The entry-level 1.2-litre petrol isn’t fast, but it’s perky enough and loves to be revved, which suits the 500’s cheeky nature. You might be tempted by the more powerful and seemingly more efficient 0.9 Twinairs (turbocharged two-cylinders), but while both versions (84bhp and 104bhp) inject a bit more performance into the baby Fiat, real-world fuel economy is very disappointing (more on that later). We’d say avoid both.
Fiat 500 ride comfort
This isn’t the 500’s strongest suit. Things are never uncomfortably firm or jarring, but the car never quite settles – no matter what the road or speed. Along typical uneven backstreets you’ll often find yourself doing an involuntary impression of a nodding dog, while potholes and larger intrusions tend to send shudders through the cabin as the Fiat’s suspension struggles to cope.
Fiat 500 handling
You won’t be surprised 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, 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 handling is too roly-poly, and the steering doesn’t weight up enough when you’re cornering quickly, which leaves you feeling somewhat disconnected from the front wheels.
Fiat 500 refinement
Living with the 1.2-litre 500 on a day-to-day basis shouldn’t prove too tiresome, because while the engine is audible, it is also pretty smooth. The 0.9-litre Twinairs are the really big offenders, though; they’re noisy and send far to many vibrations up through the steering wheel and pedals when you accelerate.
Although wind and road noise in the 500 become increasingly noticeable as your speed rises, they never get to irritating levels – even on the motorway.
The 500’s manual gearshift is light but rather vague, but it’s preferable to the optional and decidedly jerky Dualogic semi-automatic ’box.
This 68bhp engine offers the cheapest and, in many respects, best route into 500 ownership. It’s a perfect match for the baby Fiat’s cheeky nature because it loves to be revved, and while performance isn’t exactly sparkling, it’s hardly sluggish. Surprisingly, this engine has proved more economical than the smaller, and pricier, Twinair in our real-world tests. A Dualogic semi-automatic gearbox is optional on this engine, but is best avoided.
0.9 Twinair 85
This two-cylinder engine offers a welcome step-up in performance over the entry-level 1.2. However, the power delivery is coarse and unpredictable, and too many engine tremors find their way into the cabin. Worse still, the Twinair engine isn’t anywhere near as efficient as claimed. A Dualogic semi-automatic gearbox is optional on this engine, but is best avoided.
0.9 Twinair 105
This most powerful version of Fiat’s two-cylinder turbo petrol engine. We’ve no complaints about outright performance, but the way the engine delivers its power leaves a lot to be desired; there’s a sudden surge when the turbocharger kicks in and you feel too many engine vibrations through the steering wheel and pedals. Worse still, the Twinair engine isn’t anywhere near as efficient as claimed.