Full 2014 FIAT 500 Review
What's New for 2014
The 2014 Fiat 500 receives a revised front passenger seat for additional headroom and also gets an available armrest. New 1957 and GQ special edition models also debut with mostly cosmetic flourishes.
You typically have to look well outside the economy car segment if you want a car with a high level of style and personality. But leave it to the Italians to come up with an exception. The 2014 Fiat 500 looks like nothing else on the road, it's personable and, depending on the model, it's actually pretty fun to drive.
Though diminutive in size, the Fiat 500 has been a modest hit for the Fiat brand. From the outside, the charm of the original Fiat Cinquecento (500) from decades past lives on in the styling of today's modern interpretation. This little car is easy to park in tight spaces, it has a pretty comfortable ride quality and it returns very good fuel economy if you pick the base engine and the manual transmission. If stellar mpg isn't your top concern, the sprightly Turbo and sporty Abarth models are more likely to put a grin on your face. A retracting fabric convertible roof is also available on most trims for an al fresco driving experience.
Did we mention it's Italian, though? Yes, there are some functional issues with the 500, and depending on your feelings toward the car, you might call them problems or dismiss them as part of its character. Coupes with the optional sunroof are noticeably short on headroom. Fiat says it has lowered the front passenger seat to help out this year, but given the snug quarters in here, taller adults are still likely to have an issue. Opting for the convertible certainly cures this problem, but creates another in the process as rearward visibility is reduced. Besides these drawbacks, points are also deducted for the 500's slow acceleration with the base engine, tiny rear seats, unintuitive controls, limited automatic transmission availability, reduced cargo capacity in the convertible version and decidedly budget-grade interior materials.
Comparisons to the Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Beetle are inevitable. Both are typically more expensive, but the new Mini is more customizable and sharper-driving, while the solid-feeling Beetle is roomier. And from a practical standpoint, traditional four-door economy cars like the Chevrolet Sonic and Ford Fiesta just make more sense both financially and from a daily-use standpoint. Flawed as it is, though, the 2014 Fiat 500 still manages to cram a lot of style and fun into a small package.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
Classified as a two-door subcompact, the 2014 Fiat 500 is available either as a hatchback or convertible. The hatchback is offered in five trim levels: Pop, Sport, Lounge, Turbo and Abarth. The convertible 500C comes in Pop, Lounge and Abarth trims.
Standard features for the base Pop trim include 15-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, keyless entry, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, 50/50 split-folding rear seats, a trip computer, a tilt-only leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio input and iPod integration.
The Sport trim is only offered as a coupe and adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a few sporty exterior styling touches, a sport-tuned suspension, foglights, front sport seats, a front passenger seat armrest, a sport steering wheel and an upgraded Alpine audio system. The Turbo trim adds a more powerful engine, bigger brakes, a roof spoiler, perforated cloth seats and a leather-wrapped shift knob but goes without the audio upgrade.
The range-topping Lounge trim foregoes the sporty upgrades in favor of more luxurious appointments like 15-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior trim, a fixed glass roof, automatic climate control, premium cloth upholstery and satellite radio. The 500C convertible models gain a three-position power cloth top and rear parking sensors.
To the Pop trim you can add the Beats Premium Audio package, which includes premium speakers with a trunk-mounted subwoofer and satellite radio. The Sport and Turbo trims are eligible for the Comfort and Convenience package that adds automatic climate control, satellite radio and heated front seats. A Luxury Leather package is available for Lounge models only and includes rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, heated front seats and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Some of the upper trims' features are available on the lower trims as options. Other options include a sunroof, various interior and exterior trim upgrades, an integrated TomTom navigation system and a wind deflector for convertibles.
Standing apart from the pack, the performance-focused Fiat 500 Abarth is outfitted similar to the Turbo trim but distinguishes itself with more power, distinctive exterior and interior styling tweaks and sportier suspension tuning. Seventeen-inch wheels with summer performance tires are available as an option.
Two special-edition Fiat 500s are also new for 2014. The 1957 Edition (commemorating the year the original 500 was introduced) is based on the Lounge trim and features three charming vintage wheel designs, exterior color schemes and badging, along with unique leather combinations on the inside. The GQ Edition convertible, produced in concert with the popular men's magazine, takes the Turbo trim as a starting point and embellishes the exterior with more aggressive bodywork and adds premium leather treatments and trim inside.
Powertrains and Performance
Three engines are available on the 2014 Fiat 500. The Pop, Sport and Lounge models receive a 1.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels through a standard five-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is available as an option.
In Edmunds performance testing, a manual-equipped Fiat 500 Sport went from zero to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds -- that's about a second slower than the typical economy car. An automatic-equipped 500C was even slower in our testing, taking 12.4 seconds to reach 60 mph. The EPA estimates fuel economy at an excellent 34 mpg combined (31 city/40 highway) for the manual. The automatic's estimate of 30 mpg combined (27/34) is still admirable, but falls short of most rivals.
The Fiat 500 Turbo and GQ Edition gain a turbocharged version of the 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 135 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is the only transmission available. At our test track, the Turbo posted a 0-60-mph time of 8.1 seconds, which is notably better than the base engine. Fuel economy is estimated at 30 mpg combined (28 city/34 highway).
The Abarth model's upgraded turbocharged engine increases power to 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. The five-speed manual is again the only transmission offered. Fuel economy estimates remain identical to those for the 500 Turbo. In Edmunds testing, the Abarth coupe sprinted to 60 mph in a quick 7.1 seconds.
Standard safety features for all 2014 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 stopped in a still solid 124 feet. The Turbo was also in that range with a 125-foot distance. A Fiat 500 Abarth stopped in 123 feet, which is a longer braking distance than expected for a small car with summer tires.
In government crash tests, the Fiat 500 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 awarded the 500 the highest possible 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/head restraint design was rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside, the 2014 Fiat 500 features a modern take on the old 500's interior design. It looks inviting enough, and two-tone interior color choices and the sporty treatments in higher trims increase the appeal. Materials quality, however, falls short of other compact economy car interiors, and there's an abundance of hard plastic surfaces. We've also found the 500's unintuitive control layout and the lack of knobs on the dashboard (even for the radio volume) to be a constant annoyance. The Blue & Me voice-activated iPod control is similarly frustrating to operate.
Despite its small footprint, the Fiat 500 can be surprisingly roomy for front occupants. The upright seating position provides a wealth of legroom for taller drivers, but the available sunroof cuts into headroom, and we'd advise skipping it if you're much past 5 feet, 8 inches tall. Rear-seat passengers will have a distinctly different experience, as there's very little head- or legroom available. Overall visibility is good in the hatchback, but the convertible's fully retracted top blocks out your rearward view.
Behind the hatchback's backseat you'll find 9.5 cubic feet of luggage space. Lower the backseat in the hatchback and you'll have 30.2 cubic feet of space available (though the load floor isn't completely flat). In prior years, this total capacity was better than the Mini Cooper's, but the redesigned 2014 Cooper hatchback has more space than the 500 now. Cargo capacity drops significantly in the convertible 500C, with only 5.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 23.4 with the seats stowed.
The 2014 Fiat 500 is one of those rare cars that proves power isn't a prerequisite for fun. On paper, the 500 is far from quick, but it doesn't feel particularly slow from behind the wheel. For those who still enjoy selecting their own gears, the manual transmission is especially rewarding and easy to operate. Adding to the experience are pleasing noises coming from the engine and exhaust.
The steering doesn't offer much in the way of tactile feedback, but press the Sport button on the dash and the 500's steering firms up appropriately. This is especially true for the 500 Sport and Turbo, which we think are the models to get, given their more responsive handling. The better handling doesn't come at the expense of ride comfort, either, as all 500s provide an impressively smooth ride for this class of car.
A burbling, snarling exhaust note and a slick gearbox add to the fun of blasting around in the Fiat 500 Abarth. Its turbocharged engine's robust power translates into plenty of usable oomph in the real world. Although a 6th gear would be nice, powering past freeway dawdlers is a breeze -- step into it and the Abarth scoots past easily. Driven briskly on a winding road, the Abarth goes around tight turns eagerly, aided by its quick steering and sticky tires. However, when pushed harder, it's not as buttoned-down and composed as a Cooper S or Fiesta ST.