2018 Fiat 500 “Cinquecento” Lounge
– The perfect city runabout with a turbo
FCA offered us a week of Italian car time, sending the 2018 Fiat 500 Lounge, or to be proper in Italian, Cinquecento.
This brought back lots of memories of a college-era yellow 1972 Fiat850 Spider. While today’s modern 4-seat two-door hatchback was not a drop top like that classic spider, it did have a retractable glass roof. More important it had a lot more of pick up and go and provided similar fuel economy in the upper 30’s miles per gallon on premium fuel. (Editor’s note: the ’72 got 42 mpg on premium fuel, 9-gallon fuel tank, out of a very tiny less than a 1-liter engine, and the convertible top leaked when it rained, but it was a really cute car.)
This 500 was dressed in Oliva Green Pearl paint with an Avorio or ivory white seats and matching interior that stood out quite well in contrast. At first, there were some feelings of reluctance to like the 500, but as the week went by and the more we drove it, the more we came to like its quirkiness, and how spunky it was. Going downtown on a busy Saturday proved its worth, as the smallness of the Fiat meant no problem parking in a spot that other cars could not have slipped into. Win ONE for the Fiat.
Floor It Again Tony
The turbo powered 1.4 inline 4-cylinder multiport fuel injected engine connected to the six-speed automatic transmission (a $995 option, yes, a manual is available,) produced plenty of power for this little runabout for city driving. And while it does not sound noisy on the outside when parked, there seems to be plenty of exhaust noise on the inside, this may be to make you think it is a powerful, sporty European car. While we did not take it out on the highway, there is no doubt this engine would work hard to keep up at top highway speeds.
At city speeds from 0 to 40, we found it had plenty of power and then we became used to the sporty exhaust noise. Fuel economy was in the mid to upper 30’s for us buzzing around town. Win TWO for the Fiat.
While the design is hardly flashy it is quite reminiscent of that from the 1960s zipping about European cities with movie stars driving them. You must admit clunky can be cute, and the 500 can be customized to make it even more adorable. When they first came out there was even a Gucci designer edition. We found that mature women swooned over this little car. Win Two and a half for the Fiat.
We found the interior to be functional and attractive, using the exterior body color as a splash across the dash in a plastic insert that gives the interior an eye-attracting splash of color. And it does take your eye away from the hard plastics that make up the rest of the interior, which is normal on cars in this price range. Button placement on the mid and upper center of the dash, are large and easy to engage, as well as know what they are doing. This is a major WIN for the Fiat.
Seats are comfortable though not easily adjustable, the front seat back adjustment lever is on the inside, which took some searching for and the front and rear adjustment is in the front and once released is very quick to move, so don’t do it as you accelerate, which we did, finding ourselves at the back of the track very quickly. Rear seats are not just a covered foam board like in other much higher priced vehicles. Right and left rear seatbacks to fold down individually so you can get someone in the back and carry longer items as well. Don’t expect a lot of leg room, but you would not with a car this small anyway, the good news is there is some leg room, and getting in and out will not turn the rear seat passenger into a pretzel, but if you practice yoga, you will find it easier get in and out of the back of a Fiat 500.
Cargo area is big enough to carry groceries or other items, surprising for such a small car. You actually have a space to put things even if you have four people riding in the car, which is helpful as everyone carries stuff with them.
Power plugs are a must these days and the 500 had three if you include what at one time was a cigarette lighter. Two USB ports, one tied to the Uconnect Audio system in the center console, and one in the glove box that only provides power. A simple audio jack is also undercover in the center console. These three all are vertical, so something could fall into them and cause issues, which is why they have cover doors over them. Like most cars today you have to add a $30 smokers’ package, which is an insert into a cup holder for an ashtray and a cigarette lighter to go in the leftmost power outlet, to accommodate smokers. We thought all Italians smoked.
At this price point, tech is often very low. Though Fiat does give you some trendy pop brand options like TomTom for GPS and Beats audio, and of course Sirius XM Satellite radio. The Uconnect in the Fiat is very basic, we never did connect our Samsung phone to it, as it kept not recognizing the Bluetooth signal. The $595
TomTom GPS is very simple with grainy imagery and clunky operation. The $695 premium Beats audio did not stand out as we thought it might. This is a loss for the Fiat.
What’s not to like
While it is a short list, and the pros are more than the cons, there are some things that we found bothersome about the 500.
The seating position never quite gives a comfortable driving position for your legs. If you put the seat back to stretch out, the steering wheel was too far away, up close, your legs were uncomfortably bent. So this would not be a good long-distance driving comfort. The sunroof’s interior sunshade is an open weave screen fabric letting in the bright sunshine even while closed. And the sun visors are tiny, because the front window is small, and do not extend when you move them over to the side covering less than half of the door’s window. And we never did find the door electric lock/unlock button, to unlock the doors you will have to open the door from inside handle. Price is a con, as it is high compared to other automobiles on the market today. More loss than a win, so be it.
What is to love
At first the cuteness of the size of the 500, easily slips into a small parking spot. The rear camera gave a great view of where the bumper was in relation to the car behind and the curb as well. And if you have the wipers on, the rear wiper will activate as well, helping you see. Visibility was very good for this car, plenty of glass to be able to see out and very little obstructions. Fun to drive in town, we found it zippy and energetic. WIN for the Fiat
Fit and Finish
For a small inexpensive car (though the price may not reflect that) that has the carried the Fix It Again Tony line since the brand started, fit and finish is very good both inside and out. And at this price point no one expects premium materials on the inside, nor do you get them, but the design is good for what is in your main line of vision. Exterior parts are well put together and the doors and hatch feel and sound solid.
While four models of the 500 are available, Base Pop starting at $16,495, 1957 Retro Edition, $19,745, Lounge (what we drove) $19745, and the awe-inspiring Abarth, $20,495. All of these come in your choice of a hatchback or Cabrio, which is more a canvas sunroof. Our hatchback came with the $795 power glass sunroof.
The Cinquecento that we were loaned by FCA priced out at $24,815 which included the $250 Ivory seats, $995 automatic transmission, $795 power sunroof, $595 Tom Tom Navigation, $695 Premium Beats Audio System and the $445 16-inch bright aluminum wheels, with a $1295 destination charge.
At the time of writing there was a $1250 cash incentive on the Fiat 500. Even with that, it is pricy for this segment of car. With just about the same amount being a destination charge, larger vehicles have smaller numbers on that line. No doubt you are paying for the brand names of the audio and navigation systems. Our take on this is to dicker on the price, one and two-year-old models are going for $17K at the big lot used car centers. This is a loss for the Fiat
While this would not be a car that we would seek out for ourselves and our lifestyle. It is a fun little city car that is filled with cuteness overload. While it is pricy for the segment, it would be a great car if you needed something for around town driving and short commutes. Fuel economy is not amazing, especially using premium fuel. It does have a four-star government safety rating, though reliability has not been stellar. The 500 does come with a 4-year 50,000-mile warranty. If this is a car you want, and plenty of people do, then get the best price you can, and have some fun. We recommend the glass sunroof option, and if you like a manual transmission, that is standard. – Ciao Bambino