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Fiat 500 Lounge 1.2 (2015) review

Published:09 November 2015

A mild facelift for the Fiat 500 in time for 2016
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

2015 Fiat 500 gets a mild facelift on the outside
New tech, detail changes and better refinement inside
Best-selling 1.2-litre petrol tested in Lounge specification

Let’s face it: unless it’s got an Abarth badge on the back, the Fiat 500 isn’t exactly the most masculine city car on the market. And if there’s one thing this 2015 facelift proves, it’s that Fiat knows its audience.

Take the revised colour palette, for example – our 1.2-litre test car was finished in a kind of ripe salmon (officially: Glam Coral) and decorated with diamond pattern stickers reminiscent of an argyle sweater (an optional ‘Second Skin’ called Scottie). It was a job to get anyone in our predominantly male office to drive it.

As such, the 500, with its well-played retro shtick, is an easy car to dismiss as style over substance. But aside from a minor bit of exterior visual tweakery, the updates for this ‘new’ version are concerned with enhancing the user experience via additional technology, refinement and basic functionality. And by and large, they actually work.

Has the Fiat 500 been facelifted? I can’t tell…

Fiat hasn’t been heavy handed here, but why mess with such a successful formula?

Biggest tell at the front is the new – slightly aftermarket looking? – LED daytime running light arrangement, but the headlights, the grilles and chrome work have been changed as well. More obvious are the taillights: they’ve got a body-coloured panel in the centre now. Fiat calls them ‘empty’ light clusters. Terrible name, but neat in the metal.

What’s the new Fiat 500 1.2 like to drive?

The 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol carries over as was – with 68bhp it’s the entry-level unit, but it’s also the one most people buy. The TwinAir two-cylinder alternatives offer more power and greater on-paper economy, but often prove breathless and thirsty in practice; look out for our separate review. An ‘Eco’ variant of the 1.2 and a revised 1.3 MultiJet II diesel join the range later.

Combined with the standard five-speed manual gearbox, the 1.2 is willing and – within the limitations of this class – in most cases able. Sure you’ll need to gun it to safely merge from a slip road, but throttle response is keen enough at urban speeds, and Fiat clearly has crammed in some additional sound deadening as part of the overhaul. Noticeably quieter, you’ll need to raise your voice less to carry on the chat on the motorway.

Fiat has made no particular reference to improving the 500’s chassis over revisions already carried out in 2014, but the suspension feels a touch better than it did originally, dealing with speed bumps and expansion joints with slightly more finesse. With such a short wheelbase it’s never going to iron out lumpy surfaces completely, but it is less skittish and won’t wear you out quite so much on longer journeys.

What about this extra tech – does the new Fiat 500 have a massively different interior?

Massively different? No – the basic architecture, with its body-coloured dash panel and heavily hooded gauge pod, carries straight over. As previously, we also found ourselves reaching for some seat-height adjustment immediately, only to discover we couldn’t go any lower; the driving position retains the loftiness of a barstool. The impression of increased visibility this height instils is something many actual buyers like about the 500, as it adds a sense of security to something otherwise so diminutive. Supposedly the front seats are now more ergonomic; we couldn’t really tell.

However, it’s hard to miss the new ‘uConnect’ infotainment system, which replaces the old-school matrix display CD-radio and features a touchscreen when you opt for Lounge specification. With this and the optional TFT instrument cluster to replace the analogue dials, the 500 trades away a little more retro charm in favour of greater functionality; combined they instantly serve to make it feel more up to date. You can even add sat-nav and DAB – though the latter’s reception was amongst the worst we’ve recently experienced.

Less obvious but still welcome are the interior detail changes. The front cupholders clasp a 500ml bottle of water much more tightly – no longer will an abrupt direction change send your post-gym beverage flying into a footwell – while the repositioned aux-in and USB sockets now not only feel like far less of an afterthought, they’re also illuminated. A minor point, until you go to charge your phone in the winter dark.

Other mods along similar lines include the less flimsy electric window switches and the redesigned audio controls on the steering wheel, which make it much easier to be sure you’re about to adjust the volume without looking.

Verdict

It’s hardly going to give the VW Up a hard time amongst the most rational buyers, but Fiat has successfully enhanced the 500 without ruining its underlying appeal. The updates are small but should prove instantly noticeable to existing owners considering an upgrade, and help give what is now a rather elderly model in the grand scheme of things a fresh shot of showroom sparkle. It remains a really quite likeable piece of product design, and very fit for its purpose. If that also means it isn’t for the likes of us then so be it – no doubt there are still plenty of willing fashionistas ready to keep Fiat in fancy sweaters.

Specs

Price when new: £12,640
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1242cc 8v four-cylinder petrol, 68bhp @ 5500rpm, 75lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 12.9sec, 99mph, 60.1mpg, 110g/km
Weight / material: 865kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3571/1627/1488

Rivals

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Photo Gallery

  • Altered headlights, grilles, new colours - including our test car's 'Glam Coral'
  • New 'empty' light clusters at the rear
  • Fiat's rightly played it safe with the 2015 500 refresh
  • Interior architecture largely unchanged
  • 'Scottie' diamond pattern stickers are a 'second skin' optional extra
  • Body-coloured dash panels make a return
  • 1.2-litre petrol is forecast to remain the best-seller
  • An oldie but a goodie: 500 is still packed with character
  • uConnect touchscreen is new

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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