My partner and I were recently lucky enough to go on a trip around Spain and Portugal and thought the best way to see the countryside was by car. I was pleasantly surprised upon landing to discover we were assigned a Fiat 500S (unsure if they are available in this spec in Aus?). An estimated guess is that it was equivalent to a Pop variant with the 1.2-litre 4-cylinder engine, optioned with a body kit, different wheels and bucket seats. I got the manual of course.
To me, the little rocket screams character the moment you look at it. Weaving through the beautiful time-worn buildings of Europe, it gains even more character than if I were driving it back home. Whoever penned the original 500's shape was a real artist and the modern designers did well with the recreation. However, like with the Mini, I wish they weren't supersized versions of their ancestors.
The ute phenomenon obviously is non-existent here in Spain, replaced with more economical hatches (a lot more electric cars, especially the Zoe) and prestige German makes. In fact there are so many nice German cars passing you that they eventually became a bit of a boring spectacle. However in comparison, the 500 brought a fresh smile to my face every time I saw it.
The rest of the car was a bit mixed. The interior is really quite funky and I thought fairly functional. There are hard plastics everywhere, but I cannot fault Fiat for this considering the asking price. The steering wheel seemed particularly cheap however, and this is the only thing that really took something away from my experience in the cockpit. This version had great little bucket seats and were comfortable on five-hour plus days. With the rear seats folded down, we had enough boot space for two school-type backpacks and two large suitcases (no, the seats do not go completely flat).
Once the car is in motion you have fairly good vision front ways, however your blindspot is not really resolved by looking over your shoulder. There is a big pillar in the way. This made for a fun experience changing lanes in peak hour, whilst jet lagged, through Madrid's initially confusing traffic system.
The ride is nice and smooth through the city bumps, which is probably what its prime function should be. For those wanting to know, I don't think it would be as sharp driving it hard. The steering was fine, but it wasn't the most engaging small car experience. For comparison, my partner's 2012 Fiesta back home is much more engaging. At highway speeds it's also comfortable, although a little bit unstable if you get a bad patch of road.
However the biggest letdown is the engine. It was largely a unresponsive mess that did not really want to do the work for you. Now I do not want a car that sets any statistical benchmarks, all I am interested in is the feel of the car. It just really let it all down. I was picturing a happy high-revving little unit that you had to work to get the best out of. You still have to work the gears for this unit but you are never really rewarded. The engine was economical enough through the city but on Spain's 120km/h highways it seemed to really suck the juice. Additionally, on single lane country roads you have to be really brave to overtake that slow moving caravaner between bends.
The gearbox is fine; a 5-speed. Perhaps an extra lower ratio somewhere could help. Any higher in top wouldn't be functional with the power of this 1.2-litre. The brakes did well, as far as I tested them (ie not much).
Interested in all the fancy new safety spec electronics? I must admit I am not, so while I did not look for it, I'm pretty sure there's no lane assist or brake assist or whatever else new cars are coming equipped with. From a practical safety perspective, the blind spot and the lack of overtaking prowess were my biggest concerns. The lack of a full spare tyre always makes me nervous, however I assume it is probably the industry standard in cars of this size.
There were no faults in the car whilst we drove it.
Was the 500's engine shortcomings enough to sour my driving experience? No, they were not. However with this engine, it would be enough to stop me ever buying one. It just took so much away from the car's personality for me. Sure, had I tested it with the smaller 2-cylinder version that's available, it would have ruined the driving experience, but at least with the 4-cylinder here, there is a fair chance it would change my mind.
If you are considering buying one I suggest you take it for a spin on a nearby freeway to really get a feel for it.