Best Italian cars

Hunting for a new car that prioritises flair over less exciting considerations? Then look no further than these Italian stallions

James Wilson
Oct 21, 2020

For one reason or another, Italian cars are often seen as some of the most stylish, most desirable on the road, whether they are considered the 'best' or not. For example, the Fiat 500 is one of the most chic city cars going - and that is despite having been on sale for well over a decade - even though it's not the most practical, cheapest or most comfortable. At the other end of the scale there are Ferraris, where desirability is the key selling point.

Traditionally, though, Italian cars have been let down by patchy reliability and a propensity to rust. Times have changed, though, and rust horror stories no longer hinder sales and even though Italian manufacturers still typically lag behind the likes of Mazda and Skoda in reliability surveys, loyal owners seem very happy with the trustworthiness of their vehicles.

Italian cars aren’t all about good looks and charm, there is a wide variety of models available. At one end of the scale there are super-affordable, super-economical Fiat Pandas and at the other luxury cruisers from Maserati - with SUVs, people carriers and vans sitting somewhere in between.

That said, the list of best Italian cars below does not feature mega-expensive supercars or opulent saloons that require a lottery win to afford. No, below are Il meglio del raccolto (the cream of the crop) of Italian cars that normal people can actually afford - ranging from comfortably under £10,000 all the way up to £30,000, with similarly affordable monthly payments available.

Best Italian cars

1. Fiat 500

Best Italian city car

Used deals from £4,583
Monthly finance from £93

Few cars have nailed their brief quite as well as the Fiat 500. Its success isn’t solely due to its super-cute styling, though, as the 500 is easy to navigate through tight urban streets, cheap to run and relatively enjoyable to drive. There is even a 500C model with a folding canvas roof, which offers cheap convertible thrills.

Of the engines available, the turbocharged 0.9-litre two-cylinder 'TwinAir' petrol is the one to go for, as it goes rather well with the 500’s bubbly character, producing a deep, burbly engine note. In 2016 Fiat updated its 500 by refreshing the styling and adding a number of tweaks such as a new media system.

Regardless of age and engine, all models are front-wheel-drive, have three doors and come with four seats. At one time or another, there was the option of diesel engines and automatic gearboxes but the petrol manuals are by far the most common and the best choice for most drivers.

FIAT 500 BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Abarth 595

Best Italian hot hatchback

Used deals from £8,250
Monthly finance from £133

Abarth is part of the same company as Fiat - its best-known models are re-engineered sporty versions of the 500 highlighted above. Originally these cars were rather unimaginatively called the Fiat 500 Abarth, but when sales took off Fiat turned Abarth into a standalone brand, and shortly after, the 595 name was created.

Understanding the names of Abarth’s cars is actually one of the hardest parts of buying one, but stick to looking at 595 models and you will find a good blend of performance, usability (some of the more performance-orientated models come with super-firm suspension setups), equipment and affordability.

Abarth 595 is made by taking a normal Fiat 500 body, adding some sporty styling, a peppy 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, stiffer suspension, better brakes and some Abarth badges. As might be expected, the additional performance has a knock-on effect for running costs, but driving a 595 sure is a lot of fun, which makes up for this.

ABARTH 595 BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Fiat Tipo

Best Italian family hatchback

Used deals from £6,950
Monthly finance from £122

As budget family hatchbacks go, the Tipo is a pretty good one. It is spacious, easy to drive and relatively refined. More than this, new and used prices are incredibly low for the age of car. There are petrol and diesel models available - the latter are arguably the pick of the bunch thanks to strong performance and economy. All models power the front wheels and automatic Tipos do exist, though in very small numbers.

For those after lots of space, there is an estate version, too - although these are less common and come at a premium. Standard equipment is good thanks to air-conditioning, cruise control and Bluetooth being included as standard across the range. The Tipo may not have the same good looks as most of its fellow Italians to fall back on, but it does tick the affordability box quite nicely.

FIAT TIPO BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Fiat 124 Spider

Best Italian sports car/convertible

Used deals from £12,495
Monthly finance from £201

To appreciate the Fiat 124 for the great sports car it is, it is first important to look at the Mazda MX-5. The MX-5 is one of the all-time best two-seater sports cars and the 124 is built on the same platform - making it a great Italian alternative to the Japanese MX-5.

There are significant differences between the two sports cars, though. Exterior styling is an obvious one - on looks alone most people wouldn’t have a clue the Fiat and Mazda were built in the same factory. ‘Were’ being the operative word, as the 124 is no longer available to buy new, but there are very good value used models available.

Really, the Fiat 124 offers the best of both worlds - reliable Japanese underpinnings (thanks to the parts that are shared with the Mazda) combined with the heart and soul of having an Italian engine and styling. There is even a sportier Abarth version, although these can be pricey.

FIAT 124 SPIDER BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Fiat 500X

Best Italian crossover

Used deals from £6,995
Monthly finance from £123

Surprise, suprise - another Fiat! Building on the popularity of its 500 hatchback Fiat launched the 500X - a pumped up 500-style crossover. Not only does the 500X come with retro styling but it is relatively good to drive, comes with plenty of equipment and it is one of the best models in its class for cruising down a motorway.

Before an update in 2018, the 500X could be bought with a diesel engine and/or four-wheel drive but neither is an option any more due to slow sales. A choice between automatic and manual gearboxes remains. If you're buying used, however, you can take your pick from all of these. As for equipment, Fiat hasn’t held back - all models get air-conditioning, electric windows, alloy wheels and cruise control.

FIAT 500X BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Fiat 500L

Best Italian people carrier

Used deals from £5,500
Monthly finance from £101

Looking to take five people from A to B in comfort with minimal fuss? Then look no further than the Fiat 500L. It is spacious, it is practical and it is available with frugal engines. Pre-2018 there was even a seven-seat version called the Fiat 500L MPW. In addition, equipment levels are good provided you ignore entry-level Pop models. Pop Star versions (i.e. the trim above Pop) bring cruise control, alloy wheels and Bluetooth as standard, making them more desirable.

Driving a 500L is a bit of a dull experience, but that is a failry common trait for a people carrier. Thanks to its tall shape and large windows, there is plenty of space for passengers and the cabin feels bright and airy. Due to the uprising of SUVs and crossovers, people carriers have fallen out of favour, pushing resale values down - fear not if you're looking to buy a used version, though, as this means you'll get more for your money.

FIAT 500L BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Alfa Romeo Guilia

Best Italian saloon

Used deals from £17,098
Monthly finance from £247

The stylish Giulia gave Alfa Romeo a new lease of life when it arrived, offering a genuinely appealing alternative to BMW, Audi and Mercedes rivals. The Italian saloon instantly blew away many of the competition - most of which had stopped taking Alfa Romeo seriously - with its looks and overall desirability. All Guilias are rear-wheel-drive, which helps to provide a great driving experience and come with a decent amount of equipment as standard, but most importantly for an Italian car, they lead the pack for styling.

There is a choice of petrol and diesel engines (all of which have their merits) but there are no options when it comes to transmission - it is an automatic gearbox or nothing. The Guilia’s interior doesn’t let the side down, either, even if rivals from the likes of Audi and BMW feel slightly better quality. One minor drawback is that there is no estate option with a larger boot and hatchback practicality, as is the case with rivals - all models are four-door saloons.

ALFA ROMEO GUILIA BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Best Italian SUV

Used deals from £23,245
Monthly finance from £314

In today’s car market SUVs are hot property and the Stelvio was Alfa’s first SUV offering. Like the Guilia mentioned above, the Stelvio came swanning into a packed market segment and blew much of the competition away with its incredible looks and punchy performance.

For an SUV the Stelvio is surprisingly engaging to drive and there isn’t a weakling in the engine range - there is even a high-performance model with an incredibly potent engine producing over 500hp. Most models are four-wheel-drive and come with an automatic gearbox, but rear-wheel-drive automatics are available, too.

Kit levels are good, although equipment and interior quality were improved significantly following some updates towards the end of 2019, so you may want to look at more recent models. All in all, though, the Stelvio presents an excellent case to stay away from German SUVs such as the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC.

ALFA ROMEO STELVIO BUYERS' GUIDE

 

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