These cars are hot in the city but should you go for fashion or common sense?
If youâ€™re thinking of a cool, stylish, retro city car youâ€™re almost certainly thinking of an old Hyundai i10. No, hang on, youâ€™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 thereâ€™s that car that is variously the VW Up, the Seat Mii and the Skoda Citigo. Weâ€™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 Â£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:Â 1.2-litre petrol
List price when new: Â£11,765
Price today: Â£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 donâ€™t get us started on the total absence of Alcantara and carbonfibre in the cabin.
But â€“ and itâ€™s a big, wobbly but â€“ if you can see past these deficiencies, thereâ€™s still quite a lot to like. Around town they nip and tuck like a busy plastic surgeon, although itâ€™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 didnâ€™t mind at all. And when the speed does eventually rise youâ€™ll find the steering in the Skoda to be a bit more direct, a touch more connected. In the Fiat itâ€™s very light â€“ so light in one mode you can twiddle the wheel with one finger â€“ but that works against it as speeds get higher.
If you do need to do more driving in the â€˜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 donâ€™t imagine they canâ€™t cope with life outside the M25.
Skoda Citigo 1.0 60 Monte Carlo
Engine:Â 1.0-litre petrol
List price when new: Â£10,670
Price today: Â£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. Itâ€™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 isnâ€™t bad but it isnâ€™t excellent either, and the seats arenâ€™t terribly supportive. In the rear itâ€™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 theyâ€™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 wonâ€™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 Â£11,750 and the Skoda Citigo 1.0 60 Monte Carlo cost almost exactly Â£1000 less. Now, three years later, that price differential remains in place, with the Fiat worth Â£7500 and the Skoda Â£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 thatâ€™s not an issue, and tax is only Â£20 a year so thatâ€™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 yearâ€™s roadside assistance.
Equally, you will be more likely to need it in the Fiat since reliability isnâ€™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. Itâ€™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 donâ€™t have street lights. Given the price differential too, weâ€™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