2016 FIAT 500S Review
The 500S fills the gap at the top of the 500 range as Abarth becomes standalone. So after a week with the 500S, here’s what we thought
What do we have here?
The reincarnation of Fiat’s dinky 500 began in 2007 when the classic three-door city car from the 1950s was reimagined, retaining the original’s classic looks.
In 2015, the 500 received a facelift, giving it a new lease of life and featured new technology and improved efficiency.
However, Fiat has been looking to make the Abarth brand a standalone proposition rather than a tuned version of a standard Fiat. That meant the revised Fiat 500 lost a sporty proposition. Enter the 500S.
Available with a choice of four engines (1.2-litre petrol, two 0.9-litre petrol and a 1.3-litre diesel), it gets a more menacing look with 15in alloy wheels, a sporty bodykit, including front bumper, side skirts and a rear spoiler, a honeycomb grille, chrome exhaust pipe and front fog lamps. There're exterior features finished in Satin Graphite such as the door handles and wing mirror housings.
On the inside, the 500S gets sports seats with contrasting trim, sports steering wheel, contracting door finishes (finished in blue, yellow or white) and there’s a Satin Graphite finish to the dashboard trim.
Standard equipment includes seven airbags, ABS with electronic brake distribution, electronic stability control and hill holder.
We’re testing the 500S with the 1.2-litre engine which comes fitted with 3D TomTom sat-nav (£250), leather interior (£850), 16in matt black diamond cut alloy wheels (£200), and Beats 440W sound system (£300).
How does it drive?
For a city car, where it’s designed to spend most of its life, the ride is disappointingly firm, especially at low speeds. Although, it does become more comfortable as speeds rise.
The 500S has too much body roll, saying that, it still manages to handle well. There’s loads of front end-grip, especially with this low powered engine, while the steering is consistent, accurate and well-weighted. That means the 500S is entertaining to drive, and in fact the quicker you go, the better it is.
A city button on the dash makes the steering super light which helps for slow speed manoeuvres such as parking.
The 1.2-litre develops 68bhp which provides enough poke around town but has to be worked hard to get the most from it. Get the revs over 3,500rpm and you’ll start to find its optimum performance, charging on to 6,000rpm. Hills and overtaking requires some planning ahead and good gear selection.
Sitting on the dash, rather than between the seats, is the gear lever which is linked to a slick five-speed manual box. It feels very naturally located, allowing for easy gear changes.
At motorways speeds, you’ll notice some wind noise and the engine is audible. It would benefit from a sixth gear, however, it remains surefooted and belies its dinky dimensions even when surrounded by juggernauts.
What's it like inside?
The dash is well designed and offers a feeling of sophistication. There’s plenty of chrome detailing strips, chrome door handles and a graphite trim panel spanning the dash, while the 7.0in digital TCT colour screen in the instrument binnacle is stylish and modern.
This model gets automatic air conditioning and uniquely the electric window controls are located on the centre of the dash. There’s a lack of soft touch plastics but the overall look and feel make up for this.
There’s a 7.0in colour touchscreen infotainment system, that’s easy to use, has good clear graphics and includes DAB radio, Bluetooth, voice recognition and USB connectivity. It’s worth adding the TomTom navigation package.
Not everyone will be able to get comfortable in the 500S. The base of the driver’s seat only partially adjusts for height (the front is fixed in place and the base tilts) and the steering wheel only adjusts for tilt and not reach. The seat height (tilt) lever is located between the seats and sits too close to the handbrake, meaning you can either catch your hand on the lever or pull it by mistake when applying the handbrake.
The seats are however comfortable and very supportive with neat contrasting trim, that is replicated on the door panels.
Head room in the front is decent as is shoulder room and the 500S feels larger inside than it appears from outside. Storage is however limited but there are four cup holders present.
In the back, however, it’s not the same story. Anyone over five foot tall is going to struggle to get comfortable, as there’s limited head, knee and leg room.
The boot is decent for this class of car and will take a few shopping backs or a medium sized suitcase. However, the rear seats fold and split 50/50.
This 1.2-litre has a claimed economy of 60.1mpg on a combined cycle, however, during 315 miles of testing, we only returned 38mpg after a combination of town, country and motorway driving.
With CO2 emissions of 111g/km, road tax costs £30 for a year, while it falls into the 19% company car tax banding.
It shouldn’t cost the world to insure with a pretty low 9E-T2 band.
The 500S comes with a three-year 60,000-mile warranty.
There are many compromises with owning a 500S but also much joy to be had.
The ride is overly firm, there’s a lack of driver’s seat and steering wheel adjustment and a minuscule rear, however, this is unlikely to put many buyers off and can’t stop us seeing why.
It’s full of character, looks great and somehow gets you to fall deeply in love with it and few other cars in this class can do that.
For a more comfortable ride and added practicality, take a look at the Hyundai i10 and Ford Ka+.
Driver's Seat Rating:
3.5 out of 5
It's worth considering:
2016 Fiat 500S 1.2-litre manual Stats:
Engine size: 1242cc petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Torque: 75lb ft
Top speed: 99mph
Fuel economy (official combined): 60.1mpg
BIK band: 19%
Insurance Group: 9E-T2
Kerb weight: 1350kg
Warranty: 3-years, 60,000 miles