Oct 14, 2016

Inside the Fiat 500’s Latest Lineup

Fiat’s reintroduction of the 500, also known by its Italian name Cinquecento, received praise from both automotive press and consumers. The slick, cute little cars are at home in any major metropolitan area and are as much a fashion accessory as they are a practical means of transport. Fiat has kept the 500 relevant with constant style updates, as well as regular improvements to the mechanical underpinnings to ensure the best performance possible.

Additionally, since its 2007 launch, the 500 line has diverged into a large number of models, each one specifically tailored to the needs of a particular market. The 2017 model year has a full six variants available, each one designed to fulfill a particular automotive niche.

The Fiat 500

The most basic model, the Fiat 500, emphasizes comfort, affordability, and style. With the least expensive trim coming it at below $17,000 MSRP, it is one of the least expensive new cars on the market today, although options and performance packages can push the price to over $20,000.

It is also one of the smallest subcompacts on the market today, being only 140 inches in length. The small interior is more than adequate for two passengers. However, three or four may find themselves uncomfortably cramped.

Under the hood, a four-cylinder 1.4L engine provides around 100 horsepower, which gives the car excellent acceleration due to its low weight. The low weight and small wheels, each pushed far to the corner of the car, also give the vehicle excellent handling, especially at low speeds. The low weight and small engine also contribute to good fuel mileage, with the 500 getting in the high thirties in the city and the high forties on the highway. This mileage is improved slightly with the choice of a manual transmission over an automatic option.

Cloth seats are standard, but an upgrade to a leather interior is an option, as is a dashboard entertainment system. Airbags, a frame-based roll cage, and seatbelts are all standard, and the 500 does hold a five-star safety rating for adult passengers.

The Fiat 500c

The Fiat 500c, or 500 Convertible, is a cloth-topped luxury version intended for more discerning customers. As such, it has a higher base price of $20,000, with more options as standard.

In addition to the automatic convertible roof, air conditioning, power windows, and locks, and heated mirrors are standard. All of the options available on the basic Fiat 500 are also available on the 500c since they share the same platform and interior. Likewise, the same engine is in both models, giving the 500c equivalent fuel efficiency ratings and horsepower. This also means that the 500c is every bit as small, quick and agile, as well as easy to park.

The biggest difference, the retractable roof, is designed to slide easily into the rear of the vehicle, opening up the interior to the sky above. Because the 500c uses the thick, strong pillars of the original 500, the entire roof is free to slide back, although the pillars, windows, and doors remain in place. This makes the 500c a better version for drivers who want access to the outside, or who want the car to feel slightly larger by opening it up to the environment.

The Fiat 500L

However, both the Fiat 500 and 500c suffer in that they are too small and cramped to carry four passengers easily. To fix this problem, Fiat has released the 500L, which is a full two-feet longer and features a four-door design. As it is based on an entirely different wheelbase, the 500L is larger in every capacity, providing much more interior space than the 500 and 500c. This is especially apparent in the back seat, where before only small children could comfortably sit. The 500L is designed to accommodate four passengers plus a driver and has significantly more trunk space as well.

Starting at $20,000, the 500L is more expensive than the subcompact 500 but is comparable in price to other five-seat, four-door compact cars. The engine has been upgraded to 1.6L to provide more torque for the larger car. However, there is not a significant increase in horsepower. This means that the 500L is a bit more thirsty than the subcompact, however, at 25mpg city and 32mpg highway, it is nonetheless competitive with similar vehicles in the compact market.

The Fiat 500X

Those needing even more space can turn to the 500X, which is a mid-sized crossover SUV built with Fiat 500 design in mind, although it shares very few components with the subcompact 500. Like the 500L and 500c it starts at an MSRP of $20,000, however at 170 inches in length it is considerably longer than even the 500L. This makes it competitively priced when compared to other crossover SUVs, although it does have a smaller interior than most competitors.

A larger, 1.6L engine has been installed to accommodate this larger vehicle, which provides between 140 and 160 horsepower depending on the options. The 500X has a lower top speed and significantly worse fuel consumption due to its increased speed, however the all-wheel drive enables it to have superior traction in adverse driving conditions. It offers an excellent amount of room compared to the 500L but may prove too small for those who need a full-sized SUV.

The Fiat 500e

The Fiat 500e is an electric model based on the standard 500. At a base price of $30,000, it is less expensive than most electric cars on the market today, although, with only 84 miles of range and no range-extender option, it is impractical outside of daily commuting. With an 111 horsepower engine, the 500e has more power than the base 500, and due to its electric powertrain, it has significantly more torque as well.

To justify the higher price when compared to the basic 500, the 500e comes with all safety and luxury options found in the 500, including additional options regarding the tires and aerodynamics to increase range. Like the 500, it is somewhat cramped in the back, but it offers plenty of room for a passenger and driver or sufficient room for three persons.

The Fiat 500 Abarth

With 160 horsepower, the Fiat 500 Abarth is by far the fastest car in the Fiat 500 line and has a power-to-weight ratio similar to a low-end sports car. With a $22,000 price tag, it is comparable in price as well, and it is not significantly more expensive than a similarly optioned 500.

Its interior has some the basic 500s upgrades as standard, most notably an upgraded interior with more leather trim. To enable the driver to more comfortably get the most out of the Abarth’s improved power, the ride has been stiffened, and power is driven through larger, wider tires, which can optionally be as large as seventeen inches. Bucket seats are standard. Indeed they are required, as are racing harness pass-throughs, although racing harness seatbelts are optional.

The turbocharged engine can be connected to either a manual or automatic transmission, although performance is significantly better with the manual version. With the market light on hot hatches, the Abarth offers superior speed and performance due to its small size and low stance, and it is also less expensive than most hot hatchbacks on the market. Like the standard 500, it somewhat lacks in interior space, but its small size makes it handle better on a race track, while also enabling it to have better fuel consumption than competing sports cars.

Darren Brode / Shutterstock.com

Darren Brode / Shutterstock.com

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