- Turbo models add fun
- Rev-happy engines
- An exterior like no other mini
- Gas mileage still not stellar
- It's not as quick as you might hope
- Short, high seats limit comfort and headroom
The Fiat 500 is one of the most stylish ways to choose a small car today, and the Abarth and Turbo models add more excitement for the driver.
The 2015 Fiat 500 minicar blends practical fun and quirky cuteness, each quality chosen in just the right amount to win over urban commuters as well as those who want a small but distinctive second or third car. It's an excellent city car for tiny parking places—and its personality can change from fuel-efficient to surprisingly sporty or entirely electric, depending on model chosen. All share a high enjoyment factor; the Fiat 500 is a car that makes owners and onlookers alike smile.
We're particularly fond of the Abarth editions, which have picked up the nickname "Hellrat" (in homage to the new 707-hp "Hellcat" versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger). The 500 Cabrio offers open-air runabout style without the hassle of putting down a full cloth top, and the 500e is an amazingly perky and sweet-handling electric car that's regrettably unavailable to drivers outside California.
We're not fond, however, of the 500's minuscule rear-seat space, the odd ergonomics of the driver's seat, and its low ratings on crash-safety tests.
The pert, upright styling renders the 500 in simple, yet somehow characterful lines (and provides lots of chances for customization), making the Fiat 500 look like no other minicar. Its very small footprint and almost toy-like dimensions have already carved out an impression of the 500 for most Americans who've seen one. 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.
The Fiat 500 maxes out its interior space within its particularly small footprint, but the passenger package isn't nearly as roomy as a Ford Fiesta, or even a MINI Cooper. 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 a real back seat, we recommend the 2015 Fiat 500L, which is covered by a different review. Perhaps confusingly, the 500L is almost entirely a different car, and actually built on a different platform.
The 500 is engaging to drive by almost any measure. 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. Throughout the lineup, you now have a choice between an automatic transmission or manual gearbox. Our driving time has exclusively been spent in manual versions, so far; but for 2015 the 500 Turbo, Abarth, and Abarth Cabrio models all gain the option of a six-speed automatic transmission.
For 2015, a new, 7-inch LCD display replaces the previous instrument cluster in every model except for the base Pop 500, where the display is optional. There are again three main variants: 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. 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.