The 2018 FIAT 500 doesn’t just evoke the charming little Cinquecento of the 1950s, but it represents a car that’s been around now for so long without a redesign that it’s almost a classic itself. Forever cute and oozing with Italian character, the 500 maintains its appeal for those who don’t want to sacrifice style just because they don’t have a lot of money to spend on a new car. It should be just as appealing in that regard today as it was when it first arrived on the scene.
However, the fact remains that arrival occurred way back in 2012, and it was actually sold in Europe several years before that. As such, the 500 is one of the oldest cars on the market, meaning its features list is a bit thin, its safety ratings are only so-so, and some of its controls are behind the times. Its fuel economy is also comparatively poor for such a small car, even if that’s partly the result of a big, turbocharged power increase for 2018.
That’s not to mention the inherent issues of its diminutive size — for the same money, you can get a bigger, more functional and comfortable car. Of course, there’s no chance it’ll be as cute and oozing with as much character.
What’s New for 2018?
Every FIAT 500 now comes with a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, significantly improving performance. The Pop and Lounge trims also get upgraded brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch wheels, some exterior tweaks and a standard backup camera. Those who buy the Abarth now get a 1-day session at the Bondurant high-performance driving school.
What We Like
Fun styling inside and out; lots of character for a low price; available quasi-convertible roof; zesty Abarth model
What We Don’t
Low fuel economy for a small car; surpassed in most functional ways by more recently redesigned rivals; limited rear headroom; steering wheel doesn’t telescope
The 500 offers two engines for 2018. The Pop and Lounge models use a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 135 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. With the standard 5-speed manual, it returns 28 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in combined driving. The optional 6-speed automatic drops those figures to 24 mpg city, 32 mpg hwy and 27 mpg combined. This is unremarkable for such a small car.
The 500 Abarth uses a turbocharged version of the same engine good for 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque with the standard 5-speed manual. It produces 157 hp and 183 lb-ft with the 6-speed automatic. It actually gets the same fuel economy as the Pop and Lounge.
Standard Features & Options
The FIAT 500 is offered with two body styles, a hatchback and a convertible called the 500c. Both are available in Pop, Lounge and Abarth trim levels.
The 500 Pop ($16,200) comes standard with 16-in alloy wheels, fog lights, full power accessories, heated mirrors, a backup camera, cruise control, air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped tilt-only steering wheel, cloth upholstery, FIAT-Chrysler’s 5-in Uconnect touchscreen interface, Bluetooth, two USB ports, an auxiliary audio jack and a 6-speaker Alpine audio system. The 500c adds a wind deflector and rear parking sensors.
The 500 Lounge ($19,700) adds fog lights, a glass roof (coupe), rear parking sensors, automatic climate control, heated front seats, leather upholstery, upgraded interior and exterior trim, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and satellite radio.
The 500 Abarth ($20,500) boasts a more powerful engine, a snorty exhaust, a sport-tuned suspension, better brakes, special styling elements, cloth-upholstered sport seats and a sport-tuned steering wheel. It loses the Lounge’s glass roof. Buyers also get a 1-day session at the Bondurant high-performance driving school. You can opt for 17-in wheels, leather upholstery and a Beats audio system.
A sunroof can be added to coupe models. A navigation system can also be added to the Lounge and Abarth as a separate option, or to the Pop as part of a package that also includes satellite radio. The Popular Equipment group adds to the Pop and Abarth the Lounge’s dual-zone climate control and auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The 2018 FIAT 500 comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, a backup camera and seven airbags — front, front-side, driver-knee and full-length side-curtain. There are no accident avoidance tech features available.
In government crash testing, the 500 received four stars out of five overall, a rating that consists of four stars in the 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 for Highway Safety, the 500 earned Good ratings in four of the agency’s five tests and a Poor rating in the small-overlap front crash test (common among cars that haven’t been redesigned in a while).
Behind the Wheel
Fuel economy may have suffered, but the 500’s move to turbo-only engines for 2018 corrects its prior issue with glacial acceleration. It has way more horsepower now, and it really makes a difference. Of course, it remains nimble and easily handles 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. Its short wheelbase also equates to a choppy highway ride, which probably won’t be improved by the sport-tuned suspension added as standard equipment for 2018.
The Abarth returns basically unchanged for 2018, meaning it remains a total goofy riot to drive, complete with a boisterous exhaust that bellows and snorts like a much bigger, meaner car.
Inside, the quirks continue with a stylish cabin that’s quite clearly a more special environment than those found in subcompact cars of a similar price. FIAT has also infused the 500 in recent years with a more up-to-date Chrysler touchscreen, which has improved functionality considerably. Space-wise, this is quite obviously a small car, but the front seat should provide more than enough space for even tall drivers, so long as you avoid the optional sunroof. However, all passengers in back should feel squished — not necessarily because of legroom, as the tall seat is actually surprisingly good in that regard, but because of a negligible amount of headroom.
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 the conventional side pillars. It’s more like an enormous cloth sunroof 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
2018 Honda Fit — No, it isn’t as stylish as the 500. But for about the same money, it’s better built, better equipped, more powerful, more efficient, more reliable and exponentially larger inside. Your heart may be saying "500!" but your head will be saying "Fit."
2018 Volkswagen Beetle — The latest Beetle is an intriguing mix of German engineering and adventurous styling. A worthy FIAT rival for drivers who can stretch their budgets (and with much more space, it’ll let you stretch your legs).
2018 FIAT 500X — Yes, it costs more, but it’s also bigger and more recently redesigned, while providing much of the same cutesy FIAT vibe.
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. Yet, with the influx of power for 2018, the Pop is an excellent deal that boasts just about everything you may need thanks to Bluetooth, a USB port and even a leather-wrapped wheel.