New Car Review

2019 Fiat 500: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by AutoTrader September 2018

If you are looking for something totally up-to-date, the 2019 Fiat 500 may not be your first choice. Calling it long in the tooth is being generous. After already being available in Europe for a few seasons, Fiat brought it to U.S. showrooms in 2012. It hasn't benefited from a full-blown redesign since, but that doesn't make much of a difference in terms of actual styling. It is what it is, and other than maybe coming out of a redesign a little larger, it's doubtful its looks would be much changed in a makeover. Gimmick cars don't change much -- we give you the Mini Cooper and the Volkswagen Beetle.

Other than good fuel economy, we shouldn't expect too much from the 500. It's an affordable car targeting the budget-minded. It has some flair, an Italian personality and, particularly in its Abarth guise, is fun to drive. You won't find any of those pesky driver-assist/safety technologies like lane-keeping assist or emergency braking. It's about affordable transportation. Only its lackluster fuel-economy numbers provide a real caveat when recommending it as a wallet-friendly driver.

What's New for 2018?

Fiat made several late-season changes for 2018, like a standard backup camera, 16-inch wheels, a performance braking system, sport-tuned suspension and so forth. There are no additional upgrades specifically for 2019.

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

How Much?

$17,540–$21,790

Fuel Economy

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/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. Prices reflect the $1,295 factory delivery charge.

The 500 Pop ($17,540) 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, 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 ($21,040) 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 ($21,790) 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.

Safety

The 2019 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 in 2018 corrected 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.

The Abarth returns basically unchanged for 2019, 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

2019 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 Cooper 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.

Autotrader's Advice

There's no doubt we'd take an Abarth, and we'd order ours in white with the white-painted alloy wheels. But 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.

Find a Fiat 500 for sale

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2019 Fiat 500: New Car Review - Autotrader