2019 FIAT 500 Review

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2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
February 4, 2019

Buying tip

The 2019 Fiat 500 is best experienced with a manual transmission for maximum smiles per gallon.

The 2019 Fiat 500 is appealing for those who value personality above all else, but it sports some glaring flaws.

Subcompact cars often sacrifice personality in the name of affordability, but the 2019 Fiat 500 throws that notion out the window. The modern version of the original Cinquecento is one of the most whimsical cars you can buy, but it isn’t without some notable drawbacks.

We’ve given it 4.6 out of 10 overall, proving sometimes charm alone just isn’t enough. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

For 2019, the 500 receives minimal changes, keeping the 1.4-liter turbo-4 as standard on all models. Upsized 16-inch wheels, performance brakes and suspension, body-color front and rear fascias, fog lamps, and a “Turbo” badge are now included. Also, the extra retro 1957 Edition returns for the first time since 2016.

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The smile-inducing design has had a few visual tweaks since its 2012 introduction and the Abarth model adds fender flares and increased drama to go along with its peppy performance. Inside, the body-color dashboard is a welcome pop of pizazz, while a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster and a 5.0-inch infotainment screen serve to make things a bit more modern.

The 1.4-liter turbocharged engine remains standard across the lineup and is mated to a 6-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission with front-wheel drive standard. Though showing its age, the turbo-4 gives the base 500 good grunt at 135 horsepower, while the Abarth represents the enthusiast’s choice with 160 hp and a raucous exhaust note.

Make no mistake, the 500 is a tiny car, and best kept to two adults as the rear seat is almost torturous to spend extended amounts of time in.

Though a touchscreen helps, the standard infotainment lacks Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility even as an option, a noticeable oversight for a car aimed at younger buyers.

Safety scores haven’t been updated since 2017 and yielded a worrisome “Poor” small overlap score from the IIHS, and fuel economy drops behind more frugal competitors around 30 mpg combined with a manual transmission.

A cabriolet model offers a fold-back canvas roof. An electric version of the 500 called 500e is available in select west coast markets. With an 84-mile EPA-rated range, it’s more a fashion statement than a practical electric vehicle, however.

7

2019 FIAT 500

Styling

The 2019 Fiat 500 is a style icon several years on, one of its main selling points.

The 2019 Fiat 500 is about style over all else and executes brilliantly. We’ve rated it 7 out of 10 for looks inside and out. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Unlike many modern retro vehicles, the 500 captures the spirit of the original thanks to its upright look and small footprint. Perfectly round headlights and a tiny grille harken back to the original from the 1950s, while the shape is modernized in just the right ways, though considerably larger.

Inside, the body-color dashboard brightens things up, and the plastic switchgear, round headrests, and embroidered logos border on kitschy but are charming overall.

Opting for the sportier Abarth model adds fender flares, racing wheels, optional graphics, and red accents in the interior to go along with the scorpion badge and burbling exhaust. The Cabrio model adds a subtle sliding cloth roof that cuts down on cargo space but can be had in a few different fabrics and is reminiscent of the original Cinquecento, all of which were soft-tops.

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5

2019 FIAT 500

Performance

The 2019 Fiat 500 is finally fun all around thanks to standard turbo power added last year.

Last year saw the Fiat 500 get standard turbocharged power, and thankfully the 2019 model keeps that trend going, warranting a 5 out of 10 on our scale. It steers very well and feels superb in city driving, but on the open road it can’t compete on ride quality or acceleration. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Every Fiat 500 gets a 1.4-liter turbo-4, which comes in two flavors based on the model chosen. Base cars get 135 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, as well as the choice for a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. Selecting the sportier Abarth model yields 157 hp and 183 lb-ft with the automatic and 160 hp and 170 lb-ft with the manual to go along with its raucous, burbling exhaust note.

Though these numbers are improved over the old naturally-aspirated powertrain, we still advise using a heavy right foot for highway passes as the 500 isn’t about to win any drag races.

The Cinquecento’s toy-like looks suggest some fun, and while the Abarth is a blast to toss around, the base cars feel nervous on the road, not to mention uncomfortable for long journeys. The now-standard sport suspension is stiffer than we’d like for the more comfort-oriented trims, and while the manual is a great choice for purists, the automatic will likely reduce headaches in city traffic. If you opt for the rip-snorting Abarth though, have the manual.

The 500e shares the go-kart handling in other 500s and its 110-horsepower electric motor gives it surprisingly good acceleration. We review it separately.

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1

2019 FIAT 500

Comfort & Quality

Though it has four seats, the 2019 Fiat 500 is best suited for two adults and no more.

Subcompact cars generally struggle in comfort and quality, but the 2019 Fiat 500 is somehow even worse off. We give it 1 out of 10 for its comfort and quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

With a puny 9.5 cubic feet of cargo space (5.4 in convertibles), the 500 is no stuff-hauler, but if you treat the rear seats as a cargo shelf or folded flat for more room, things improve significantly.

Those rear seats are practically useless for adults anyways, with only 31.7 inches of legroom. Up front, two adults will fit, but due to its narrow footprint, shoulder room in the 2019 500 can be tight, and the driver’s right foot has to snake around the center stack to reach the gas. The seats are upright and have thin cushioning, and though the interior looks fantastic, fit and finish is questionable upon closer inspection.

Around town the 500 is adequately comfortable, but on longer journeys it’s a noisy, shaky affair. The exhaust note of the Abarth is so fun that we don’t mind a bit extra noise though.

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2019 FIAT 500

Safety

The Fiat 500 is light on safety tech and what few crash tests have been performed aren’t great.

Neither federal government nor independent testers have rated the 2019 Fiat 500 for crash tests yet, but the model has never earned more than four stars overall. We’re not optimistic for this year. With no active safety technologies available either, the 500 is unlikely to score well, but we’ll have to hold off on assigning a score until either the NHTSA or the IIHS gets their hands on one. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The 500’s last round of safety scores weren’t good. The NHTSA assigned it a four-star frontal crash test rating last year but didn’t perform side-impact testing. The IIHS last rated the 2017 500, when the little Italian received a “Poor” designation in the small-overlap test.

No active safety technology is available on the 500, and as the average vehicle on American roads gets bigger every year, this is unsettling. These factors combined make the 500 difficult to recommend for teenagers or other new drivers despite its fun factor.

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5

2019 FIAT 500

Features

The 2019 Fiat 500 is reasonably-equipped for a subcompact car, but the lack of a few desirable features is glaring.

The 2019 Fiat 500 comes with more standard features than ever to go along with its improved powertrain, but still lacks some desirable features that are near musts for the target market. We give it 5 out of 10 with a wide range of trim choices overcoming its lack of certain features we think most buyers want. . (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Available in Pop, Lounge, and Abarth trims as well as the retro-tastic 1957 Edition, the 500 comes in hardtop or “Cabrio” across the range. Base models get 16-inch alloy wheels, sport suspension and brakes as standard, as well as fog lamps and turbo badges.

The cloth and leatherette interior is chic-looking and the body color dashboard piece provides a refreshing pop of color. A basic 5.0-inch touchscreen infotainment screen sits front and center. Unfortunately, this screen doesn’t include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capability, making the 500 one of the short list of cars that doesn’t at least offer the technology as an option.

However, there are 11 exterior colors available, and the Abarth model comes with red and black interior trim to match its flared, exaggerated exterior, and there are a wide range of of visual options including black-trimmed headlights. The 500 doesn’t offer anything in the way of advanced safety technology, though.

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5

2019 FIAT 500

Fuel Economy

For such a small car, the 2019 Fiat 500 is not as fuel-efficient as it should be.

The Fiat 500's fuel economy is unchanged from last year, yielding a score of 5 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The now-standard turbo engine adds much-needed power but doesn’t deliver on mileage as well as a small car should. The base 5-speed manual 500 achieves 28 mpg city, 33 highway, and 30 combined, while the automatic is slightly worse at 24/32/27 mpg.

Opting for the Abarth comes with no penalty for fuel economy despite the power increase. It achieves the same numbers with both transmissions respectively.

Disappointingly, the Fiat 500 requires premium fuel thanks to its turbocharged engine.

The 500e boasts a 112 MPGe combined figure but just an 84-mile range according to the EPA. We review it separately.

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$16,245
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4.6
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 1
Safety N/A
Features 5
Fuel Economy 5
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