These cars are hot in the city but should you go for fashion or common sense?
If you’re thinking of a cool, stylish, retro city car you’re almost certainly thinking of an old Hyundai i10. No, hang on, you’ll be thinking of a Fiat 500. After all, about two million people have obviously thought the same, encouraged further by the refresh in 2015.
But the competition has been hotting up and now there’s that car that is variously the VW Up, the Seat Mii and the Skoda Citigo. We’ve chosen the last of those, a sensible, well-made, good-value alternative to the chic style of the Italian car. If you have a budget of around £7000, which of these would work best in the confines of the city as well as the occasional jaunt out into the sticks?
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Fiat 500 1.2 Pop Star
Engine: 1.2-litre petrol
List price when new: £11,765
Price today: £7500*
Torque: 75lb ft
Top speed: 99mph
Fuel economy: 60.1mpg (official average)
CO2 emissions: 110g/km
Frankly, their performance is pretty woeful. In-gear acceleration from an indicated 80mph upwards is definitely slow. Turn in to a corner at 70mph and the handling falls well short of say a McLaren 570S. And don’t get us started on the total absence of Alcantara and carbonfibre in the cabin.
But – and it’s a big, wobbly but – if you can see past these deficiencies, there’s still quite a lot to like. Around town they nip and tuck like a busy plastic surgeon, although it’s the Fiat that has the slightly perkier pace. The 1.2-litre petrol engine in the Fiat rows along nicely although it does get a bit raucous as you rev it.
In contrast the 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine in the Skoda is a bit noisier but actually the noise is that rather pleasant off-beat triple so we didn’t mind at all. And when the speed does eventually rise you’ll find the steering in the Skoda to be a bit more direct, a touch more connected. In the Fiat it’s very light – so light in one mode you can twiddle the wheel with one finger – but that works against it as speeds get higher.
If you do need to do more driving in the ‘burbs and big roads, the Skoda keeps on delivering a better performance, with more normal car-like handling which also manages a decent ride quality. In contrast the Fiat wallows around more, gets all jiggy with it on rougher roads and generally acts a bit Italian. However, both grip surprisingly well, so don’t imagine they can’t cope with life outside the M25.
Skoda Citigo 1.0 60 Monte Carlo
Engine: 1.0-litre petrol
List price when new: £10,670
Price today: £6500*
Torque: 70lb ft
Top speed: 99mph
Fuel economy: 62.8mpg (official average)
CO2 emissions: 105g/km
The Fiat 500 has the most stylish cabin of the pair, hands down. It’s light and airy and oozes charm, enough to make you smile when you get in. That smile does tend to fade a bit though as you get used to it. Quality isn’t bad but it isn’t excellent either, and the seats aren’t terribly supportive. In the rear it’s more cramped than the front and the boot is about the size of a large pair of boots.
The Skoda may not be as stylish but it is more practical, more comfortable and more spacious. If four people had to go a decent distance they’d choose the Citigo over the 500 every time. The main irritant in the Skoda is the positioning of steering wheel and main dials like the speedo. Most people won’t be able to see the speedo with the wheel where they want it. Style over practicality for once from Skoda.
Once upon a time, this Fiat 500 1.2 Pop Star cost about £11,750 and the Skoda Citigo 1.0 60 Monte Carlo cost almost exactly £1000 less. Now, three years later, that price differential remains in place, with the Fiat worth £7500 and the Skoda £1000 less. Only of course now that differential equates to an even bigger percentage of the cost.
Either of these cars will return around 60mpg, so that’s not an issue, and tax is only £20 a year so that’s not an issue either. Both these two qualify for the fixed-price servicing offered on cars over three years old, although the Fiat scheme is cheaper and chucks in a year’s roadside assistance.
Equally, you will be more likely to need it in the Fiat since reliability isn’t great, and problems were often quite serious. So where does that leave us?
It leaves us admiring the looks and chutzpah of the Fiat 500. It’s genuinely great around town, being nippy and very easy to manoeuvre and park. But the Skoda Citigo is also a sound city car while being better able to take on the vagaries of the road systems that don’t have street lights. Given the price differential too, we’d go for the Citigo.
*Price today is based on a 2015 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing