by Roger Biermann
Since its release in 2007, the venerable Fiat 500 has remained a particularly popular boutique hatchback and a style icon for the Fiat brand. Steering into 2019 the two-door minicar Fiat 500 is again powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder MultiAir turbocharged engine outputting 135 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox. The four-passenger two-door Fiat holds the enduring classic Italian design that has made it so popular and with some mild but welcome updates inside and out recently, it retains the cute charm that has become a Fiat hallmark. Starting at an MSRP of $16,245 for the Pop base model and $19,745 for the Lounge and 1975 Retro Edition, prices have gone up from the previous years' editions as a result of the new turbo engine. Although there are many in the subcompact segment, few compete directly with the pint-sized 500, with the closest competition in the form of the larger Honda Fit. In an era where small cars are a dying breed, does the Fiat 500 have what it takes to live on?
Fiat has chosen to rely on the retro Italian styling of the 500 as its core competitive advantage and has floundered to offer much else. For 2019, the hatchback is given a 'Turbo' badge to go along with the all-turbo engine line-up, 16-inch wheels replacing the previous model's 15-inch wheels, body-color front and rear fascias, and what Fiat deems to be a sport-tuned suspension and exhaust system. There are a few new Fiat 500 interior and exterior colors included for the 2019 model and there is now a mandatory standard review camera. Also new is a 1975 Edition Fiat 500 trim added to the MY19 line-up which adds retro styling cues to the exterior and interior.
The retro-modern 500 preserves its iconic classic Italian styling, the front and back fascias receive some updated styling with matching body-coloring. The front of the Fiat is equipped with foglights for 2019, and a larger front fascia grille is utilized to better ventilate the twin intercoolers featured in the turbocharged engine. A "Turbo" badge is now featured below the rear window on the right side of the tailgate, the Fiat now also receives 16-inch aluminum wheels while the designs vary per trim, with the 1975 Edition getting retro hub-cap design items. The more luxurious Lounge trim adds to the above with chrome exterior trim and a fixed glass roof, while the 1975 Retro Edition receives special colors, badging and styling cues for a vintage aesthetic. The available Urbana package adds a range of dark exterior details.
At 139.6 inches in length and with a width of 64.1 inches, the 500 is one of the most compact two-door hatchbacks on the market and one of the only remaining minicars. The Fiat is extremely light, the manual transmission model tipping the scales at only 2,366 lbs. The Fiat rides on a 90.6-inch wheelbase and stands at a height of 59.8 inches with a ground clearance of 4.5 inches. Diminutive proportions place the 500 close in size to the now-defunct Smart ForTwo, while a tight turning circle is well-suited to city driving.
For the Pop and Lounge trims the color palette comprises 11 options including Bianco White Ice, Brillante Red, Celeste Blu, Colosseo Gray, Luminosa Orange, Mezzanotte Blue Pearl, Oliva Green Pearl, Perla White Tri-Coat, and Vesuvio Black Pearl. The Celeste Blu paint job complements the 500's retro style and endearing undertones on standard trims, while the 1957 Retro Edition trim has three specific color options of Celeste Blu, Verde Chiaro, and Bianco White Ice.
The inner-city optimized Fiat 500 produces 135 hp and 150 lb-ft from its turbocharged 1.4-liter Multi-Air four-cylinder engine, dispatched to the front-wheel-drive drivetrain. With the five-speed manual gearbox, the 500 gets from 0-60 mph in nine seconds, slower than the Honda Fit despite the turbo-power at hand. The Italian hatchback makes for a great city explorer but demonstrates inefficiency on highways and discomfort over long distance journeys. The Fiat's competition in the subcompact hatchback division only offers FWD models, of which most garner more power than the Fiat. If it's real performance you're in search of, however, the Abarth trim offers hot-hatch power in a micro-sized package.
All Fiat 500 trims harness 135 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque derived from a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Power is diverted through the standard five-speed manual transmission to the front wheels. There is an optional six-speed automatic transmission available, however it delivers sluggish, jerky shift changes. The new turbo engine in the 500 has presented major improvements in passing power and overall acceleration and as a plus, gives the hatchback a louder, grumbling soundtrack through a standard sports exhaust. It does, however, present a bit of turbo lag as the turbocharger spools up, delaying acceleration but quickly getting up to speed thereafter.
Compared to the competition the Fiat matches up only in torque, which makes it great for maneuverability on tight city roads, but its lack of power has the little hatchback struggling to reach highway speeds with its rivals providing zippier and more comfortable performance in this regard. The manual five-speed gearbox is marginally better than the six-speed automatic option, delivering a little more power, managing boost better, and avoiding the jerky shift changes of the automatic.
The Fiat 500 has never presented itself as a sporty hatchback, it has always been known as the cheeky, European-styled, cosmopolitan mobile. The perfect car for the fashionable city slicker looking to get from point A to point B in a practical-but-fun car that looks snazzy.
Even with the turbo engine, it's certainly no sporty affair. There is wheel spin experienced with a full-throttle startup, followed by a bout of turbo lag with acceleration. The steering and clutch are light, however the steering doesn't communicate road feel very well. The throttle is sluggish and demands a whole lot of revs to keep the engine from losing power.
Designed for the city streets, the 500 offers suitable handling and maneuverability for getting around tight bendy roads and high traffic areas with ease. Taking turns is slow though, as the car feels tall and top heavy around bends which gives the driver little confidence with the amount of body roll felt. The apparently sport-tuned suspension is tight and the 16-inch wheels don't do the small hatchback any favors, allowing bumps and abrasions to be felt right through the cabin making for uncomfortably rough rides. On rougher surfaces and at highway speeds there's a lot of noise intrusion and harshness, while at any speed, large bumps send the short wheelbase on what feels like a mountainous excursion.
Standard with the Fiat is a sports-mode option which unleashes the full capabilities of the turbo engine by livening throttle response, firming up the steering and optimizing engine calibrations to further improve the experience, especially useful when driving on bendy roads, but admittedly not changing the car's city-slicker demeanor all too much.
For a small, low-powered turbocharged hatchback the Fiat 500 isn't particularly economical. The Fiat geared up with the five-speed manual transmission earns EPA estimates of 28/33/30 mpg in the city/highways/combined EPA cycles, whereas the six-speed automatic is marginally lower at 24/32/27 mpg respectively. The fuel tank has a capacity of 10.5 gallons and takes only premium fuel to cater to the new turbocharged engine. With these figures, the manual 500 can get up to 315 miles on a full tank of gas with mixed driving styles, with the automatic maxing out at 283.5 miles. The base LX model Honda Fit dominates with class-leading economy figures of 33/40/36 mpg on the city/highway/combined EPA cycles with the CVT-transmission equipped.
The Fiat 500's famed Italian retro styling and minimalist layout make for an attractive looking interior, although the low-quality materials used within the cabin are a disappointment. The small hatchback has four seats, the front comes across reasonably roomie but leaves little legroom in the back, and with less headroom than the front, may prove too cramped for taller adults, or any adults at all for that matter. The front seats are manually height adjustable and the leather-wrapped steering wheel is tilt-adjustable for height only, forcing a taller driver to push the driver's seat forward in order to reach the wheel properly. There is a decent amount of storage space within the cabin, but trunk space is limited, though the rear seats can be dropped to expand storage space when required.
The two-door hatchback seats four occupants in moderate comfort. There is a good amount of head- and legroom for the driver and front passenger but space is stolen from the back seats. The lack of passenger space is a major setback for the Fiat in relation to its class rivals, with limited headroom and next to no legroom when the front seats are occupied by adults. The back seats are 50/50 split foldable, useful when needing to expand trunk volume, which is a better use of their existence. Both seating and steering have limited adjustability making positioning behind the wheel and pedals a tough task. Despite the diminutive size of the 500, short drivers will struggle to find a comfortable position within reach of the steering wheel and pedals. Visibility from the driver's position is good with the driver seated high and in the upright position, but the thin seats don't provide much support and the confined cabin makes for uncomfortable longer journeys.
There are two available two-tone cloth interior color schemes standard on the Pop trim, Avorio (Ivory) and Nero and Grigio (black and gray) with red headrests finished with a 500 badge embossed on the seatback. Four leather trim options are available in the Lounge trim, with color options comprising Marrone (brown), Nero (black), Rosso (red), and Avorio (ivory). The 1957 Edition gets Avorio interior accents and standard Maronne leather seating with Avorio headrests and a color-coordinated leather steering wheel and shift-lever boot. The 500 as standard features a leather-wrapped steering wheel and urethane shifter, while the body-color dashboard enriches the cabin's levels of customization. Hard-touch plastic is used for most of the interior including the dashboard and door panels which, along with the chrome door handles, feel cheap.
The small size of the Fiat and style focused design limit practically and functionality for this hatchback. With the foldable rear seats down the Fiat's 9.5 cubic feet of space in the trunk expands to 30.1 cubic feet, enough space for a load of monthly grocery shopping for two people. There is no spare tire, however, simply due to a lack of space in the trunk.
The 500's interior storage compartments are minimal, with shallow door pockets and cramped cupholders, although there is a moderately spacious glovebox. There are two passenger seatback map pockets behind the front seats, two front cupholders and two rear floor mounted cupholders which can double up as mini storage consoles.
Standard features in the Fiat are commonplace, the list comprising keyless locking and unlocking, power windows with a one-touch-down feature, power door locks, leather-wrapped tilt-adjustable steering wheel with radio controls, hill-start assist, cruise control, and air conditioning. Also standard with the setup is the federally mandated rearview camera, the height adjustable driver's seat and the passenger seat which can be equipped with heated functionality. The Lounge and 1957 Retro Edition trims come standard with a fixed glass roof, rear parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic climate control, heated front seats and leather upholstery. There is also the option of a roof rack or a power sunroof on any of the trims.
Fiat has included basic connectivity and infotainment systems in the 500, featuring a five-inch touchscreen incorporating Fiat Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment interface and a six-speaker Alpine audio system. Available functionality includes SiriusXM satellite radio with a one-year trial subscription. Unfortunately Fiat doesn't include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality with this system. There is Bluetooth and voice control capabilities, and an auxiliary audio input along with two USB ports for device integration and charging. Auxiliary control buttons are featured on the steering wheel.
Optional infotainment features include a navigation and satellite package and a Beats premium audio system package with seven speakers including an eight-inch subwoofer.
The 500 received a class average score in predicted reliability of three out of five by J.D. Power. This makes the 2019 Fiat a moderately more reliable car than its predecessors. The 500 comes with a four-year/50,000-mile basic and powertrain warranty as well as four-year complimentary roadside assistance.
There have been no complaints recorded and no recalls for the 2019 Fiat 500, with the last 500 recall affecting 2016 year model vehicles.
The Fiat 500 scores generally high scores from safety ratings agencies, with the IIHS awarding best available scores of Good in most metrics, but it notably scored Poor in the small front overlap test. The NHTSA has only performed limited crash tests on the 500, evaluating the frontal crash and rollover resistance ratings and scoring them four stars. No overall rating has been established.
The 500 features the bare basics in safety features and technology, the key components include electronic stability control, a now-standard rearview camera, tire specific pressure monitoring display, and hill start assist which keeps the brakes engaged without a foot on the pedal to prevent the car rolling back on inclined surfaces. Airbags include advanced multistage front airbags, a driver inflatable knee-bolster airbag, supplemental front seat-mounted side, and side-curtain front airbags. Rear parking sensors are equipped to the Lounge trim.
The Fiat 500 is a good-looking hatchback with its cheeky Italian style, nostalgic design and retro feel, but has elements of cheap interior materials. Its compact nature makes it exemplary for city driving, and its nimble handling is handy in maneuvering around traffic and parking easily. Unfortunately, it's those factors that lend to the 500's cramped passenger space and limited storage capacity. The Fiat 500's direct rivals offer more overall, and at more affordable prices than this boutique hatch. The four-door Honda Fit dominates the division in spaciousness and comfort, and has earned above average safety rankings for its class, but does admittedly occupy a larger vehicle segment. Staying with two-door alternatives, the Mini Cooper hardtop delivers more power than the Fiat along with the compact size advantages and agile handling. The Fiat 500 is no practical or functional performer, but if you drive alone the majority of the time and your priority is getting from spot to spot with ease and in irrefutable style, then the Fiat 500 is your best option in the category.
Fiat presents the 500 with a marginally increased price for 2019 as a result of the newly added turbocharged engine. With the manual transmission, the base Pop 500 model starts off with a base MSRP of $16,245, while the midrange Lounge, as well as the 1957 Retro Edition, starts at an MSRP of $19,745. An optional six-speed automatic transmission can be selected at an extra $995. All prices are excluding tax, registration, licensing, and the $1,495 destination charge.
The 500 range comprises of three trims: the Pop, Lounge and 1957 Retro Edition.
Performance wise all the Fiat 500 trims are identical, they share the same 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine diverting power to the front wheels through either the standard five-speed manual gearbox or optional six-speed automatic. All models also come standard with 16-inch wheels, the premium seven-inch color cluster display, leather-wrapped tilt-adjustable steering wheel with radio controls, hill-start assist, cruise control, air conditioning, a rearview camera, and height adjustable front seats.
The Lounge trim is based on the Pop, but with the addition of a fixed glass roof, chrome exterior trim, rear parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic climate control, heated front seats, and leather upholstery.
The 1957 Retro Edition comes standard with retro-brown leather seats and retro body-colored wheels.
The Pop and Lounge trim have access to the 11 exterior colors whereas the 1957 Retro Edition receives three retro colors to suit its vintage look and feel.
1.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
1.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
1.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
With the basic Fiat 500 Pop comes an array of additional packages and customizations. These include the $695 Urbana Appearance Package which features 16-inch hyper black aluminum wheels, Nero (black) trimmed lights, instrument panel black bezel, side sills ground effects, silver accent stitching, and sport cloth bucket seats.
The Equipment Package adds auto temperature control air conditioning and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a microphone for hands-free phone and voice command at an additional $495, all of which comes standard with the Lounge and Retro trims.
For an extra $295 the Pop can be given black, red or white roof and mirror caps. All trims have access to an Adventure Package, which provides an accessory receiver-hitch and roof rack by Mopar for an extra $435.
The $695 Navigation and Satellite Package provides GPS navigation and SiriusXM satellite with one-year subscription.
The base trim Fiat 500 Pop comes with a good variety of standard features but lacks in overall comfort, which is where the Lounge and Retro come into consideration. With the two midrange trims sharing mostly similar interior and exterior features, other than some visual differences, these trims should be the options to choose from. They mitigate some of the interior discomforts found in the Pop with heated front leather seats and features that the Pop only has access to via packages at additional costs, all with only a marginally higher price tag.
Making a decision here will come down to taste and aesthetics, and considering the 1957 Retro Editions styling and design focus, may place it at the top of the scoreboard in terms of looks.
The Honda Fit is top of its class in the subcompact hatchback class. It seats five occupants and comfortably so, whereas the Fiat barely seats four with its cramped rear cabin. The Honda also offers far more storage capacity with its larger trunk and magic back seats that offer a range of configurations geared towards practicality and storage. The Fiat delivers slightly more power than the Honda's 130 horsepower but is again beaten in terms of fuel economy with the Honda also leading in its class. Objectively, the Fiat may offer a fun, funky and aesthetically pleasing hatchback compared to the less-likable MPV-ish styling of the Honda. The Honda Fit is simply a superior hatchback, offering more benefits and advantages over the Fiat 500 and at a similar price.
The 2019 Mini Cooper is the chief two-door rival to the Fiat 500, also featuring retro-European styling and with availability as a hardtop or convertible. The two rivals also have disadvantages in common, particularly with the cramped back seats and limited storage space. The Mini Cooper gains a lead over the Fiat in its premium quality cabin and use of high-end materials, and in its superior driving dynamics which the 500 severely lacks in. Features and technology are also superior in the Mini Cooper offering Apple CarPlay, an 8.8-inch touchscreen, wireless device charging, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. And with a high predicted reliability score, good economy estimates and a cost price of only about $5,000 more, the Mini Cooper proves the best buy of the two.