Test Drive: 2017 Fiat 500
Entry Price: $14,995
Price as Tested: $24,515
This week, we drive the 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth hatchback, delivered with turbocharged Abarth mechanicals and finished in an optional ($500 more) yellow bright pearl tri-coat finish. Although Fiat has not set any sales records in the United States, it is still chipping away at the subcompact market.
Starting at a very affordable $14,995 for the entry Pop model, which happens to be Fiat’s lowest price since re-entering the North American car market in 2012, one thing is certain when you test drive or own a Fiat 500: You will be noticed. As for our tester, just double up on everything thanks to the tuned exhaust system and Abarth performance upgrades.
On the marketing side, Fiat experimented with some initial special branding with several 500 models, including a Gucci, a Turbo 500 and a “1957” retro edition, all three of which have been discontinued. The 2017 lineup includes two distinct models, the Pop short wheelbase two door and the Lounge extended wheelbase four door. If you eliminate model designations and nomenclature, all Fiat 500’s are pretty much the same the big difference being turbo or non-turbo and two or four door motif.
With roots that date back to 1957, when Fiat Abarth won many small engine sports car races, today’s 500 is both good looking and quick if you happen to drive the turbo versions. Most of the onlookers who were of baby boomer age were surprised to learn a bit of Fiat Abarth history, and how it relates to present day with its longtime main competitor, the Mini Cooper.
The 2017 Fiat 500 is totally different from the 500s I remember back in 1957-1960, as the engine is now in front, it isn’t a 3-cylinder, and there’s way more interior room than the original. Compared to a Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 is shorter in length but higher in height, offering more driving room for even the tallest of adults.
And speaking of Abarth and Mini Cooper chronicles, I’ll again give a quick review. Specifically, the competition between Abarth and Cooper for small bore, lightweight racing supremacy back in the late 1950s was fierce. The principals, namely John Cooper and Karl “Carlo” Abarth, both raced their personal vehicles and then morphed them into full fledged production and/or race vehicles.
Cooper, from Great Britain, and Abarth, an Austrian who migrated to Italy, both gained prominence as racing drivers and car builders, Cooper more so with his rear engine Formula cars and Abarth with modified Fiat 500s and motorcycles. Today, Mini Cooper and Fiat Abarth battle again, with Mini Cooper roots coming from corporate head BMW while Fiat is involved with everything from Chrysler to Ferrari, the latter of which it owns 90 percent.
As for our 2017 Abarth, a 1.4-liter four-cylinder puts out 160 horses and 170 lb. ft. of torque, more than enough to power this “ultra lite” subcompact to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds. Fuel mileage is acceptable at 24 city and 32 MPG highway, achieved via a $995 optional six-speed automatic. As for the Abarth tuned exhaust, I can almost hear a bit of “Ferrari tone” if I listen real close, much to my liking. (Manual transmissions are available, and recommended on the Abarth strictly for the fun factor alone.)
With a long list of standard features, including 16-inch tires on aluminum hyper-black wheels, Fiat 500 Abarth excels in the handling department and also delivers a surprisingly comfortable ride on smooth highways. Granted, you’ll feel the bumps on uneven roads, but overall Fiat 500 delivers a good ride.
As for options, our Abarth featured an $895 Popular Equipment Package, $595 GPS Navigation, black trimmed lights for $245, and a nice black trimmed body side stripe for $295. With $995 delivery, the final tally came in at $24,515 retail. A premium stereo makes driving even more fun, and the interior overall is quite well done. Your dealer will gladly explain all standard and optional features.
Although Fiat 500s earn four and five star government crash ratings, there are always inherent negatives that come with subcompact cars, from Smart Car to Mini to Abarth. Always remember really small cars are subject to being on the losing end of the “weight versus weight” impact issue, so keep this in mind if you plan on buying one for your child heading to college. Around town, the front drive 500 is a perfect vehicle for any age consumer.
Important numbers include a wheelbase of 90.6 inches, 9.5 to 30.2 cu. ft. of trunk space, 2,512 pound curb weight, and a 10.5 gallon fuel tank.
New models for 2017 include a retro Spyder 124 sports car ($24,995) and a Fiat 500e electric version that gets 84 miles on a battery charge ($32.995).
If you like your cars really small, feisty and loaded with legacy, try a Fiat 500 Abarth on for size.
Likes: Great history, fun and easy to drive, Abarth enhancements.
Dislikes: No rear safety camera, not much rear seat room, speedometer too large.
— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other GateHouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions at email@example.com.