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'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.
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.
Suspension and ride comfort
This isn’t the Fiat 500’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 Fiat’s suspension also struggles to cope with potholes and larger intrusions, which occasionally send a shudder through the car's body.
As for the 500’s 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.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the 500 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 500 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 Fiat 500 is completely outclassed when it comes to handling – particularly on faster roads.
Noise and vibration
The 500 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 in the 500 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.
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