footrest – an omission that’s particularly annoying on longer motorway journeys. It's also easy to bash your left knee on the bulbous centre console.

Storage is in rather short supply; the glovebox is very pokey and the door bins are even smaller. At least there are two good-sized cupholders below the gearlever.

Rear space

Getting into the back isn’t as easy as in many rivals because the 500 Hybrid has only three doors. As with many city car rivals, there are only two seats in the back, but while two adults will fit, there isn’t as much head or legroom as there is in a VW Up, let alone a Hyundai i10.

It’s also very disappointing that Fiat charges extra for rear head restraints (they're available as part of a package with folding rear seats) on the entry-level Pop – without the neck-saving safety of rear head restraints, you shouldn’t even consider carrying anyone in the back whose head reaches higher than the top of the backrest.

Again, there isn't much storage, but all trims apart from entry-level Pop have pockets in the front seatbacks.

Seat folding and flexibility

The rear seatback folds in one big lump on entry-level Pop trim, but all other 500s give you a more practical 50/50 split-folding seatback. It’s easy to use; simply push a button on the top of the backrest, push the seatback forwards and down it folds.

That’s your lot, though; the rear seats don’t do anything else clever and, disappointingly, there's no option of a height-adjustable front passenger seat on any model.

Fiat 500 2020 RHD rear seats

Boot space

The 185-litre boot gives you enough room for a few shopping bags. However, rivals such as the Kia Picanto and Up have considerably bigger load bays, with broader boot openings and smaller lips at the entrance.

Fold down the rear seats and the space grows considerably. The seats don't fold totally flush with the floor, though, and instead sit at a slight angle above it. This places a pronounced step in the extended load area, and it’s a shame that there’s no false floor to iron it out.

A luggage compartment organiser is available as a dealer-fit option if you want to keep fragile items from flying about when you go around corners.

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2

The 500 Hybrid isn’t as cheap to buy as many of its rivals, many of which have more doors and more standard equipment. And if you’re hoping that the desirability of the 500’s image will result in it holding onto its value better than its peers, you’ll be slightly disappointed. Over three years it's predicted to suffer worse from depreciation than an equivalent Hyundai i10 or Volkswagen Up.

Fuel economy and CO2 emissions, meanwhile, don’t stand out against the 500’s rivals, despite its 'hybrid' badge. See our electric Fiat 500 review if you're interested in the emissions-free version.

Equipment, options and extras

You can spend an awful lot of money on a 500 Hybrid, but it’s the cheaper trim levels that make the most sense. The cheapest is Pop, but it’s so sparsely equipped we’d recommend upping to Lounge trim. This brings better the infotainment we described earlier, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, climate control and some extra chrome detailing.

Of course, whichever trim you settle on, there's also a myriad of personalisation options to make your 500 stand out from the crowd, with a huge palette of paint colours and a big selection of alloy wheel designs.

Reliability

Fiat finished a mediocre 19th place out of 31 manufacturers in the 2019 What Car? Reliability Survey, above the likes of Renault and Citroën but behind Hyundai and Volkswagen. The 500 itself, though, finished bottom of the city car class, and this isn't a great cause for optimism.

Like all Fiats, the 500 comes with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty and a further one-year dealer warranty. Mileage is limited to 100,000 during that three-year period. If you’re after a city car with longer warranty we’d suggest that you look at the Kia Picanto. Its warranty lasts for seven-years or 100,000 miles – that's longer than you get on any rival.

Safety and security

The 500 is let down massively by its lack of safety systems, with no sign of automatic emergency braking (AEB) – even on the options list. In fact, Euro NCAP only gave 500 three stars out of five for its overall safety, and that was back in 2017 when the standards were far less stringent than they are today.

Security experts Thatcham also rated the 500 poorly for its ability to resist theft and break-ins. It only has an alarm if you specify it as a dealer-fit option, although an immobiliser is standard.

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Fiat 500 2020 RHD infotainment
At a glance
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From £11,495
RRP price range £16,790 - £31,435
Number of trims (see all)5
Number of engines (see all)3
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)electric, petrol
MPG range across all versions 61.4 - 61.4
Available doors options 3
Warranty 3 years / No mileage cap
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £56 / £866
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £113 / £1,733
Available colours