Evolved from a lilliputian, Italian-built model that captured the heart of many a European-car devotee back in the late 1950s, the Fiat 500 might be dubbed a micro-size hatchback with rich Italian flavor. Fiat Chrysler revived the Fiat 500 (Cinqucento) for 2012, giving it retro-exotic looks and an abundance of equipment choices.
With six trim levels to choose from, configuring the 500 to meet personal needs and desires was quite easy, so long as a roomy backseat wasn't essential. Both Coupe and Cabrio (sliding fabric roof) body styles remain available, but three of the previous trim levels have been dropped. So has the lower-powered turbo engine.
In either body style, the back seat falls well short on roominess. More than most small cars, the Fiat 500 has drawn intense opinions: many folks consider the Italian design irresistibly cute and charming, while others fail to see the appeal.
What's New for 2017
FiatChrysler has simplified the 500 lineup, shrinking to three trim levels and two engine possibilities. Prices have been cut substantially. Options no longer are offered in Collections, but may be selected individually. All trim levels are available in the Cabrio body style for $1,495 more than the solid-roof coupe. Each Fiat 500 gets a Uconnect 5.0 system with 5-inch touchscreen audio, Bluetooth, and voice commands. Rear parking assist is now standard on Abarth models, which ride on new 16-inch forged aluminum Hyper Black wheels.
Choosing Your FIAT 500
Each Fiat 500 model contains a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but with or without turbocharging.
In Pop and Lounge models, the non-turbo engine is rated at 101 horsepower, mated to a standard five-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic transmission.
A turbocharged, twin-intercooled version goes into the race-inspired Abarth, which comes across as remarkably energetic. With a manual gearbox, the Abarth engine develops 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque; the engine in automatic-equipped Abarth models produces 157 horsepower and 183 pound-feet.
Fuel economy is impressive, as expected in a micro-size car—at least with the non-turbo engine and manual shift. With the manual gearbox, a Pop or Lounge model gets an estimate of 31 mpg in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway (34 mpg combined). The automatic transmission drops the figures to 27/33 mpg (city/highway). With manual shift, the potent Abarth earns an EPA estimate of 28/33 mpg (city/highway), dipping to 24/32 mpg with automatic.
In Cabrios, the fabric top is power-operated, retracting all the way to the rear spoiler or only to a midway position. When folded all the way open, the roof tucks behind the backseat head restraints.
The Fiat 500 is now available in three trim levels:
All three trim levels can be fitted with the optional automatic transmission, as well as Beats Audio premium sound, navigation, and a sunroof. Rear parking sensors also are available, but a rearview camera is unfortunately absent.
From the start, FiatChrysler has touted the personalization possibilities of the Fiat 500. For many buyers, the standard 101-horsepower engine fails to deliver sufficient power, especially when equipped with the automatic transmission. For others, the nimble Fiat 500 is fun to drive regardless of engine. In fact, the reduced power may even be seen as a welcome challenge, especially with manual shift. Then again, the 160-horsepower Abarth is awfully easy to enjoy. A brief test drive should clearly tell you whether to upgrade. An Abarth could be an even more tempting choice, now that the price has been reduced by $2,580.
The Fiat 500 is the rare new car that is as much a charismatic lifestyle statement as a means of transportation. Its lively moves and bright, interesting styling approach bring a welcome sense of lightheartedness and fun to a market dominated by exercises in restrained rationality.
Pricing and Equipment
Sold in the United States since 2012, Fiat simplified the 500's trim level structure for 2017, going from six to three grades of the 500, while knocking a noticeable amount off stated MSRPs in the process. The base Pop starts at a very appealing $15,990 (all prices include a $995 destination fee) and includes such necessities as air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, a five-inch touchscreen to control the Uconnect infotainment system, and your choice of 15 paint shades. The more upscale Lounge has an MSRP of $19,490 and adds a number of functional upgrades and fashionable flourishes such as:
Automatic temperature control
Leather-upholstered front seats with heaters
Fixed glass roof
Rear park assist
The street-racer Abarth stickers at $20,990 and benefits from a meaningful round of performance-enhancing upgrades. Selecting an automatic transmission in any version adds $995 to the bottom line.
All 500s are powered by a 1.4-liter inline-four engine. The motors in the Pop and Lounge make 101 horsepower; the Abarth plumbs in a turbocharger to raise output to 160. Either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transfers drive to the front wheels. EPA fuel economy estimates for the Pop and Lounge are 31 city miles per gallon and 38 highway with the manual transmission and 27 city and 34 highway for the automatic. The raucous Abarth should return of 28 mpg city and 34 highway with the manual and 24 city and 32 highway for the automatic.
The 500c is identical to the 500 save for a rollback fabric top, and a battery-powered 500e is available in California and Oregon; both are covered separately. And although the names would imply a shared basis, the five-door 500L and the 500C crossover are completely different from the 500.
The 500's short wheelbase and direct steering endow it with a quick feel that makes it easy to run through city centers or along winding back roads.
The suspension tuning in the Pop and Lounge strikes a nice balance between handling and ride comfort.
The Abarth's caffeinated turbo power pairs with a gleeful punk-rock snarl of an exhaust note that's positively addicting.
The 101-horsepower motor in the Pop and Lounge will seem lackluster at first to most American drivers. The key is to adopt a higher-revving, more Italian style of driving which makes it feel more usable.
Fuel economy is good but less impressive than the car's light weight and moderate power would indicate. Selecting the automatic also knocks an unusually high amount off of the EPA estimates achieved by 500s with the manual transmission.
Highway cruising is surprisingly tolerable given the 500's petite dimensions and taut suspension tuning, but those who regularly endure long Interstate drones may find the car's charm wearing thin after a while.
The 500 makes the most of its simple materials with a well-considered, uncomplicated layout and creative styling choices.
The Lounge offers more (and more interesting) interior color options than is normal for a small, inexpensive car.
The Uconnect infotainment system is straightforward and easy to use.
The upright front seats and airport control-tower glass area make for excellent visibility.
Drivers may require time to come to terms with the 500's driving position, with its high seats and slightly bus-like steering wheel angle.
The 500 technically includes rear seats, although the ability to use them as a place for normal-sized humans to sit while the car is in use is debatable.
The curvy, closely-tailored body design also means that front seat room and cargo space take a hit compared to some boxier competitors.
The Most Pleasant Surprise
Automakers have experimented with postmodern retro themes for decades, but very few attempts have worked as well – or as long – as the 500's blend of modern functionality, vintage signifiers, and animated character. The 500 almost doesn't seem like a retro design; it's simply a good city car with an unusual and very likable sense of aesthetics and spirit.
The Least Pleasant Surprise
There's no getting around the reality that the 500 is a small car with a tight interior. Larger front-seat occupants will probably feel hemmed in after a while, and friends forced to sit in the back may wonder what they did to offend the driver.
The Bottom Line
The 500 remains a cheerful breath of fresh air in a too-serious automotive ecosystem. We recommend the manual transmission regardless of trim level; both drivability and fuel economy see big benefits, and the added engagement is very much in keeping with its classic Italian style. If your life can fit inside its close quarters, it is a very enjoyable way to get around.