First Drive: Fiat 500 Street

NO ONE can really argue with the Fiat 500. It’s a fabulous-looking little car; arguably the cheekiest little ankle-biter out there and people love it for that.

I’m absolutely sure that anyone who says they hate the Fiat 500 is in denial and wakes up every night in cold sweats thinking about driving one around all the most fashionable shopping districts in Italy.

In short, everyone can find a Fiat 500 to love. This one is the relative new kid on the block, called the Street. It’s based on the basic Pop spec 500, but with a nicely-chosen set of extras that give it a much funkier look. Check out the alloy wheels and the seats for starters.

Of course you get the daily essentials like an MP3 player input socket, Bluetooth and air conditioning as well as the hopefully not daily but equally essential array of seven airbags. You get a sports styling kit, which includes black 16-inch wheels with red detailing, dark-tinted glass around the rear end and a few tasty little touches on the inside too.

You can specify a great stereo complete with a subwoofer for extra bass, bi-xenon headlights and even satin-finish door mirrors. They’re switched to a satin silver finish if you go for the TwinAir engine but either way they look superb. The bottom line is that with a few semi-carefully-chosen options this 500 looks as fine as a fine Italian dress dipped in the finest molten gold and then draped over Pippa Middleton’s backside.

There are three worthy engine choices under the perky little bonnet. The 1.2 petrol is cheapest, but if budgets will stretch to it the star performer is the 875cc TwinAir Turbo, which has buckets of charm and more zip than a Malaysian clothes factory. It’s also capable of astonishing fuel economy using its selectable ‘Eco’ mode – but only if you’ve got an iron will and can stay away from the accelerator pedal. The fun-loving 500 is the TwinAir’s natural home.

Then there’s the 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel, which although a really good engine doesn’t suit the car so well and costs £1,000 more than the TwinAir; £2,400 more than the simple 1.2. It’s just unlikely that Fiat 500 owners will do enough mileage to make the diesel worth a punt.

The Street is less customisable than your average 500, distilled as it is out of a more-or-less pre-set alchemy. The good news is that it’s almost impossible to ruin it by adding anything daft, which is good for residual values – and self-respect. It’s not one to add sets of ‘eyelashes’ to, in case you were thinking it.

Plump for the TwinAir engine and you’ll reap the benefits of a very light front end which means it turns quickly and keenly, chomping away at the road like the Cookie Monster at a pile of Maryland’s best. Or, if you never watched Sesame Street, you can just drive it around town really easily thanks to its short wheelbase and steering that can be made super-light with the ‘City’ button Fiat installs on almost all of its small cars.

Parking is a doddle but those prone to, ahem, mishaps, can specify rear parking sensors for a very reasonable fee. One of the joys of 500 ownership is just how easily it slots into spaces once you get where you’re going. The turning circle could be a little better for such a small car, but you can easily forgive it for that once you hop out and look back at it.

One of the things you don’t get a lot of in the 500 is boot space, but then you probably worked that out for yourself. In fairness a determined owner can squeeze far more in than you’d believe possible, but it takes smallish, soft bags and the sort of can-do attitude that got Britain through two World Wars. Pip-pip!

The 500 is one of those cars we journalists hate giving back, because they’re just really cool. As I hinted earlier, there’s a 500 for everyone because they come in so many flavours, but despite the Street being on the expensive side for a city car it’s got to be one of the best, if only for the way it makes you feel. There are better value, more practical rivals out there, but if you marry a potato you’ll always covet the strawberries and cream.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: Fiat 500 0.9 TwinAir Street, £12,760 on the road.Engine: 0.9-litre turbocharged two-cylinder petrol producing 84bhp.Transmission: 5-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.Performance: Top speed 105mph, 0-62mphin 11.0 seconds.Fuel economy: 69mpg.CO2 rating: 95g/km.

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