Will your FIAT survive driving off a cliff and navigating across international waters like in their classic TV commercial? We’re not sure it’s something you should test — if you already own a FIAT, that is — but it’s definitely one of the reasons why FIAT is so popular here in North America. Known for its cute-and-cuddly sizing, spry handling, and modern looks, the FIAT 500 truly gives the MINI Cooper a run for its money.
Though newer models are already available, there plenty of good reasons to look into an almost-brand-new 2018 version — but feel free to stop in to your local FIAT dealer for more up-to-date information, because this little Italian car is just the shot of espresso you might be looking for you in your daily drive.
The 2018 FIAT 500 is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 paired with either a 6-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual transmission. Under the hood, the 1.4-liter puts out 135 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, with a more powerful version topping out at 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. Electric variants — known as the FIAT500e — create 111 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque via a permanent magnet electric motor.
All 2018 FIAT 500 models are front-wheel drive and available in either a hatch or a convertible (the FIAT 500C) body style. These normally two-door models are also manufactured as a larger four-door unit known as the 500L.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the 2018 FIAT 500 5 out of 5 stars for its side crash and side barrier and combined side barrier and pole tests. It also received 4 out of 5 stars for the rollover rating. IIHS, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, marked the 2018 FIAT “Good” in all categories except for the Small Overlap Front Test. All in all, the FIAT 500 might be a smaller vehicle, but it has a sturdy build and will keep its occupants reasonably safe in the event of a crash.
The 2018 FIAT 500 is available in three trim levels: the Pop, Lounge, and Abarth. The Pop trim level starts around $16,000 and includes sport-tuned suspension and performance brakes, 16-inch wheels, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, and Uconnect on a 5-inch touchscreen infotainment interface. Though a 5-speed manual transmission is standard, the 6-speed automatic is optional.
The Lounge trim level adds in a fixed glass roof, heated leather seats, and chrome heated mirrors. Like the Pop trim level, the Lounge models are featured with the entry-level 1.4-liter engine.
Finally, the Abarth trim level offers customers a turbocharged experience, from the more powerful engine to a three-mode electronic stability control system, perforated cloth seats, and an Alpine audio system.
Accessory packages on the 2018 FIAT 500 include a Roof and Mirror Cap Package, along with the Abarth Roof/Mirror Cap/Stripe Package. Each one allows you to choose the color (black, red, gray, or white) of your exterior accent pieces, dependent upon the color of your 2018 FIAT 500.
Kelley Blue Book ranks the 2018 FIAT 500 ninth among its competitors in fuel efficiency, though it does top the list for most horsepower in its segment. Less powerful 1.4-liter turbo engines will achieve 28 city and 33 highway EPA-estimated MPG when mated to the five-speed manual transmission. Automatic transmissions fall down to 24 city and 32 highway MPG. The 1.4-liter engine featured in the Abarth model of the 2018 FIAT 500 achieves the same MPG ratings for both manual and automatic transmissions. And the electric FIAT, the 500e variant, achieves a whopping 122 city and 103 highway miles-per-gallon-equivalent (MPGe).
How the 2019 FIAT 500 Stacks Up
In a world of crossovers SUVs and pickup trucks, the FIAT 500 still manages to find its niche. Carved out by opponents such as MINI and SmartCar, the subcompact segment is just as competitive as any other automotive segment. The players are just a bit tinier.
Most popular in this arena are the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio, Nissan Versa, MINI Cooper, Volkswagen’s Golf and GTI, the Ford Fiesta, the SmartCar Fortwo, and the Chevy Sonic. Each of these contenders is adept at making the most of a tiny space. From small engine compartments to rather roomy interiors, these subcompacts fit both first-time drivers and senior citizens alike.
The 2018 FIAT 500 received mixed reviews from the automotive panel at large. Consumer Reports liked that the model was nimble but reported that “slow acceleration, a choppy ride and a noisy interior detract from the fun.” Experts at Edmunds also echoed Consumer Reports’ dislike of the seating position, noting there wasn’t much in the way of elbow padding. Until science has figured out a way to make the inside of something larger than the outside, it’s not physically possible to fit Cadillac seats in a car the size of a bathroom stall. But, as they say, to each his own.
Kelley Blue Book noted the resale value for the 2018 FIAT 500 isn’t great, even though Edmunds experts report this model is faster than the 2017 variant. We suspect that the market trend towards crossovers, SUVs, and trucks is a large factor in this assessment. However, FIAT does fulfill a rather niche market, as we discussed, so while the buying presence might be there now, such a following might not stick around for long. The gap between hot hatch and swift sports car may not exist much longer.
Nevertheless, the 2018 FIAT 500 is a respectable, fun, and playful subcompact listed at an affordable price. Customization options abound and there’s no end to the city-cruising when finding a parking space means being able to squeeze in where other, larger cars won’t fit. MINI might be larger inside and Honda and Toyota may offer better long-term warranties, but can you have as much fun in them as you can in a FIAT?
- Better handling than MINI Cooper
- Affordable and fun
- Cheap alternative
- Limited visibility on convertible models
- Little-to-no advanced driver assist features
- Cargo space is next to nothing
The Last Word
The 2018 FIAT 500 is a great alternative vehicle for those just looking to get around town and find plenty of suitable parking places. While many of the creature comforts and extras you might find on other vehicles are missing from the VW Beetle’s Italian cousin, it only takes one jaunt around the block to figure out why many love this tiny car. True, it shares many of the same characteristics of the MINI and SmartCar, but those innocently-wide headlights and that peppy attitude make FIAT both appealing and memorable. Test drive a FIAT 500 at your local dealership and see what you think. Will you join the FIAT movement?