By Joe Tralongo, Contributing Editor
KBB Expert Rating: 7.5
The 2016 Fiat 500 coupe and its drop-top doppelganger, the 500c, have surprised a lot of skeptics. The duo prove that not only can a frugal small car be fun and colorful, it can also win over the hearts and minds of Americans accustomed to larger modes of transportation. Although not as large as a Mini Cooper Hardtop or Ford Fiesta, the 500 makes up for its lack of rear-seat room with its playful attitude, lengthy list of features and wide model range that includes the performance-oriented Abarth and all-electric 500e. Better still, the 500’s detailed design both inside and out doesn’t equate to an exorbitant price tag, making us question why more car companies don’t follow suit.
In the all-important realm of resale and reliability, the 2016 Fiat 500 has yet to surpass more established cars like the Honda Fit and Mini Cooper. Those with larger frames may find the 500’s interior a bit too snug for comfort.
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For 2016, the 500 gains a new Easy trim, offering more features and upgrades than the base Pop while retaining a low entry price. The 500 now offers the UConnect 5.0 system with 5-inch touch screen, Bluetooth and integrated voice commands. Oregon joins California in offering the 500e electric model.
The Fiat 500 subcompact for 2016 is pretty light on its feet, which is why it can get away with having only 101 horsepower under its diminutive...
... bonnet. Acceleration and passing power are admittedly underwhelming, but in urban traffic the 500 zips about quite nicely. The 500’s go-kart-like handling allows it to dart through congested traffic, and its mere 140-inch length permits parking in the most unexpected places. The 500’s steering is precise with a nicely weighted wheel to help things along. Although a 5-speed manual is available, the majority of 500s will leave the showroom with Fiat’s 6-speed automatic. Opt for the 160-horsepower Abarth and you’ll get much better performance, improved handling and bit more respect from the bad boys. Looking to save the planet rather than conquer it? The electric 500e can travel up to 87 miles while emitting zero emissions.
INTELLIGENT POWER CONVERTIBLE TOP
Unlike a conventional convertible that retracts into a well, the 2016 Fiat 500c employs a canvas roll-top design that opens the cabin to the outside world while leaving a protective metal frame in place. An added advantage is the top can be opened at speeds up to 60 mph.
As if there weren’t enough high-tech geekery in the world today, the Fiat 500 allows its owners to upload data about everything from trip information to CO2 emissions. The data can be stored on a flash drive where drivers can analyze it in hopes of improving driving efficiency.
Fiat’s subcompact 500 for 2016 is roomier up front than you might expect, and just as tight in back as it looks. The interior style lives up to the promise of the quirky but fashionable exterior, and we found the materials, build quality and seat comfort impressive for a car with a starting price around $18,000. As the athlete of the group, the Fiat 500 Abarth offers aggressively bolstered front seats, exclusive red stitching and a thick-rimmed, flat-bottom steering wheel.
The subcompact 2016 Fiat 500 is a modern interpretation of 1957's tiny, rear-engined original. Although larger than the original, it's still seven inches shorter than today's Mini Cooper. The iconic sloping rear end embodies the 500’s personality, though it limits rear headroom. The Fiat 500 is available in a stretched 4-door model that alleviates many of the coupe’s shortcomings. The hatchback offers Pop, Easy, Sport, Lounge, 1957 and Turbo trim levels, while the soft-top 500c comes in Pop, Easy and Lounge. The Turbo, Abarth and 500e electric are their own packages. Wheels, fascias and body trim differentiate the models.
The 2016 Fiat 500 and 500c Pop include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 15-inch covered steel wheels, a 5-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, cruise control, power window/locks/mirrors, Bluetooth, and a 6-speaker audio system with a USB port for portable music players. The range-topping Abarth variant includes a 276-watt Alpine audio system, 16-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension and a leather-wrapped dashboard. Standard safety features include seven airbags, hill-start assist to help prevent vehicle rollback on steep inclines and seemingly all the other advancements we're seeing on new cars in this price range and beyond.
A fully loaded 2016 Fiat 500 Lounge includes a 6-speed automatic transmission, leather seats, heated front seats, rear parking sensors, Beats by Dr. Dre audio system and automatic climate control. The 500 Sport model is differentiated by a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch wheels and a variety of aesthetic touches including red brake calipers and a subtle rear spoiler. The Turbo model adds larger front brakes and more serious suspension tuning to go with its specific 16-inch wheels and identifying trim. The mighty Abarth offers larger 17-inch wheels, 2-tone leather-trimmed seats and your choice of either white or red body-side stripes.
The front-wheel-drive 2016 Fiat 500 is motivated by a small but sophisticated 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine using Fiat’s patented MultiAir technology, which varies intake-valve timing and lift. Fiat tunes this engine to three power levels: The base 500 gets 101 horsepower (naturally aspirated), the Turbo makes 135 horsepower and the Abarth, also turbocharged, cranks out 160 horsepower. The 500e electric is rated for 111 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. All of the 500s now offer the choice of a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. We like the automatic for its extra ratio and responsive shifting though it does cut fuel efficiency by more than 10 percent. The 500e uses a single-speed automatic.
101 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
98 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 31/40 mpg (manual), 27/34 mpg (automatic)
1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4
135 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
150 lb-ft of torque @ 2,500-4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 28/34 mpg (manual), 24/32 mpg (automatic)
1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 (Abarth)
160 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
170 lb-ft of torque @ 2,500-4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 28/34 mpg (manual), 24/32 mpg (automatic)
Permanent magnet electric motor (500e)
147 lb-ft of torque
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 122/108 mpg equivalent
EPA range on a full charge: 87 miles
The 2016 Fiat 500 lineup starts at a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) right around $18,000 for a hatchback Pop and climbs to just under $32,800 for the California-and-Oregon-only 500e electric. However, incentives and tax credits can trim that price substantially. The 2016 Mini Cooper Hardtop starts at just over $21,500 and can top $35,000. Fiat includes a Mini-matching 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty with roadside assistance and a 3-year/36,000-mile no-cost maintenance package. Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price should reflect real-world transaction prices close to MSRP, so be sure to check them out before you purchase. Five-year projected residual values for the 500 fall considerably short of the Mini’s, but remain slightly higher than the Ford Fiesta’s.