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Eric's Autos: Reviewing the 2017 Fiat 500

Eric Peters on

It's hard to say no to cute, especially when cute is also inexpensive and practical.

Fiat's 500 microcar is all three of those things at once. To no surprise, it's beginning to outsell its main rival, the BMW Mini Cooper -- which is also cute but costs thousands more.

What It Is

Like the Mini Cooper hatchback coupe, the Fiat 500 is a modernized reincarnation of an iconic '60s-era microcar, only more so.

It is much smaller than the already very mini Mini Cooper hatchback. And yet, it manages to have a roomier back seat.

It also has a much lower price tag: The base Pop trim with manual transmission is $14,995, whereas the least expensive Mini Cooper hatchback starts at $21,600, and price tops out at $31,800 for the high-performance John Cooper Works, or JCW, iteration.

Over at Fiat, you can get the 500 Abarth -- which, like the JCW Mini, has a punchy turbocharged engine and an array of suspension, brake and trim upgrades -- for $19,995. That's less than Mini wants for the base trim model.

What's New

All trims now come standard with an upgraded six-speaker Alpine audio system at no additional charge.

What's Good

It's cute, fun and inexpensive. Some other cars are two of those things. Only this one is all three.

It fits places SUVs -- and most cars -- don't.

You'll be surprised how much fits inside.

What's Not So Good

Gas mileage is good but less than you'd expect given how small (and small-engined) this car is.

Under the Hood

All 500s except the high-performance Abarth come standard with Fiat's 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder engine paired up with either a five-speed manual transmission (standard) or a six-speed automatic (optional).

The engine isn't a powerhouse -- 101 horsepower and 98 foot-pounds of torque -- but the 500 isn't heavy. It only weighs about 2,434 pounds. For perspective, that's about 300 pounds lighter than a compact-sized car like the Honda Civic.

And if you feel the need for more speed, go for the Abarth, which is powered by the turbocharged version of the 1.4-liter engine that has 160 horsepower and 170 foot-pounds of torque at just 2,500 rpm.

The Abarth 500 goes from zero to 60 mph in just over seven seconds -- more than two seconds quicker than the standard model.

 

Be aware, though, that the Abarth's exhaust is loud. They will hear you coming and going.

On the Road

This is a car that can exploit almost any hole in traffic that would oblige a motorcycle. And that goes curbside, too. The 500 is only 139.6 inches long. To give you some sense of that length, a Honda Civic coupe is 176.9 inches long overall, a difference in length of more than 3 feet. Imagine what that means in terms of slotting into a parking spot or threading the needle out on the road.

Oddly, because it's so much smaller and shorter overall than the Mini, the 500 has a wider turning circle of about 37 feet. The Mini hatchback's is 35.4 feet. However, this ends up being a wash in real-world driving (like the mileage disparity) because the 500 is so much smaller.

There is about a foot less car to deal with (139.6 inches versus 151.9 inches for the Mini), and that makes the Fiat feel more lithe in tight situations, such as shoehorning into a curbside spot that would otherwise be for motorcycles only.

At the Curb

Like the Mini -- and unlike so many other new cars -- the 500 is a happy little car. It makes people smile. And not just because it's cute.

Surprisingly, the 500 has more back-seat room than the Mini. It also has more cargo space behind the back seats, 9.5 cubic feet compared with 8.7 feet. But the Mini has a bit more cargo space overall: With the second row down, you have 34 cubic feet, whereas the Fiat has 30.2 feet.

The available Beats Audio system is excellent, and you can also get a folding soft-top Targa-style roof if you like.

The Rest

The base Pop trim comes with all power options including cruise control, a configurable LCD/digital instrument cluster, a 5-inch secondary touch screen and a very good six-speaker Alpine sound system.

That's for just under $15,000.

It is one of the best deals going in a new car.

The Mini's gas mileage (28 mpg city, 38 highway) is about 5 mpg better than the 500's (27 mpg city, 33 highway), but its price tag is also about $5,000 higher, making it another wash.

The Bottom Line

Sometimes the best things going are hidden right before your eyes.

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Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

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