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ALTHOUGH the shape may be vaguely reminiscent of the 1957 original, little else about the Fiat 500 sticks to its predecessor's back to basics appeal.

This time round, the 500 is unashamedly chic, offering an upmarket look and feel that will doubtless carve a sizeable chunk into MINI's bottom line.

Fully half a century after the launch of the original Fiat 500, it's back.

It was one of the worst kept secrets in motoring, the Italian maker displaying the Trepiuno concept car back in 2004 with most realising that productionising this car, based on a modified Panda chassis, shouldn't prove too difficult.

Three years later, here it is, polished, primed and with its sights set squarely on BMW's MINI.

Fiat has latterly built a reputation for having a wide range of excellent powerplants, especially at the smaller end of the product portfolio.

It was to Fiat that Suzuki turned when they wanted a small diesel for their SX4 model, offering the Italians what was to become their Sedici in exchange.

Indeed, the 75bhp 1.3-litre 16v Multijet diesel engine fitted to the 500 is so good that it rather overshadows the otherwise excellent pair of petrol powerplants.

These comprise an entry-level 69bhp 1.2 8v and a punchy 100bhp 1.4-litre 16v.

Five or six speed manual transmissions are offered and the 500 has been designed to replicate the original car's nimble feel and ability to put a smile on its driver's face.

The 500 seemed destined to succeed from the outset.

There's such a cheekiness and personality to its design that people would have ruched out to buy the car even if it was irredeemably awful in every other respect.

If you're looking for cheeky, cheap and practical, a Panda is still a slightly better car.

But if a style statement is more your thing, the 500 is bound to get your vote every time.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Feb 13, 2009
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