Fiat 500 does best work on highway
The Fiat 500 is a minicar, meant for negotiating tight urban spaces. It competes with the Chevrolet Spark, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, Mitsubishi Mirage and the Mini Cooper for a relatively small fragment of the U.S. automotive market. If circumstances compelled us to buy a new minicar, we’d most likely talk ourselves into choosing a used subcompact instead. Subcompacts may be a little harder to park in, say, Manhattan or downtown Boston, but they tend to be more comfortable for drivers and passengers, and more capable of hauling luggage and cargo.
That said, we didn’t use our Fiat 500 test car as intended. In our care, it traveled interstate highways and suburban roads, and spent its days in spacious parking lots and driveways.
Our 500 was a loaded version of the Pop trim line. “Loaded,” in this segment, means automatic transmission, premium audio system including satellite radio, navigation system, power sunroof and automatic climate control. The sticker price was $22,110. A base Fiat 500 Pop starts at $17,740, including destination charge.
Curiously, the Fiat 500 did its best work on the highway. The turbocharged 4-cylinder engine delivered spirited performance via a 6-speed automatic transmission, and the car handled crisply in all circumstances. The ride was comfortable and composed, and we were impressed by the absence of wind noise. There even was enough legroom for a 6-foot driver. Piloting the 500 on rural roads and interstate highways was a thoroughly pleasant experience.
However, the sharply raked rear windows and wide pillars obstructed vision out the rear quarters. We found ourselves wishing the 500 had blind-spot monitoring. It does have a tiny wide-angle mirror section on the driver’s side, but the car’s setup — designed more for a retro look than for functionality — made us wonder how useful it would be in a city with careless pedestrians, daredevil bicyclists and lunatic drivers everywhere.
Unfortunately, a modern blind-spot-warning system is unavailable on the 500.
2019 Fiat 500 Pop Hatchback
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged inline Four, 135 horsepower, 150 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 2,505 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion-beam rear
Wheels: 16x6.5-in. Hyper Black Aluminum
Tires: 195/45R16 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 9.5 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 30.2 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 10.5 gal.
Fuel economy: 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
Fuel type: Premium unleaded (recommended)
Also disappointing was the 500’s fuel economy. It’s rated at 24 mpg city and 32 highway with the automatic gearbox, far short of competitors like the Fit — up to 40 mpg with the continuously variable automatic transmission. A car that weighs just a ton and a quarter ought to deliver better fuel economy. The 500 also costs more than competitors such as the Chevrolet Spark, with a base price (including destination charge) of $13,925.
Most automakers are seeing their minicar sales decline. Honda, for example, sold at least 49,000 Fits every year until 2018, when sales dropped to 35,300. Things are more dire for Fiat, which maxed out at 43,772 in 2012 but slumped to 5,370 last year. Road & Track magazine’s website reported this month that Fiat is discontinuing the 500 Hatchback, Cabrio and all-electric 500e in the United States, but will continue selling remaining stock into 2020. And Fiat intends to remain in the U.S. market with the 500L, 500X and 124 Spider roadster.
Steven Macoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.