I passed my driving test on 1 September 2008, no majors, no minors.
I know. But before you click away in disgust, please do just hear me out.
Driving is something I’ve always enjoyed. I used to kart as a youth and I’ve always had a great passion for motorsport so learning to drive came fairly naturally.
I will never forget my trusty steed, the battered and bruised Fiat Punto, which by the time I had passed my test was edging ever closer to the great car park in the sky. But thanks to Labour’s car scrappage scheme, the claret ‘R85AYA’ was retired and for just £8,000, I had a new mount: a brand new Fiat 500.
It’s always a risk reviving a great classic – Queen with Paul Rodgers, Michael Schumacher at Mercedes, Countdown without Richard Whitely. We are programmed to expect disappointment second time round but the sharp styling and retro feel of the new Fiat 500, some 55 years since the original went into production, really does its predecessor justice.
Getting behind the Fiat’s luxurious leather-clad wheel and burying yourself in its deep, bucket driver’s seat is a joy. Peering out of the windscreen while ticking over at 30 in a busy city centre, you can’t help but pretend you’re weaving along the piazza’s of Rome, an experience so authentic you expect to see three Minis zoom past you pursued by a multitude of hapless Italian coppers.
It is difficult to stress just what a stunning car the 500 is, especially in white. Crystal clean in colour and design, it glints on sultry summer days like a pearl at the bottom of the ocean.
The basic 1.2 Pop model is not without poke either. You certainly won’t power away from fellow road users in a hurry but the 500’s light frame and dainty profile means it eats up the miles in style and comfort while delivering a staggering 50mpg.
The ride is smooth without lacking poise or balance and unlike the Punto, the indicators don’t stop working during the summer months, nor do the wipers scrape irritatingly across the screenlike a pig in heat.
Inside, the 500 provides an incredibly pleasant driving environment, even without some increasingly standard mod-cons like air conditioning.
At a shade under £10,000 with electric windows and a CD/mp3 combo as standard and, according to Fiat, 500,000 ways to customise your 500, it’s hard not to feel you’ve bagged yourself a real bargain.
It’s spacious too – I daresay if Michael Caine and his motley crew of lovable rogues were to remake the Italian Job (and I mean properly, not like the Mark Wahlberg monstrosity), the 500 might actually prove a far more suitable getaway car than the new Mini as there’s no shortage of room for gold bullion in the back.
Seemingly taking its design cues from modern luminaries such as Apple, the Fiat’s interior is simple but wholly functional and exceptionally sturdy, right down to the satisfying thud when you pull the door closed.
But while the comfortable seats, powerful four speaker stereo and an ample boot are fantastic value for money, you sometimes wish Fiat had taken a tad longer to develop some of the car’s gizmos.
The ‘Blue&Me’ bluetooth system, for instance, is woeful – rarely does it maintain a connection between car and phone. Similarly, the onboard Windows USB system is more temperamental than an acne-ridden 15-year-old.
I’ve tried seven or eight different mp3-loaded memory sticks and it will often steadfastly refuse to play them, sometimes on a day-to-day basis. And that’s before we bring up the lack of iPod functionally.
Nitpicking aside, Fiat have done a fantastic job breathing new life into a piece of classic design and bringing it firmly into the 21st century. The 500 will put a smile on your face when you see it parked on the drive and when you realise the equivalent Mini starts from £11,500. Style and economy have never been so affordable.