2017 Fiat 500 Review

2016 Fiat 500 Lounge

Priced From $18,000Information

Overall Rating

0

3 out of 5 stars

Rating breakdown
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Safety, value & features

2 out of 5 stars

Comfort & space

4 out of 5 stars

Engine & gearbox

3 out of 5 stars

Ride & handling

4 out of 5 stars

Technology

3 out of 5 stars

Pros & Cons

  1. ProStyle, parking, fuel use, handling.

  2. ConPrice, power, rear seats laughable.

  3. The Pick: 2017 Fiat 500 Lounge 3D Hatchback

What stands out?

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The Fiat 500 is all about style over substance, with cute-as-can-be looks and a cool and trendy interior – particularly when optioned with coloured leather seats. It’s all wrapped around little engines but it’s great fun to drive, thanks to its diminutive dimensions and, especially as a manual, willing gearbox.

What might bug me?

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How much you paid for your Fiat 500, compared with what you might pay for something less cute. And prices rose $2000 with the facelift of February 2016.

Catching yourself muttering “I think I can, I know I can” up steep hills, especially in the 500 Pop. Its tiny engine struggles on big climbs.

What body styles are there?

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A three-door Hatch, which is more like a tiny coupe than a traditional hatch, and a three-door Cabrio (the 500C).

The Cabrio doesn’t offer your traditional cabriolet folding top: it has a roof reminiscent of a rollback tin on a can of tuna. It does let the sun in, however, which can make this little fun box seem even more joyous on a warm day.

It’s a front-wheel drive layout, and the Fiat 500 sits well and truly in the micro car class.

What features do all Fiat 500s have?

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A five-inch touchscreen from which you can run the six-speaker stereo system, via Fiat’s Uconnect. It comes with digital radio, Bluetooth music streaming, voice command, aux and USB inputs, and iPod compatibility.

A leather wrapped steering wheel, with buttons to control all that audio from.

Daytime running lights, which help other drivers see you, lit by efficient and long-lasting LEDs.

Fifteen-inch wheels made from aluminium alloy (which look better than steel wheels and usually are lighter). A space-saver spare wheel. Tyre pressure monitors, which warn you if a tyre is going flat.

Power-raising windows, and power-adjustable and heated exterior mirrors (which are also body coloured). Air-conditioning.

Hill-holder, which helps you start from rest on uphills. (Even if you're driving the manual you won’t roll back when starting from traffic lights or Stop signs.)

Electronic stability control, which helps prevent and control skids. All new cars must have this feature.

All Fiat 500s come with seven airbags: two in front of the driver and front passenger; a knee airbag for the driver; side airbags that protect the upper bodies of front occupants from side impacts; and curtain airbags down each side that protect the heads of passengers front and rear.

The Fiat 500 carries a three-year/150,000km warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

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The 1.2-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine in the 500 Pop models has the best fuel economy, consuming as little as 4.8 litres/100km on the official test (city and country combined).

It is about as powerful as a poodle on a bicycle, however, which is the main reason you might prefer the bigger, 1.4-litre four-cylinder that comes with the 500 Lounge models.

The 1.4 is still modest but more liveable, and uses about 6.0 litres per 100km. It is the better choice, if you can afford to make it.

While the Fiat might feel less than grunty with either engine, it’s fairly typical of cars in its micro class, all of which are more about saving fuel, and space, than making power.

Indeed, the Fiat 500 Lounge might be a little more effervescent than most, with its 1.4 engine almost comparable with well regarded cars in the light class, such as the Mazda2.

Pop models have a five-speed manual transmission as standard, while Lounges have six-speeders – which adds to their performance advantage. On all models, a five-speed “Dualogic” automatic transmission is optional.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

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Stepping past the least costly Fiat 500, the Pop, and spending more for a 500 Lounge gets you the bigger engine for a start. You also get digital speedometer and instrument panel. And there is a height-adjustable driver’s seat, lots of chrome bits, rear parking sensors (which tell you how close you are to the car behind), and satellite navigation. The Lounge also comes with a sunroof.

As dizzying as the Lounge price is, you can still spend another $2500 on a Perfezionaire pack. This brings you two-colour leather upholstery, bigger wheels (16-inch) for a sportier look, and extremely bright Xenon headlights.

Pastel or metallic paint, in a whole swirl of colours, is about $500.

The other way you can spend more on either the Pop or the Lounge is to get it in Cabrio (or 500C) form, with the retractable roof - worth considering if you're a sun worshipper. Roof aside, equipment matches the Pop and Lounge hatches.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

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Paying extra for automatic transmission makes the car less fun to drive and gets you less joy out of the tiny engines. Changing gears yourself, as the Italian designers intended, is the best way to get the most from this zippy little city car.

Upgrading to the Cabrio is also a questionable way to spend money. All it really offers is an oversized sunroof, because it’s not a proper convertible.

How comfortable is the Fiat 500?

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Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the Fiat 500 doesn’t feel tiny or cramped inside, or at least not unless you’re big enough to try out for the NBA. Headroom, in the front at least, is more than acceptable, and there’s a real feeling of space created by the design of the dash and the slope of the windscreen.

It doesn’t feel like a Gold Class cinema, but it’s not claustrophobic as you might expect.
The seats are reasonably comfortable without being exactly plush. The (optional) leather seats do have a quality feel to them, as if the raw materials might have been stolen from a handbag factory.

The ride is not exactly plus Euro style, but it’s not overly jarring or sportily firm either. Overall you’d describe it as better than adequate.

The 500 is not a particularly quiet car, because the engines are always working quite hard, but it’s not annoyingly noisy in the cabin either. Overall, it’s a lot more comfortable than you’d expect by looking at it.

Out on the highway, the 500 can handle our national speed limit with ease – possibly because everyone drives much faster than that in Italy.

What about safety in a Fiat 500?

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At such a lofty price point, it’s difficult to understand why rear parking sensors aren’t standard on all 500s – to let you know you might be about to reverse over something (or someone) very valuable. (You get them on a 500 Lounge.) Nor is a rear-view camera available on any 500. Fiat might argue that with a car this small you don’t need them.

The seven airbags are certainly a welcome standard inclusion, however, and make such a small car as safe as possible.

Neither the Pop nor the Lounge offers active safety aids such as automatic emergency braking (which can brake automatically to prevent your ramming a car in front).

You might want to consider the size of the crumple zones. If this car is hit by an SUV, or even a normally sized sedan, it’s probably going to come off second best.

Despite being so tiny, the previous Fiat 500 was given a five-star safety rating – the maximum – by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP). This car keeps that high level.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

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Amazingly, yes. The Fiat 500 is one of those cars that proves you don’t have to be fast in a straight line to have fun.

There’s something about the design that just makes you smile when you look at it, or sit inside it, for a start. But there’s also something simply joyous about the way it handles - helped by a short wheelbase and tiny dimensions overall, which provide a Mini-like experience - and the puppy-like willingness with which it responds to your urgings.

Particularly when combined with the slick and short shifting manual gearbox, the engine is just zesty enough to keep you interested. Steering is also direct and go-kart like.

The 500 is a car that surprises in many ways. On paper, and even in the flesh, it doesn’t look like much, but the driving experience really is more than the sum of its parts. As long as you’re not in a hurry, or climbing lots of hills.

How is life in the rear seats?

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It’s probably quite pleasant if you’re a dust particle or a microbe, and very small children seem to enjoy it.

But anyone larger than a teenager is going to be disappointed, and possibly enraged, by the lack of rear leg space.

The two-door design and limited room for sliding the front seats forward also makes it painful to get into or out of. This is very much a car for two people, with a seat in the back for storing small items or placing your shopping on.

How is it for carrying stuff?

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The rear seat folds 50:50, but even with both of them down you won’t be carrying a lot of suitcases. The Fiat 500 has a boot, but it’s not particularly capacious. Storage space is what you’d expect from its dimensions, and that’s minimal. Even large grocery shops will be a challenge.

You can forget trips to Ikea for furniture.

Where does Fiat make the 500?

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The Fiat 500 is built in Tychy, in Poland, which doesn’t seem to have affected the Italian look and feel at all.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

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The ability to mirror your smartphone on the touchscreen and use its apps from there. This is available on the Holden Spark (since March 2016), for example, via its compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Spark also offers cruise control on its more expensive version.

The other thing you might miss compared with other micro cars such as the Mitsubishi Mirage is a big wad of notes from your purse.

The price of a Fiat 500 takes you well into slightly bigger, light car, territory – Mazda2, Honda Jazz or Volkswagen Polo, for example. Here a reversing camera, cruise control and even auto emergency braking are available, along with more space.

Are there plans to update the Fiat 500 soon?

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The Fiat 500 was updated in March 2016, so it is not likely to upgraded significantly until at least 2018.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

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The 500 Pops might be tempting in terms of price, but the smaller engines make them more difficult to live with. So you need to step up to the Lounge, which also benefits from having a less embarrassing name. The larger engine is worth the investment, which means you’re only left with the choice of Hatch or Cabrio. Considering the limitations of the roll-back roof system, the Hatch seems like the better value choice – and must, in engineering terms, be more solid as well.