2017 500 New Car Test Drive
The little lovable Fiat 500 is now in its sixth successful year, offering big character in a tiny footprint. The three-door hatchback or cabriolet draws many adjectives, like cute, quirky, fun, charming, disarming, original and more. However it's not entirely original, having been famously inspired by the legendary 1957 Cinquecento that skittered like cockroaches all over Italy, back in the day.
The Fiat 500 competes with the Ford Fiesta, Chevy Spark, Hyundai Accent, Mazda2, and others, even including the Mini Cooper.
It seats four, with the two rear passengers totally squeezed. It offers nimble and responsive handling, while feeling bigger than it is because of its high seating position. Amazingly, the ride isn't harsh despite its super-short 90.6-inch wheelbase and old-school torsion beam rear axle. The acceleration is either lame or zippy, depending on the engine.
For 2017, there are just two engines, a 1.4-liter making 101 horsepower, and a turbocharged version making 160 horsepower in the sporty, snarling Abarth 500. Each comes with a 5-speed manual gearbox or 6-speed automatic. What's lost from the lineup is last year's turbo model making an in-between 135 horsepower.
There are only three models: the Pop, Lounge and Abarth, each of which comes as a hatchback or Cabrio with a cloth top that rolls back. There's also a 500L wagon and 500X crossover, which we review separately, and less favorably, as the character and individuality is lost as the 500 expands.
Also a 500e all-electric car, which we've found to be the most fun electric car of all. When it first came out, Fiat was offering a lease for $1000 down and $139 per month, and we're sorry we didn't snag one for our 16-year-old to drive to high school.
The Fiat 500 with base engine and 5-speed gets an EPA-rated 31/40 miles per gallon City/Highway, 34 mpg Combined, while the turbo gets 30 mpg Combined with the manual, and just 27 mpg with the automatic. Premium fuel is recommended, even for the non-turbo. For the size of the car, the savings in fuel cost is unimpressive.
You won't be impressed if you hit a telephone pole in your Fiat 500, either. It got a Poor rating from the IIHS in the small-overlap frontal crash test. The other crash ratings were better, with four stars overall from the NHTSA, including four stars for frontal impact and five stars for side impact. The IIHS gave the 500 its top Good score in most tests. There are seven standard airbags: dual front, side and curtain, plus a driver knee airbag to come between you and the telephone pole.
The Fiat 500 Pop hatchback ($16,995) and Cabriolet ($$20,395) include cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, CD player with audio jack, 15-inch painted aluminum wheels. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Fiat 500 Lounge ($20,395) gets leather upholstery, 7.0-inch LCD display replacing the instrument cluster, fixed glass roof, chrome body and interior accents, leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls, and other features.
The Fiat 500 Abarth ($22,575) features the turbocharged engine, suspension tweaks, black 16-inch alloy wheels, and rear parking sensors.
Options include the latest UConnect system with 5.0-inch touchscreen, a power sunroof, navigation, different wheels, and a host of appearance tweaks. No rearview camera is available for any model.