2014 FIAT 500 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 15, 2014

If you're willing to go small, the 2014 Fiat 500 is one of the most stylish ways to do it—and the Abarth and Turbo add just the right 'edge' to the personality.

The Fiat 500 is exactly what the brand needed to relaunch in the U.S.  It's distinctive, memorable, cute, and far from a typical small car. As one of the smallest models on the market, the 2014 Fiat 500 remains an icon of style and design; a great city car for tight spaces; and a surprisingly sporty car at some times or a fuel-efficient one at others.

In its very small footprint and almost toylike dimensions, the Fiat 500 has likely already carved out an impression to most Americans who've seen one. With that pert, upright styling, done in simple, yet somehow characterful lines, the Fiat 500 looks like no other. On the outside it manages to pull off short, tall hatchback proportions without looking awkward; and inside, it pulls off high style with relatively low-cost materials--without necessarily looking it.

Better yet, the 500 is engaging to drive by almost any measure, especially if you're used to a toaster-like, small-car-as-appliance driving experience. Base cars get a 101-horsepower engine that's not quite as peppy or perky as you'd expect in something with the 500's design; but the Turbo models and their 135-hp engine are the ones that make good on the promises of the exterior. Above that, it's the 160-horsepower Abarth that actually feels truly sporty, especially in the first three gears of this manual-transmission-only model. The Abarth also supplements that impression with an especially raucous exhaust note. As you work up the power range, you also work up to more sporty visual cues and more firmly tuned suspensions. Even in the sporty Abarth, however, ride quality is quite good for a lightweight, short-wheelbase car.

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The Fiat 500 maxes out its interior space within its particularly small footprint, but the passenger package isn't quite as roomy as a Ford Fiesta, or even a MINI Cooper. Back seats are very, very close to the front seats, and many will simply dismiss them as parcel shelves. Behind the rear seats, there's an equally small cargo space. Seats are well-formed, but they're a bit on the short and firm side and we wish they didn't push up so high, limiting headroom. For those who miss the real back seat, we recommend the 2014 Fiat 500L, which is covered by a different review. Perhaps confusingly, the 500L is almost entirely a different car, and actually build on a different platform than the 500.

While we know that the 2014 Fiat 500 will be mostly carry-over, we'll update this review with exact model details as they're announced. The 2014 Fiat 500 is again expected to be offered in three major variants, each with their own flavors: the 500, the 500C, and the 500 Abarth. Base 500 Pop models include a five-speed manual transmission, 15-inch wheels, air conditioning, a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack, power windows/locks/mirrors, and cruise control. With Sport models you get larger 16-inch wheels, a fixed glass roof, and a sport-tuned suspension and sport-bolstered seats. There's also special side cladding and painted brake calipers. Fiat 500 Sport models revert to 15-inch wheels and hang on to the glass roof but add a six-speed automatic and rear park assist, along with satellite radio, premium speakers and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

There are so many choices for customization, and we expect these to get even more extensive for 2014. With a long list of exterior colors, different seat color and materials options, as well as accessories, the chances of seeing the same 500 as yours out on the street are very low.

7

2014 FIAT 500

Styling

The 2014 Fiat 500 is a trend-setter, and it shows that you can pack a lot of personality and flair in a very small package.

The 2014 Fiat 500 looks like no other, with its pert, upright styling, punctuated with simple, yet somehow characterful lines. On the outside it manages to pull off short, tall hatchback proportions without looking awkward; and inside, it pulls off high style with relatively low-cost materials--without necessarily looking it.

Though it's tall and somewhat upright by nature, the Fiat 500 somehow adds up to something svelte. The lower third of the shape manages to (mostly) hide the extra bulk needed for modern safety; meanwhile the combination of cues including the button-like headlamps, upward-sloping sides, forward-sloping rear glass, and mustache bar in front, altogether results in a thoroughly modern design that also builts on the essence of the classic Cinquecento shape.

Fiat 500 Convertible models succumb to more of a bathtub look--it's inevitable in short drop-tops. Yet the 500C Convertible manages to preserve the same roofline, because only the uppermost roof portion has retractable fabric.

Just as in the MINI Cooper, the Fiat 500 has an interior that could be seen as a little gimmicky or overstyled. But we think that the controls and displays, in contrast to the MINI's chaotic layout, make more sense and are more intuitive: They're simple concentric gauges on the 500, yet layers of color and detail draw your hand to touch them and your eyes to linger on them. And we like how the interior of the 500 has a playfulness that veers in whichever direction you want: sexy and attention-getting, or more of a Hollywood Regency style.

Want a little Art Deco, or some mid-century mod? There's lots of customization possibility as well, with an enormous range of colors and trim can be splashed on the 500's Mona Lisa-sized canvas.

7

2014 FIAT 500

Performance

Base 2014 Fiat 500 models aren't quick, but 500T and Abarth models have some bite.

By most measures, the Fiat 500 is engaging to drive--especially if you're used to a toaster-like, small-car-as-appliance driving experience.

The only exception is acceleration at the base end of the lineup. Entry models get a 101-horsepower engine that's not quite as peppy or perky as you'd expect in something with the 500's design; but the Turbo models and their 135-hp engine are the ones that make good on the promises of the exterior.

For the base engine, peak power doesn't arrive until 6,000 rpm. And it's happy to run up to redline in each and every gear. There's a lively rasp as it rushes over 3000 rpm, and it doesn't get too harsh as it rises higher through the rev range. That's not to imply the 500, in this configuration, is "fast"--it's likely barely under 10 seconds in the 0-60 mph run, but pleasing to wring through the paces. It's flexible and lively enough, but with two aboard, you'd be ill advised to try passing uphill.

Step into the Fiat 500 Turbo, however, and the 35 percent boost in power is readily apparent, while the 160-horsepower Abarth actually feels sporty, especially in the first three gears. As you work up the power range, you also work up to more sporty visual cues and more firmly tuned suspensions. Even in the sporty Abarth, however, ride quality is quite good for a lightweight, short-wheelbase car.

Above that, it's the 160-horsepower Abarth that actually feels truly sporty, especially in the first three gears of this manual-transmission-only model. The Abarth also supplements that impression with an especially raucous exhaust note.

Throughout most of the lineup (except the Abarth), you have a choice between an automatic transmission or manual gearbox; our driving time has exclusively been spent in manual versions, so we're still wondering about automatic-transmission drivability in this car. But with the five-speed manual, the shifter action is light and precise enough, although the limited foot space doesn't mate up with the clutch pedal's long stroke and high uptake point. A six-speed automatic is an option in all but the Abarth, and it comes with a Sport button that tightens up shift points and quickens the throttle feel.

While the simple versions of the 500 are a bit short on power, they bubble over with the same variety of enthusiasm you'll find in the frisky Ford Fiesta. And as you work up the power range, you also work up to more sporty visual cues and more firmly tuned suspensions. Even in the sporty Abarth, however, ride quality is quite good for a lightweight, short-wheelbase car.

And even with the larger 16-inch wheels and stiffer suspension in the Sport, the 500 masks a lot of the ride harshness that comes with anything riding atop a wheelbase this short (90.6 inches, like the old Honda CRX). Small tires and a torsion beam rear axle do make themselves known in tricky situations, although the Abarth is somewhat more confident all around thanks to slightly more tire contact patch, while its suspension upgrades increase nimbleness by limiting body roll. The 500's electric power steering has a meaty bite, and can feel almost like unassisted steering at times, though it's never as direct and nuanced.

6

2014 FIAT 500

Comfort & Quality

There's a comfy enough ride in all versions of the Fiat 500, but passenger and cargo space are indeed tight.

Even in base 2014 Fiat 500 form, this car is no anechoic chamber. That small-animal pitch raised underhood weaves itself into the steady tire and wind noise the 500 accrues as it picks up speed.

There's also no distorting that this is one of the smallest cars on the market; it's not nearly as spacious as a Ford Fiesta, for instance, and if you're of a typically American size, don't even think of trying to sit in the back seat.

The best daily use for those back seats is as a parcel shelf, the seatbacks in their lowered position. If you absolutely must, however, the rear seats can, technically, hold two smallish humans. For a short time.

Behind the rear seats, there's an equally small cargo space. The "500" figured hatch latch opens onto a space that's so compact--just 9.5 cubic feet--and oddly shaped that you're only really equipped for transporting scale models of pyramids and obelisks.

Fortunately, the front seats are significantly more spacious, though there are still compromises for the 500's sub-compact form factor. The seat position places the driver unnaturally high in the cabin, limiting headroom for taller drivers when the optional sunroof or glass roof is equipped. Shoulder, hip, and knee room are also more limited than you'd expect, or than you'd find in other small hatchbacks.

Once you're used to the 500's cramped cockpit, the colorful trim lightens the mood and the seats earn valuable feel-good points--although they're a bit too flat and stool-like for some tastes. And if you end up using the driver-side armrest from the passenger seat, you won't feel any more crowded than in the average coach-class 757, now, will you?

There's a fair amount of road noise, no matter what; and in the Abarth, lots of extra engine noise to go with it; the note is downright raspy, throaty and, when you're really on it, mean. In cruising it can be a bit more than you might like for conversation, but it's not loud enough to be annoying. And the bright side of it is that the cabin's so small, you're always very close to your passengers.

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2014 FIAT 500

Safety

Safety ratings are quite good for the Fiat 500; but they're not top-tier all around.

Of course, the size and weight of the 2014 Fiat 500 are safety considerations. In a land of heavy-duty pickups and plus-sized crossovers that look down on the 500, they have to be. Yet you should also consider that the 500 is especially responsive and maneuverable--and that Fiat has gone out of its way to fit in safety technology.

So far, the Fiat 500 has earned respectable (although not top-tier) results in U.S. crash-test programs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has rated it four stars overall, as well as four stars for frontal crash and rollover resistance, although it earned five stars for side impact. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), on the other hand, has given the 500 top 'good' scores in most areas of testing, but it received a worrisome 'poor' rating in the new small overlap frontal test.

The 500c Convertible and Abarth performance model have not yet been crash tested by either agency.

Like any modern car, the Fiat 500 offers standard dual front, side and curtain airbags; it also includes a driver knee airbag. And in addition to the anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, there's a hill-hold feature that's nifty in the city.

As for top-tier active-safety systems (things like lane-departure warning or adaptive cruise control), you won't find those in the Fiat 500.

8

2014 FIAT 500

Features

The Fiat 500 isn't the most feature-packed; but it's low-priced and there's plenty of room for customization.

The 2014 Fiat 500 is again expected to be offered in three major variants, each with their own flavors: the 500, the 500C, and the 500 Abarth.

The base Fiat 500 Pop sports the five-speed manual transmission, 15-inch wheels, air conditioning, a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack, power windows/locks/mirrors, and cruise control. The 500 Sport sizes up to 16-inch wheels, adds a fixed glass roof, and gets a sport-tuned suspension and sport-bolstered seats. It also wears specific side cladding and a spoiler on its hatchback, even painted brake calipers. On the Sport, Fiat includes standard Bluetooth and USB hardware.

Priced above that, the 500 Lounge moves back down to 500 Pop spec; it reverts to 15-inch wheels and hangs on to the glass roof, although it adds the six-speed automatic and rear park assist, along with satellite radio, premium speakers and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Moving to the Fiat 500c, you get, naturally, a retractable soft top roof. Unlike other convertibles, however, the 500c's roof retracts just the center section, leaving the metal sides and pillars of the standard 500. It's a unique arrangement, and a nod to the 500 cabrios of the past. The 500c is offered in Pop and Lounge variants, with the same equipment as standard coupe versions.

The major options on the Pop models include the Bluetooth system and Bose speakers; on the Sport, automatic climate control and satellite radio are available. The Lounge editions can be fitted with a TomTom navigation system that can be mounted on a dash bracket; leather seats with heating and rear parking sensors are available, too. There's also a new Beats by Dr. Dre premium audio system.

The 500T slots between the 500 Abarth and the standard 500, it gets a 135-horsepower turbocharged engine, some sportier exterior details, and a "sport influenced" interior.

With the Fiat 500 Abarth, this little hatchback becomes a performance car and includes a much more potent 160-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir four-cylinder engine, and a range of bodywork and interior cues to suit it. On the equipment side, the Abarth comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission, performance cloth seats, 16x6.5-inch wheels, and Abarth logos inside and out.

Once you've picked the model you'll use as your canvas, there are all kinds of choices for customization: 15 exterior colors, 15 different seat color and materials options, and 50 accessories. There are so many choices for customization, and they've become even more extensive for 2014, adding new Avorio (ivory) interior trim and a new Hyper Nero (black) 16-inch wheel option With a long list of exterior colors, different seat color and materials options, as well as accessories, the chances of seeing the same 500 as yours out on the street are very, very low.

8

2014 FIAT 500

Fuel Economy

The Fiat 500 family gets good mileage; but considering its size and weight, shouldn't it?

The 2014 Fiat 500 is one of the most fuel-efficient non-electrified models on the U.S. market; but if you're accustomed to fuel-efficient small cars, it might not prove as miserly on fuel as you might think. 

The most efficient model is the base 500 equipped with the five-speed manual transmission, earning an EPA-estimated 31 mpg city and 40 highway. The optional six-speed automatic drops those figures to 27 mpg and 34 mpg, respectively.

If you go for the 500 Abarth, you gain 60 horsepower and a turbocharger, but lose only a bit of efficiency: it rates 28/34 mpg.

Those are good figures, for the most part; but considering that mid-size hybrid sedans are beating this pint-sized mini at the pump, it's clear that there are some tradeoffs involved in keeping the price low and the driving attitude vivacious.

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January 31, 2015
For 2014 FIAT 500

2014 Fiat 500 Sport

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I love my Fiat 500, with "The Sport Package." Women all say "Its SO CUTE!," and I answer, "...and Sporty." I think that the Sport Package made a big performance and appearance difference. I live in San... + More »
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Styling 7.0
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