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…
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!