Blog: Fiat 500 - car or fashion accessory?

Roger Stansfield | 16 July 2015

Changes for the 500

Changes for the 500's first refresh are hard to spot

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The Fiat 500 –­ car or fashion accessory? At the launch of the updated model this week there was plenty of evidence to suggest it's more the latter than the former.

Even a senior (female) Fiat executive volunteered the information that it’s "like a handbag" though she was referring to its modishness rather than suggesting it has only single sex appeal.

The UK press posse for the launch contained almost as many luvvies from the so called lifestyle media (a phrase which induces nausea in proper journalists) as motoring writers. Some didn’t even have driving licences. Most had never driven abroad before. A number didn't even bother to go out in the car, even as a passenger.

Still, why should Fiat worry? It has sold 1.5m hatchback and convertible 500s since launch in July 2007 – 50 years to the day after the introduction of the original 500. At a time when most cars would have been coming up for total replacement, it enjoyed its best ever year in 2014. In the UK, which vies with Italy as the leading market, last year's sales were a record 44,500. Eight out of 10 of those buyers were women.

Fiat says that 40% of the car’s components, a total of 1,900, are new or have been redesigned. Not that you’d spot it instantly – Fiat has been very careful not to jettison the baby with the bath water.

The main focus has been on 'EU6-ifying' the engines and improving connectivity which is de rigueur in any car these days, let alone one targeted at the style conscious.

But the 500’s exterior is now wearing more jewellery in the form of revised lights and extra chrome detailing and there’s a restyled dashboard to accommodate a five inch touch screen which serves as the centre point for the Uconnect infotainment system.

There’s also a seven inch TFT instrument screen from Magneti Marelli, Fiat’s electronics division. Personalisation possibilities increase with a range of 'Second Skin' decals and 100 accessories from Mopar.

Should anyone be more interested in buying a car than a fashion item, the six EU6 engines now have CO2 emissions starting at 88g/km for the two-cylinder TwinAir petrol unit and 89g/km for the 1.3-litre diesel and there are bigger brakes with the entry-level 1.2-litre FIRE motor. Otherwise, it’s pretty much as you were.

The 500 was never the greatest of small cars to drive, and offered only limited rear seat space (though it's like a Bentley compared with the Opel/Vauxhall Adam) but it always exuded charm which has not been lost in the update. And the fashionisti will be glad to know there’s only two years to wait before an all new version comes along.

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