There are plenty of fuel-efficient small cars on the market today, but only a few of them clearly stand out from the crowd. A prime example is the 2016 Fiat 500. Fiat brought its cheeky Cincquecento (“500” in Italian) to the United States after acquiring Chrysler to form Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Now in its sixth year on our shores, the Fiat 500 continues to challenge the status quo with its distinctly Italian flair. Offered in hatchback and convertible body styles, numerous trim levels and specifications ranging from economical to downright sporty, the 500 is an endearingly offbeat alternative to the usual subcompact suspects.
The 2016 Fiat 500 brings Italian flair and a slew of trim levels to the small-car market.
Unfortunately, the 2016 500 carries on with some disappointing traits that have been around since the car’s introduction. Taller front occupants in the 500 have to deal with limited headroom if the sunroof is specified, while the rear seats are best suited to small children on short trips. Cargo capacity is also modest, especially in the convertible. Speaking of the convertible, its top greatly restricts rear sight lines when retracted, as it folds into a prominent pile above the backseat. Acceleration in non-turbo models is snooze-inducing, and while we welcome the arrival of a standard 5-inch touchscreen infotainment interface for 2016, the interior is still outfitted with mostly low-quality materials.
If you walk away from your test-drive with similar reservations, know that the Fiat 500 isn’t the only small car with a sense of style. The Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Beetle are direct competitors and they boast stronger powertrains and nicer cabins, although they’re also more expensive. The Ford Fiesta is another well-rounded rival with a couple of interesting turbocharged engine options, while the Honda Fit trumps them all with its incredibly versatile interior. But the 2016 Fiat 500 still manages to cram a lot of fashion and fun into a conveniently small package, and is likely worth checking out as part of your subcompact shopping process.
trim levels & features
The 2016 Fiat 500 is available as either a hatchback or a convertible. The hatchback is offered in six trim levels: Pop, Easy, Sport, Turbo, Lounge and Abarth. The convertible version, called the 500C, comes in Pop, Easy, Lounge and Abarth trims, and it features a three-position power cloth top. An all-electric version, the 500e, is reviewed separately.
Standard features for the base Pop trim include 15-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, 50/50-split folding rear seatbacks, a tilt-only leather-wrapped steering wheel and Fiat/Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment interface with a 5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice controls and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio input and two USB ports (one for mobile device integration, the other for charging). The Pop convertible also comes with rear parking sensors.
The Easy is essentially a version of the Pop with 15-inch alloy wheels, premium cloth upholstery, a 7-inch color driver information display (a stand-alone option on Pop models) and an upgraded six-speaker Alpine audio system.
The Sport hatchback adds 16-inch alloy wheels, sporty exterior styling touches, red-painted brake calipers, foglamps, a sport-tuned suspension and exhaust system, front sport seats and a sport steering wheel.
The Turbo hatchback tacks on a more powerful engine, bigger brakes, gloss black exterior lighting trim, upgraded cloth upholstery and a leather-wrapped shift knob, but reverts to the base audio system found in the Pop.
The Lounge trim forgoes the sporty equipment in favor of more luxurious appointments such as chrome exterior trim, a fixed glass roof, rear parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic climate control, heated seats, leather upholstery, the Alpine sound system, satellite radio and a navigation system. The hardtop-only 1957 Edition largely mirrors the Lounge trim level with some retro styling added in, featuring a sport-tuned suspension, specialized wheels, unique paint colors, a white roof and mirror caps, retro emblems and unique interior trim.
At the top of the Fiat 500 food chain is the performance-focused Abarth. It is outfitted similarly to the Turbo trim but distinguishes itself with more power, unique 16-inch wheels, sportier suspension tuning, distinctive exterior and interior styling tweaks and the Alpine stereo. The Abarth convertible also gets an optional windscreen that fits behind the rear seats.
The Easy, Sport, Turbo and Lounge trims offer a few different “Collections” of options. Some equip the lower trims with certain of the higher trims’ standard items (such as navigation, satellite radio, automatic climate control, heated seats, leather upholstery and rear parking sensors), while others contain desirable extras like a sunroof and a six-speaker Beats Audio sound system with a trunk-mounted subwoofer.
For the Abarth, optional bundles are limited to a Comfort and Convenience package (automatic climate control, heated seats and satellite radio) and a Beats Audio package (satellite radio and the Beats Audio sound system). The sunroof, leather upholstery, navigation system and rear parking sensors (hatchback only) are available as stand-alone options.
performance & mpg
Three engines are available for the 2016 Fiat 500, all of which send power to the front wheels via a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic.
The Pop, Easy, Sport and Lounge trim levels receive a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. In Edmunds performance testing, a Fiat 500 Sport with a manual transmission went from zero to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds, a laggardly time for the class. An automatic-equipped 500C was even slower in our testing, needing a sloth-like 12.4 seconds to get to 60 mph.
A six-speed automatic is optional on the 2016 Fiat 500, but it hurts performance, particularly with the base engine.
The Fiat 500 Turbo steps up to a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that pumps out 135 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. At Edmunds’ test track, a manual-transmission Turbo posted a 0-60 time of 8.1 seconds, dramatically better than the base engine and a quick time for this segment. Fuel economy is estimated at 30 mpg combined (28 city/34 highway) with the manual and 27 mpg combined (24/32) with the automatic.
The Abarth model’s upgraded 1.4-liter turbocharged engine makes 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque with the manual transmission. With the six-speed automatic, those output figures change slightly to 157 hp and 183 lb-ft of torque. In Edmunds testing, a manual Abarth coupe sprinted to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, while an automatic Abarth convertible did it in 7.5 seconds. Those are respectable times, but a Mini Cooper S is still about a second quicker. Fuel economy estimates for the Abarth are identical to those for the 500 Turbo.
Standard safety features for all 2016 Fiat 500 models include stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, hill start assist, a driver knee airbag, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints.
In Edmunds brake testing, a 500 Sport came to a stop from 60 mph in an impressively short 115 feet, while a 500C Lounge needed 124 feet. Disappointingly, a 500 Turbo hatchback took 125 feet despite its upgraded brakes, and an Abarth hatchback needed 123 feet despite its ostensibly stickier summer tires.
In government crash tests, the Fiat 500 hardtop received four out of five stars for overall crash protection, with four stars for total frontal impact protection and five stars for total side impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has awarded the 500 hardtop its top rating of “Good” in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. In the small-overlap frontal-offset test, however, the Fiat earned the lowest score of “Poor.” The 500’s seat and head restraint design was rated “Good” for whiplash protection in rear impacts. The 500C (convertible) hasn’t been rated by federal regulators or the IIHS.
The 500’s small, dim gauge cluster used to be an issue, but it was recently replaced by a bright digital display with large fonts and more easily deciphered menu logic (this is an option on the Pop trim, which retains the old gauge cluster as standard equipment). The center console was also revised, adding better cupholders and an easily accessed USB port. For 2016, the changes continue with a newly standard “Uconnect” infotainment system that features a small but readable 5-inch touchscreen with available navigation. The 500’s control layout is still a bit of a mishmash, including the odd controls for the standard (non-automatic) climate system, but there’s no doubt that this is the most user-friendly iteration yet.
Despite the zippy appearance and colors throughout the cabin, the quality of most materials is subpar. At least there’s ample room in the front seats for taller occupants, though be advised that the tilt-only steering wheel can make finding a comfortable driving position a challenge, and the optional sunroof noticeably reduces headroom. The rear seats for any 500 are pretty much what you’d expect: torture for those older than preschool age, with basically nonexistent headroom in the hatchback due to the sloping rear glass.
Front seats are comfortable and there’s plenty of room even for tall folks as long as you skip the sunroof option.
With the rear seatbacks up, the hatchback presents a reasonable 9.5 cubic feet of luggage space. Drop the seatbacks and you open up a total of 30.2 cubic feet. That’s not bad for such a small car, but the Mini Cooper hatchback gives you more (38 cubes), and four-door hatchbacks like the Sonic and Fit are even roomier. Cargo capacity for the 500C isn’t nearly as generous, as there are just 5.4 cubic feet available behind the rear seats and 23.4 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded down. Moreover, the convertible’s folding canvas top stacks accordion-like on the rear deck when retracted, all but blocking your view directly behind.
The base engine’s acceleration is undeniably lackluster. The manual shifter is pleasant to operate and the clutch action is light and linear, so shifting gears isn’t a chore, but the reality is that this engine makes the 500 one of the slowest cars on the market. It’s unfortunate that the 500 Turbo’s engine is not more widely available, as it transforms the car into a fully competitive performer, while the Abarth model’s upgraded engine is naturally even more engaging.
The 500’s ride quality is pretty comfortable whether you’re driving over rutted city streets or cruising on the highway. The firmer suspension tuning of the 500 Sport, Turbo and Abarth models improves handling response without much of a comfort penalty; if you enjoy a spirited drive, these trims are certainly worth considering. Any 500 is good fun on a quick errand, thanks to the car’s diminutive dimensions and inherently nimble feel, though enthusiasts won’t like the somewhat top-heavy feel and significant body roll at the limit. Steering is accurate but lacks feedback, and the Abarth’s large 37.6-foot turning circle is regrettably like that of an SUV, eclipsing the other 500 models by a whopping 7 feet.