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So It Turns Out The Best Small Car That Isn’t A Fiat 500 Is A Fiat 500

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My good lady’s Peugeot 206cc was starting to show its age. Being a French car it was rattling like a bucket of bolts and generally starting to fall apart (why did we ever buy a French car?!). And though the folding roof still worked perfectly with no leaks, we live in Yorkshire where a sunny day is rarer than a world class Scottish footballer (for non-football / soccer followers that is a very rare thing indeed). However the biggest problem with the car were the running costs. It’s 2010 and petrol in the UK is very expensive – £1.18 per litre at the moment – and with an ageing, inefficient 2.0 engine that meant pouring money down the drain. And to cap it all the road tax was around £200 a year.

So we thought it was time for a change. Something small (because she doesn’t need a big car). Something economical (most small cars can do 40-50mpg easily). Something with cheap insurance and tax (a lot of small cars have no road tax or a mere £20 a year). Something that would last (she’d be keeping it for 5 years so didn’t want it to fall apart – ie. be non-French). Something cheap (no point having cheap running costs if you have to spend a fortune buying the thing). Something with air conditioning (many cheap cars don’t have it and there’s no way we’d live without it). Something quirky (preferably a car you sit in and think “I love this car” – although this wasn’t mandatory, just a nice-to-have). Oh yes, and something that wasn’t a Fiat 500. Cool though Fiat 500s are (she’s always loved them), we thought they were over-priced and therefore discounted them entirely.

And so our search began.

There are plenty of car showrooms near where we live so we went to all of them looking at what they had. The VW Fox was too paper-thin and cheap, the old VW Polo looked boring and the new one, though lovely, was way too expensive. The Citroen C1 ticked all the boxes and was dirt cheap (even brand new) but while my other half wrestled with putting the deposit down she just couldn’t see herself living with it for 5 years (remember, it’s French).

We tested the new Ford Ka which is apparently built on the same platform as the Fiat 500. We expected good things but were disappointed. It was quirky, looked nice, had all the bells and whistles (being the top of the range) but it handled like a rocking chair (which is to say not very well). The Mazda 2 was a bit dull but very nicely put together – a little expensive but a real contender. Definitely on the maybe pile. We looked at several other cars but in the end we just didn’t see anything that really stood out and made us want to put money on the table. Then we decided that we’d be fools not to test drive a Fiat 500 so we’d see what they’re like.

This proved to be rather tricky as the nearest Fiat dealer was an hour away. We had a look at a couple of them and what was immediately clear was the smile on my good lady’s face that hadn’t been there when looking at any other car. To be fair the 500 is an extremely cool little car and very stylishly done. We came back for a test drive another day expecting it to suck as much as the Ford Ka but it was a completely different animal. Much more solid, handled nicely and soaked up bumps in the same sort of Germanic way my Audi TT does. In other words it’s a small car that’s high quality and miles ahead of anything else in its class. We both loved it.

Fiat 500s are not widely available second hand and as they’re so popular you can’t get a discount so we resigned ourselves to buying a new one. Fortunately there was a white base model with a white and red interior and air conditioning on the system in manufacture (meaning a couple of week wait rather than a 2-3 month one) and we put our money down then started counting the days…

Her Fiat 500

So all this happened a couple of months ago and looking back I think we made the right call. The car really is dirt cheap to run with its fancy stop/start system and efficient engine. It looks great, the interior is quirky without trying too hard and there are many cool design features like the circular speedometer and rev counter. The attention to detail clearly sets the standard in the class of car and is way beyond any of the other cars we looked at. It’s easy to drive and park and feels much larger inside than it should be – every time we drive past another Fiat 500 we see how small they are and can’t believe we’re in the same thing – it’s a very clever trick. And best of all my good lady loves it and smiles every time she drives it. As far as I’m concerned that’s what matters the most!

So it turns out that the best small car to buy that isn’t a Fiat 500 is none other than… A Fiat 500. Strange that, but there you go!

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

18 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Ahhh the Fiat 500… how I wish I could get my hands on one here in the US!! *sigh* Fun, economical small cars are notoriously hard to find here (though the situation is improving, slowly).

    (Oh, and BTW… is the “best small car that isn’t a Fiat 500 is a Fiat 500” line a shout-out to the show “Top Gear?”)

    Reply

    • Haha, sort of. They did a piece about the best small car and specifically didn’t choose a Fiat 500, then went to London and found the streets lined with them. Ever since whenever we see one we do the same thing they did and say “Fiat 500!”.

      Reply

  2. It’s interesting to read that it should be so different to the Ford Ka in the handling department given that it’s the same platform and that modern Fords have an excellent reputation in that area. It’s also reassuring that the build quality is decent, knowing that Italian cars are as notorious as French cars for falling to bits prematurely!

    Did they have the TwinAir model when you looked? (http://www.fiat.co.uk/500twinair/) That’s had really good reviews in the motoring mags.

    Reply

    • Yeah, we couldn’t believe the difference between the Ka and the 500 – they were like completely different cars. Clearly Fiat keep all the decent chasis back for themselves.

      We didn’t want to spend over 8 grand to be honest so getting the base 500 (the Pop) with aircon went some way over that (just under 10 grand) but the base twin air is a grand more so wouldn’t have been on the radar. It must be brand new as I don’t think it was around a couple of months ago when we got ours.

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      • I always think that the new Ka looks a bit tall (particularly from the back), whereas the Fiat doesn’t. And the number of optional extra permutations on the Fiat is staggering!

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        • Yeah, the 500 is definitely more balanced. And permutations a-plenty! Other manufacturers are following suit though as it is nice having so much choice on a small car, normally it’s big things like BMW or Audi where you can do that. Although you pay a premium to do it but if the car’s good enough (which the 500 is) then it’s not such a pain!

  3. We looked at the 500, wished we could’ve squeezed into one, but alas no.

    The Fiesta was tempting, after all you can storm a beach with marines using one.
    😉

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    • Haha, yeah, that was a beautifully crafted piece – they kept upping the ante until the beach landing. When Top Gear hits the mark it’s genius!

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  4. The 500 is in fact the same platform as the Fiat Panda. You want the same drive at a lower price…. buy a panda (same engines, chasis etc.,..). As all retro cars (mini, beetle) the 500 is very much overpriced, but its styling makes for a car with “presence”.

    and as reliability goes…well, Fiat are very unreliable on the electrical side. Maybe even more so than French cars need maintenance…

    and on the “French” side, the Citroen C1 is identical to the Peugeot 107 is identical to…. a Toyota Aygo. The car (B0) was co-developed between PSA and Toyota and is build in the Czech republic.

    So a C1 might have been closer to your request than you thought.

    Reply

    • I don’t believe the 500 shares the same platform as the Panda (well according to Wikipedia at least so who knows), it’s the Ford Ka that does. That said, I completely agree, Fiat have always been renowned for their unreliability and dodgy build quality so I was apprehensive at first. Sure the C1 does fit the bill and was a fine little car, but there was no comparison with the 500 – the latter was a class apart. Which is what you’d expect for £2000 more! In the end my wife went for the car that she loved and that was the 500 – nothing else we looked at made her smile in the same way.

      Reply

  5. Buy the car you like to drive, you’re going to spend a lot of time driving it over the years (although I’m slightly jaded by my 2 hour commute to work this morning due to the M4 being closed)

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    • Yeah, that’s why ultimately we ended up with the 500 – it’s got to be a place you’re happy while you’re stuck in traffic! Although a 2 hour commute sounds pretty grim!

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  6. Interesting read, I’ve not yet tried a 500 but only ever owned Fiat (127, 128, Uno, Punto, now a Bravo). In New Zealand they are regarded as a bit, don’t laugh, “exotic” and are rare compared to the Japanese competition. Currently the only new Fiat you can get is the 500 & 500 CC but the Abarth Esse Esse arrives this month.

    I found your blog thanks to the awesome Flickr wallpaper changer. A lovely bit of software which I will be posting about on my blog

    Reply

    • The wife’s Fiat 500 is still going strong – it’s a quality little car! Bit more common around here though – although I still make a point to exclaim “Fiat 500!” every time I see one.

      And cheers, glad you like it! 🙂

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  7. Strange comments about handling, Fiat have recently started using the Ford Ka suspension set up across the 500 range after years of complaints from the motoring press about handling/ride! (500 Abarth has always used it). Quality its a Fiat! they make MINIS look like Rolls Royce. Even our national BSM driving school has gone back to using Vauxhall Corsas. And yes we did have one, now got bottom of the range Audi A1 – that is built like a mini TT

    Reply

    • Show me a source on your claims because that conflicts with my experience (and if it was a salesman ignore it as they’ll say anything to get on side with you). We drove a brand new top of the range Ka and brand new bottom of the range 500 and the ride quality, handling, cornering and comfort was infinitely better in the 500. To claim that the Abarth – which is markedly different to the standard 500 – is set up like a Ka is simply not true! The Abarth has way stiffer suspension and the Ka we drove went round corners like a log in a river – not something you’d say about the Abarth.

      And the motoring press have very little bearing on buyers habits. For example they always say Audi S-Line suspension is too hard yet 80% of all Audis sold have it. (Source: last month’s Evo magazine).

      Agree about the A1 but you’re comparing apples and oranges – the A1 is in a different segment to the 500.

      Reply

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