If you’re looking for information on a newer FIAT 500, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 FIAT 500 Review
By now, everyone is aware of the FIAT 500 — a small car primarily known for its unique looks and risque television ads. But the 2016 FIAT 500 offers a lot more than that, touting fuel-efficient powertrains, a modern interior and — in Turbo or Abarth guise — surprisingly impressive performance.
Originally available only as a hatchback and offered solely with its small 1.6-liter engine, the 500’s lineup has grown to include performance versions, an electric model and even a convertible, each designed to enhance the car’s appeal. The new models seem to have worked, as the 500 is now more popular than ever, and updates for 2016 will likely enhance the small car’s appeal even further.
What’s New for 2016?
The 500 makes two big changes for 2016. The most important is the addition of a new integrated 5-inch touchscreen, which finally replaces the old portable TomTom unit. The 500 also adds a new Easy trim level between the Pop and the Sport. See the 2016 FIAT 500 models for sale near you
What We Like
Good fuel economy; fun styling inside and out; available quasi-convertible roof; zesty available turbocharged power
What We Don’t
Limited rear headroom; steering wheel doesn’t telescope; base engine lacks punch; base model is less fun to drive than it looks
The 500 offers three engines. Base-level models use a 101-horsepower 1.4-liter 4-cylinder. With the standard 5-speed manual, it returns 31 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. The optional 6-speed automatic drops those figures to 27 mpg city/34 mpg hwy.
Next up is the 500 Turbo, which uses a turbocharged version of the base model’s engine that’s tuned to 135 hp. Now offered with manual or automatic transmissions, it boasts 28 mpg city/34 mpg hwy in manual guise or 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy with the newly available automatic.
Finally, the 500 Abarth uses an even more powerful 160-hp version of the same engine. It shares the Turbo’s fuel economy ratings of 28 mpg city/34 mpg hwy with the manual or 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy with the new automatic.
Standard Features & Options
The FIAT 500 is offered with two body styles, a hatchback and a convertible called the 500c, six trim levels and three engines. That may sound complicated, but it’s not as bad as it seems.
The 500 Pop ($18,200 hatchback; $21,000 convertible) is the base model. It offers 15-in steel wheels with hubcaps, power accessories such as locks, windows and mirrors, cruise control, split-folding rear seats, a trip computer, Bluetooth, auxiliary audio input and an iPod hookup.
New for 2016 is the 500 Easy ($18,600 hatchback; $22,000 convertible), which adds only alloy wheels, a 7-in driver information display and a 6-speaker Alpine stereo system.
Next up is the 500 Sport ($18,900), which is offered only as a hatchback. It adds 16-in alloy wheels and sporty items such as firmer seats, revised suspension, fog lights and a thicker steering wheel.
FIAT’s next trim is the 500 Turbo ($20,600), which again comes in hatchback guise only. It keeps all the sporty features from the Sport, but adds a 135-hp turbocharged version of the base-level 500’s engine. It also includes larger brakes, a roof spoiler and a leather-wrapped shifter.
Beyond the Turbo is the 500 Lounge ($21,100 hatchback; $25,900 convertible), which again comes as a hatchback or a convertible. It drops many of the Sport’s performance-oriented upgrades for high-end touches such as automatic climate control, smaller alloy wheels for an improved ride, a glass roof and satellite radio, but it keeps the Turbo’s turbocharged engine. Convertible models also include a power top and park-assist.
Topping the range is the high-performance 500 Abarth ($23,400 hatchback; $27,400 convertible). It also uses a turbocharged version of the base-level 500’s engine, but power is boosted from 135 hp to 160 hp. Other features include unique interior and exterior styling and available 17-in wheels.
The 500 offers many options — a Beats Premium Audio package with an upgraded sound system, a Comfort and Convenience package that adds heated seats and satellite radio to the Sport and Turbo and a Luxury Leather package on Lounge models that includes parking sensors, leather upholstery, heated front seats and auto-dimming mirrors.
The 2016 FIAT 500 comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and seven airbags — front, front-side, driver-knee and full-length side-curtain.
In government crash testing, the 500 received four overall stars out of five — a rating that consists of four stars in frontal crash and rollover tests, and five stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s side-impact assessment. In crash tests by the nonprofit Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, the 500 earned Good ratings in four of the agency’s five tests and a Poor rating in the final test. That last test, the small-overlap assessment, has caused trouble for many of today’s smaller cars.
Behind the Wheel
The base-level 500 may look like a barrel of laughs, but it drives mostly like the tall economy car it is. A car as tiny as the 500 is bound to feel nimble, of course, and sure enough this FIAT likes tight spaces, darting through the concrete jungle with sure-footed poise. Get it out on a real road, though, with real curves, and what you notice is the 500’s high center of gravity and leaden steering.
Things change, however, when you’re talking about the 500 Turbo or the Abarth, as these models boast excellent mid-range power and quickly dial things up in fun and enjoyment. The Abarth, especially, is a hoot to drive just about anywhere, though its optional 17-in alloy wheels are punishing on harsh road surfaces.
We should add that the 500c’s power-retracting convertible top is unconventional. Instead of constituting the entire roof, the 500c’s soft-top fills the open middle section between conventional side pillars. It’s more of a targa-style roof in the sense that you always have metal around you, even when the top is all the way down. The top includes three distinct positions and a glass rear window.
Other Cars to Consider
2016 smart fortwo — The tiny smart fortwo is newly redesigned with a more exciting driving experience and an even more unique appearance than the outgoing model. But it’s even smaller and less practical than the 500, so prepare for a tight squeeze.
2016 Volkswagen Beetle — The latest Beetle isn’t mini, but it is an intriguing mix of German engineering and adventurous styling. A worthy FIAT rival for drivers who can stretch their budgets.
Used Mini Cooper — The Mini is still the standard in this class for driver engagement, and its technology offerings are improving. Prices are steep, though, so you may have to consider a used model.
There’s no doubt we’d take an Abarth, and we’d order ours in white with the white-painted alloy wheels. If you don’t want all the power, consider a base-level 500 Pop — it’s an excellent deal and it boasts just about everything you may need thanks to Bluetooth, an iPod hookup and power accessories. Find a FIAT 500 for sale