IF ever there was a single model that lifted a manufacturer's fortunes, it must be the tiny Fiat 500.
Launched in 2007, and announced the year before - a full half century after the original version - it became a family favourite. Rather like the BMW MINI and the latter day Beetle.
Freshened and revitalised last year, the 500 is the ultimate city car - short enough to squeeze into a tight parking space and narrow enough to manoeuvre into a narrow supermarket bay and still open the doors.
Fiat resisted the temptation in 2015 to enlarge the body of their baby. After all, they had the ‘L' version and the ‘X' which offer more interior space.
Despite the diminutive dimensions, on the road the 500 manages to feel surprisingly grown-up and composed.
This is partly because of the smooth, absorbent ride and a really taut body which banishes vibration or any hint of a rattle.
I drove the Eco version of the 1.2-litre, four-cylinder engine which is the cheapest version - and for my money the most pleasant unit.
The two two-cylinder models are more modern, more advanced and have greater power but they are less relaxing and harder work to drive smoothly.
The Eco shaves down the CO2 to a tax-free 99g/km and aids economy by about 5mpg. Low rolling resistance tyres, a ‘smart' alternator and aerodynamic under-body shielding play their part in greening up the little Fiat.
With just 69bhp to its name, you shouldn't expect fireworks. Nevertheless, decently driven the Fiat will keep up with most cars and deliver far greater satisfaction than many. Steering is light, yet possesses plenty of ‘feel' and the cornering is of the stuck-to-the-road variety.
A nifty five-speed manual gearbox completes the formula for this well thought out three-door.
It's tempting to rush the 500 through the gears and send the eager engine towards the red line. Do so and you'll see the fuel gauge needle sink rather too rapidly.
My average was 45mpg which is hardly an economy record for a small car.
Obviously, cabin accommodation is restricted, but two adults in the front are well catered for with sufficient legroom, a superbly stylish facia, easy to operate switches and tremendous all-round vision.
A five-inch touch screen with sat nav is standard on the Lounge version, as is the opening, panoramic sunroof. Plenty of colour-matched paintwork and snazzy cream-coloured steering wheel complete the retro picture.
Front seats, while comfortable, offer little sideways support and a passenger grab handle would be a worthwhile addition to the spec.
Rear seat space and legroom is perfectly acceptable for youngsters or for a couple of average-sized adults on short journeys.
It's best to travel light as the boot holds just 185 litres of luggage - mind you, a MINI hatch only manages a little more. A small parcel shelf hides the contents. Rear seats fold to increase capacity to 550 litres.
Considering the compact exterior, Fiat designers have worked wonders in providing so much cabin room. Storage space, however, is somewhat restricted.
If the standard 500 model isn't quite funky enough for you, there are a number of body graphic packages, several alloy wheel designs and the car key can be customised with different themes.