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
  • Security alarm

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.

Performance Pros

Fiat 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.

Performance Cons

  • 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.

Interior Pros

  • 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.

Interior Cons

Fiat 500
  • 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.