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.