2015 FIAT 500 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 16, 2015

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.

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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.

7

2015 FIAT 500

Styling

Despite its small size, the Fiat 500 packs in a lot of stylish lines and cockpit flair.

The 2015 Fiat 500 remains as charming as it has been since it debuted in the U.S.. It's exterior is made unique with pert, upright styling and character-filled lines, while its interior is constructed of relatively inexpensive materials that seem to look more upscale than they actually are.

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.

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.

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.

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7

2015 FIAT 500

Performance

Turbo and Abarth models have some bite, but the stock Fiat 500 has pint-sized acceleration and grip.

Amongst other econobox small cars, the Fiat 500 is relatively engaging to drive, especially in its turbo and Abarth guises. And the 500e battery-electric version delivers silent yet thrilling performance, especially at city speeds.

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.

As for 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. On automatics, a Sport button that tightens up shift points and quickens the throttle feel.

500e electric models are powered by an electric motor system making 111 hp and 147 pound-feet of torque. In urban driving and at lower speeds, it feels stronger than those numbers might suggest. The 500e has a 24-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and will go an EPA-rated 87 miles.

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.

With Fiat 500 Turbo, however, there's a 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.

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.

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.

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6

2015 FIAT 500

Comfort & Quality

It's tough for taller passengers to get comfortable even in the Fiat 500's front seats.

The Fiat 500 is noisy in every form, though you can drown out the noise by choosing the Abarth version with its beefy exhaust note.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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6

2015 FIAT 500

Safety

A poor showing in the IIHS' newest crash test drops the Fiat 500's safety score to a new low.

In the land of SUVs and big trucks, safety should absolutely be concern when shopping for a small car like the Fiat 500. However, if you take into consideration how nimble and responsive the 500 can be–plus Fiat's inclusion of the necessary safety features, buying this small car doesn't seem all bad.

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.

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.

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8

2015 FIAT 500

Features

Like MINI, Fiat offers myriad features and customization options, even on the sparsely outfitted base model.

There are three primary trims for the Fiat 500–Pop, Sport, and Lounge–and there are Turbo and sporty Abarth versions available, too.

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.

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 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.

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 2015, adding new colors to the list. 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.

New for 2015, the Fiat 500 now includes a 7-inch TFT screen in place of its old gauge cluster. That feature is standard in every model above the 500 Pop, where it's a separate option. Also, across the model line, the 500 now gets Bluetooth streaming audio in addition to Bluetooth hands-free calling.

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8

2015 FIAT 500

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage is very good, but at this size, shouldn't it be higher?

The 2015 Fiat 500 isn't as miserly as some of the other small cars on the road, but it's still more efficient than most vehicles on sale in the U.S. today.

If you go for the 500 Abarth, you gain power at the cost of fuel-efficiency, which still ranks well: it rates 28/34 mpg with the manual transmission.

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.

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.

Electric 500e models can go 87 miles on a charge of the 24-kWh battery pack, and they're rated 116 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent), overall.

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May 4, 2015
2015 FIAT 500 2-Door HB Sport

Bang for your buck fun!

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Love the sport package. This car is just fun. Very comfortable and feels much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. Even though we have the base engine, it's seems a lot faster than some of the... + More »
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April 13, 2015
For 2015 FIAT 500

Fiat 500 is a great little car - good value

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-- fun to drive, excellent city car but fine on the highway too -- plenty of room for up to 2 adults and smaller children or dogs -- with the back seats down there's plenty of luggage space -- the driver sits... + More »
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