Brits have fallen for the 1950s-inspired style of the Fiat 500 in a big way, because more than 200,000 have found homes here since its launch in 2008.
However, age catches up with everyone, no matter how fashionable they are, which is why Fiat has launched a new 500. Well, it’s more of an update, because this is the same basic car as before, modified with tweaked front and rear styling, a new infotainment system, Euro 6-compliant engines and a simplified range of trim levels.
We’re testing it in mid-level Pop Star trim against the Skoda Citigo, which is one of our favourite city cars. This Citigo Monte Carlo is well equipped, gets snazzy wheels, decals and a boot spoiler, on top of which it’s great to drive and good value. It costs less to buy than the Fiat, too.
Fiat 500 1.2 Pop Star
The 500's always been a style icon, so it's a mild update only for Fiat's popular city car
Skoda Citigo 1.0 60 Monte Carlo 3dr
Skoda's Citigo is cheaper and more practical, but does that make it the better city car?
What are they like to drive?
These two pocket-sized cars zip along quite happily in town, but it’s the Fiat that has a bit more punch. It’s slightly quicker away from a set of lights and more responsive when you put your foot down in any gear. Both cars feel a bit wheezy for motorway use, though, and need to be revved hard to get them up to speed with any urgency. However, they’ll hold a 70mph cruise reasonably happily.
They are quite different in terms of refinement. The Skoda’s three-cylinder engine is more vocal, especially at lower speeds, but the sound it makes isn’t unpleasant. By contrast, the 500’s engine is quieter and smoother around town, but becomes a bit raucous when you push it beyond 4000rpm.
City cars like these should feel light and easy to drive in town, which both do. The Fiat’s City Steering mode makes its steering so light when parking that you can twirl it with one finger.
That said, while the steering in the Citigo needs a little more effort, it is much the better at speed because it makes you feel more connected with what the front wheels are doing. The Skoda is the more composed around bends; the body leans a touch less than the 500’s, and it needs less intervention from its stability systems when things go wrong. However, both cars grip well enough.
Both cars do an impressive job of softening the blow from large speed bumps. However, if the road surface is even slightly rippled the Fiat, particularly at speed, jiggles about constantly, which begins to wear after a while. Meanwhile, the Skoda maintains a remarkably comfortable ride that many family cars would struggle to emulate.
Both cars have a five-speed manual gearbox, and the absence of a tall sixth gear means you can hear the distant drone of their engines at high speeds. Wind noise is also an issue for both, while the Skoda emits more road noise.
What are they like inside?
Style is intrinsic to the 500, both outside and in. The bright and airy cabin imparts a greater sense of fun than the more functional interior of the Citigo. However, despite the differences, both cars are ergonomically sound, with all the major controls right where you need them.
You won’t find many luxurious soft-touch plastics in either model, but when you spend time playing with the knobs and switches, particularly items such as the indicator and wiper stalks, the Skoda conveys the greater sense of solidity. However, Fiat has made small steps to improve the quality of the 500’s cabin, and they show.
Both cars are roomy enough in the front, although there’s more head, leg, and shoulder room in the Citigo. The Skoda’s footwell is also less cramped than the Fiat’s. The Citigo’s driver’s seat supports you better and holds you in place more securely through corners. By comparison, you feel perched on top of the Fiat, and there’s no seat height adjustment to bring the seat down.
Both cars have steering wheels that can be adjusted up and down, but not in and out, so if you’re tall this can leave your arms at full stretch. The Skoda has another, more annoying, issue though: many drivers will find its steering wheel obscures the speedometer, which forces you to have it set uncomfortably high.
Slim pillars and large glass areas give good visibility in both cars, although the boxier shape of the Citigo makes seeing out easier than it is in the 500. If you often carry more than one passenger they’ll be happier for longer in the Citigo. That’s because it’ll seat two adults in the back in relative comfort, whereas the rear of the 500 is considerably more cramped.
The Skoda also has the bigger boot. After an extensive shop at the supermarket you’ll squeeze one more bag into the back of the Citigo, while it may have to be put on the 500’s back seat. For larger loads, both cars offer split-folding rear seats.
What will they cost?
If you’re a business user, leasing costs over three years and 12,000 miles are roughly the same for both cars. However, at the end of that period you’ll have paid £400 more in company car tax for the Fiat. After discounts, the 500 will also cost you around £1400 more to buy privately.
If you factor in other costs such as depreciation, insurance, servicing (assuming you opt for the three-year service packages offered on both), road tax and fuel, over three years and 12,000 miles per year, we estimate that in total you’ll pay £1000 more with the Fiat.
Meanwhile, a three-year PCP finance deal for someone with a £1500 deposit who does 6000 miles a year will also be cheaper on the Skoda, by around £30 a month.
The Citigo Monte Carlo has a standard touchscreen infotainment system, which includes sat-nav. However, it’s a portable device that clips onto the dashboard and it’s quite clunky to use.
You have to pay extra (£600) to get an equivalent system in the 500, but it uses a built-in 5.0in touchscreen, has better graphics, more features and a DAB radio; you have to pay (£155) extra for the latter with the Skoda. If you look at what else you get, both cars come with air-con, electric front windows and 15in alloys. The Skoda adds Bluetooth, while the Fiat gives you a USB port and electric mirrors. Rear parking sensors are optional on both.
When the 500 was crash tested by Euro NCAP eight years ago it was under a different system to the one used now. As a result it’s hard to compare its results with the Citigo’s five-star rating. The Fiat did well for adult protection though, matching the Skoda’s front, side and curtain airbags, and beating it with a driver’s knee ’bag. The Skoda’s the only one to offer an optional (£275) collision alert and automatic emergency braking, though.
The Citigo is the better car. No matter whether you’re commuting, shopping, or ferrying the kids around, the Skoda will do the job that little bit better. It’s bigger inside, better to drive, more comfortable, better equipped and cheaper to buy or run. However, we can understand why you’d be seduced by the 500’s styling. So, it’s good to know that while the upgrades haven’t made a huge difference, the Fiat remains a reasonably decent car.
Skoda Citigo 1.0 60 Monte Carlo
For Superb ride; good to drive; spacious cabin; cheap to buy and run
Against Unexciting interior; steering wheel obscures dials; not that quick
Verdict More conventional looking but by far the better all-round car
Fiat 500 1.2 Pop Star
For Sense of style; improved infotainment; easy to steer in town
Against Jittery ride; small boot; tight rear-seat space; poor security
Verdict Not the best package, but good to drive and still turns heads
Fiat 500 1.2
Skoda Citigo 1.0 60