Fiat Australia has a plan. It wants to transform the streets of Australian cities so they look like those in Rome, Paris, London, Milan and many other fashion conscious European cities.

Anyone who’s visited Europe recently will have seen Fiat 500s by the thousand. The retro shape of the new 500, based on the tiny Fiat 500 Bambino launched in 1957, works brilliantly. Even better, owners customise their Fiat 500s inside and out in many imaginative ways, further brightening up the cityscape.

Explore the 2013 Fiat 500 Range

  • Fiat 500 Pop 2013 review

New Fiat 500s first arrived in Australia in 2008, imported by the same company that brings in such upmarket supercars as Ferrari, Maserati and Lotus. The little Fiats were highly priced and aimed to compete head-on with new Mini and New Beetle. Last year Fiat’s head office took over the Australian operation and has decided to bring the little car down to mass market levels.

Value

Prices have been slashed. The range now starts at just $14,000 driveaway for the Fiat 500 Pop with a five-speed manual gearbox. This brings the 500 into the same price group as imports from Japan, Korea and Thailand.

A stylish Italian machine for the price of a low-budget Asian car is a proposition that seems sure to tempt many Aussies who are keen drivers and/or automotive fashionistas.

However, prices climb if you don’t want a 500 Pop manual. With an automated manual gearbox it has a recommended retail of $15,500 to which on-road costs have to be added. Given that the majority of Fiat owners are likely to prefer doing their own gear shifting this may not be a hassle.

The Fiat 500 Pop is no stripped down special, having air conditioning, central locking, power front windows and door mirrors, and a trip computer. Communication uses the Fiat / Microsoft co-designed Blue&Me voice-activated system with Bluetooth, USB and Aux connectively.

Next up the list is the Fiat 500 Sport. In addition to the Pop gear it has a 1.4-litre engine (up from 1.2 litres), 15-inch alloy wheels, larger brakes, foglights, a sports body kit that includes a rear spoiler, sports seats with red stitching, a flat bottom steering wheel again with red stitching, and dark tinted glass. Prices for the 500 Sport begin at $16,900 for a hatch with a manual gearbox.

Then comes the Fiat 500 Lounge. With a starting price of $20,300 it has Fiat’s ultra-economical 875 cc turbocharged twin-cylinder engine. Official fuel consumption is just 3.9 litres per hundred kilometres. Additional equipment over the 500 Sport includes a fixed glass sunroof, climate-control in the air conditioning and chrome inserts in the bumpers.

At the pinnacle of the new range comes the limited edition Fiat 500 by Gucci, a collaborative design by two famous Italian brands. Still reasonably priced, from $23,200, the Fiat 500 by Gucci is offered in gloss black or white. It has Gucci’s signature green-red-green colours as exterior stripes; these run lengthways over the top of the roof on the cabriolet, but around the centre of the body on the hatch.

The green-red-green theme is repeated in various places in the interior - including on the seat belts. Even the key cover gets that treatment.

The Gucci also has 16-inch alloy wheels, chromed door mirror housings, and xenon headlights. Inside there are two-tone leather seats, a leather trimmed steering wheel, and an Interscope sound system with six speakers plus a subwoofer. The Gucci is powered by the same four-cylinder 1.4-litre engine as the 500 Sport.

Only 101 Fiat 500 by Gucci models have been allocated to Australia. All models are sold as three-door hatchbacks or two-door cabriolets with a huge fold-back roof.

Safety

Safety is high on the list of priorities, with a full range of crash prevention electronic assistance items, as well as no fewer than seven airbags to minimise injuries should a crash still occur.

Driving

We took several Fiat 500 models on extended road tests – as well as having a fang on a go-kart track.

We have to admit to a dislike of automated manual gearboxes with their irritating slowing on gearchanges in the lower gears. Give us a proper manual any day. Then again there are many who have no problem with the auto. Try before you buy.

Engine response from the 1.2 and 1.4-litre engines is excellent and immediately gives the little Fiat 500 a real sporty feel.

The economy 875 cc two-cylinder unit often requires downchanges to give it decent performance. Obviously, that’s more than balanced out by the fact that it’s more economical than many small diesel engines.

Handling is excellent with a nice balance on offer by way of the steering wheel and throttle. The Italian Fiat is way ahead of even the best of the Asian cars in this class and is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of those who love driving.

Ride comfort is good on smooth roads, but deteriorates on rough surfaces due to the short wheelbase and the firm-ish setup of the sporty suspension system.