The last vehicle I used that was powered by a twin-cylinder engine had two seats, severely limited luggage space and when it rained you got wet.

Having said that, I loved that BMW motorcycle to bits. Beautifully balanced, solidly surefooted and ruthlessly reliable, it had a timeless quality that made it a family friend.

That sort of affection is not uncommon among owners of motorcycles, but is a much rarer commodity when it comes to car ownership.

But the Fiat 500 is one of a new breed of cars that inspire as much emotion as down-to-earth driver appeal.

While its unashamedly retro styling, inside and out, harks back to a slower-paced world, the technology under the bonnet is right at the cutting edge.

Installing a putt-putting, two-cylinder engine in a Fiat 500 might seem like paying homage to the original 13 horsepower model of 1957, but Fiat says the decision is not primarily sentimental.

The 875cc two-cylinder, Polish-built TwinAir engine, is the cleanest quantity production petrol engine in the world, with figures of 95g/km of CO2.

Compared with Fiat’s best-selling 1.2-litre petrol engine in the Fiat 500, the TwinAir delivers 23 per cent more power, yet combines this with a 15 per cent cut in CO2 emissions and fuel consumption.

Around town, a push of the dashboard-mounted ECO button cuts maximum torque and automatically adjusts the steering to a lighter city setting.

And to help cut city consumption, every TwinAir model is fitted with Fiat’s Start&Stop system, which automatically switches off the engine when the car comes to a standstill and is in neutral, and starts again when the clutch pedal is depressed. In addition, a dashboard digital gearshift indicator suggests when to change gear.

But if you want to get the best out of the engine, ignore the indicator, turn off the ECO button and start flicking up and down the five-speed gearbox. It can be hard work, but it’s worth it.

For it is not the engine’s 85kg weight, but its 85 horsepower output that delivers the real smiles. Despite its small capacity, the turbocharged TwinAir is rev-happy, responsive and really good fun.

And while the 500 is a compact car, it comes with big car features such as anti-lock brakes, seven airbags and a five-star EuroNCAP crash test rating.

Options include a voice-activated system to operate the hi-fi, and another called Blue&Me TomTom with a colour touchscreen that acts as a hub for a mobile phone, navigation system and onbord computer.

Returning to the 500’s carrying capacity, our art student daughter requested delivery of a piece of antique furniture as the centrepiece of her final project. Three feet long, 18in wide and almost 3ft high, I doubted it would fit. I was wrong, and we also got in a load of shopping. You couldn’t do that on a motorcycle.

Auto facts Fiat 500 TwinAir Pop

  • Price: £10,865
  • Insurance group: 11 (1-50)
  • Fuel consumption (Combined): 68.9mpg
  • Top speed: 108mph
  • Length: 354.6cm/139.6in
  • Width: 162.7cm/64in
  • Luggage capacity: 6.5 cu ft
  • Fuel tank capacity: 7.7 gallons/35 litres
  • CO2 emissions: 95g/km
  • Warranty: 3 years/60,000 miles