A little history lesson. FIAT (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino) began in 1899 building small city cars for the masses, including the Cinquecento – or 500. So, nothing exciting…yet. Currently, Fiat’s parent, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles owns several other brands – Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep in the U.S. as well as Abarth, Lancia, and the very fun Alfa Romeo and the exotic Ferrari and Maserati. Now we are getting somewhere!
Back to the Fiat brand. In the mid-20th Century, post-WWII, saw Fiat retool into a major automotive company with the majority of its sales in Europe, but also including a lengthy run from 1908
to 1983 in the USA. When Fiat took over Chrysler and became FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), it reentered the American market in 2009 with the 500. Derivatives soon followed with the sporty 500 Abarth and the recently introduced 500e, four-door 500L and mini-crossover 500X (which had a cousin in the Jeep Renegade). Clean Fleet Report will start here with the 500 Lounge 1957 Edition (more on this name later) and work our way through the Fiat line-up, which will be reviewed separately.
The 2015 Fiat 500 Pop, Sport and Lounge base models come with a 1.4-liter, inline, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine with sequential multiport electronic fuel injection, producing 101 hp and 97 lb-ft of torque through a five-speed manual transmission, delivering an EPA rating of 31 city/40 highway/34 combined. In 426 miles of 70-percent highway /30-percent city driving Clean Fleet Report averaged 35.9 mpg, which means the 10.5 gallon fuel tank would take you about 370 miles before needing a fill-up.
Note: The EPA’s gas mileage formula is 45-percent highway and 55-percent city. Here in Southern California our 70-percent highway /30-percent city driving pattern is far more real world and is why we report it to you.
Running on unleaded regular (with mid-grade recommended), the high-revving 84-cubic-inch engine was smooth and responsive, but not very fast, taking about 10 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph. Helping a bit with peppiness and adding a fun factor, was the easy shifting five-speed manual, which provided more of a performance feel. A smart choice would be to get the optional turbocharged engine that kicks-out 135 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. If you like manual transmissions, go ahead and stay with the five-speed, but the six-speed automatic with Auto Stick is a slick mate for the turbocharged engine. Plus, it offers one big advantage when on the highway: at 70 mph the five-speed manual is turning 3,000 rpm while the six-speed automatic drops the engine down to 2,300 rpm. Why Fiat doesn’t offer a six-speed manual is a big question.
Driving Experience: On the Road
Clean Fleet Report’s 500 Lounge 1957 Edition with the five-speed manual transmission weighed in at a relatively light 2,366 lbs. If opting for the six-speed automatic the weight goes up a bit to 2,542 lbs. For comparison, a Mini Cooper with the 1.5-liter engine and a six-speed manual transmission, which the Fiat 500 is frequently matched-up to, weighs in at 2,605 lbs.
The front-wheel drive 500 was fun to drive and handled the open road with confidence. Of all the small compact cars we have driven, even with the short 90.6-inch wheelbase, the 500 had the most stable feel at highway speeds and was unaffected by passing big rigs. Parking, as you can imagine for a car just over 11-feet long, was a breeze. It did not come equipped with a rear view camera, which was just fine, as there was no need for one.
Pointing the 500 where you wanted it to go resulted in ending-up in that desired spot, with the electric power steering being very subtle in its assist. The front and rear MacPherson suspension includes coil springs with twin-tube shock absorbers, producing a firm, but not stiff, ride with acceptable drift or pushing through extremely hard cornering. We also found the highway ride to be comfortable. The 500 comes with either Continental ContiProContact, Firestone Firehawk or Pirelli Cintuarto all-season 185/55R15 tires, mounted on 15-inch painted aluminum wheels.
The response and feel of the 500, even without the turbocharged engine and modified suspension and tires on the Abarth and Sport models, was a thing to enjoy. Wind and road noise was low, which is saying something for a relatively light vehicle with a short wheelbase, probably in part due to the aerodynamic design of the body.
The brakes, vented front with solid rear rotors, worked very well under all conditions, including late, last-second corner braking. Steady pressure delivered a desired brake force through the system, which included four-wheel power assist, Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with brake assist, all-speed traction control (TCS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC).
Driving Experience: Exterior
The Fiat 500 is all about being retro, and it is done quite well in unmistakable Italian design. Clean Fleet Report was driving the Fiat 500 Lounge 1957 Edition…a long name for a small car. The reference to 1957 (the year of the introduction of the nuova—new—cinguecento) comes from the two-toned paint scheme, retro badging, retro fascia with bright inserts and retro wheels, making this car reminiscent of the one so popular throughout Europe in the late 1950s and seen in many films from that era.
To start with, the 500 is small, but not in an obvious or curious way compared to a Smart Fourtwo.
Up front, there is a fun face with large, round Halogen projector headlights and a mustache trim piece, above the mouth-like grill openings, and fog lamps. The 500 has an upright design with sides that slope inward towards the roof. A raked front windshield leads over the fixed glass roof to the rear glass on the hatch, which has a sharp angle sloping forward. Chrome pieces are at a minimum and used properly as accents.
As part of the Lounge 1957 Edition package, the four-slot, 15-inch wheels are painted the body color (in our case, Celeste Blu) and have chrome flat dish hubcaps along with a chrome wheel ring.
All-in-all, it’s a completely unique design from anything else you will see on the road—and pure Italian all the way.
Driving Experience: Interior
The first thing you notice when getting into a Fiat 500 is how small it seems. But the smallness does not translate into being cramped, because at 5’ 9”, I fit just fine, as did my six-foot-tall friend, including ample headspace. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and tilt column along with the heated leather seats made finding a comfortable seating position easy. But, and there is always a but, the tight fit between the doors and seat edges mean you should not even attempt to find anything you dropped until getting out of the car. And, the contortionist moves needed to reach the shoulder belts once seated upfront are the result of the smallness of the interior. If you are thinking of hauling around people larger than about four-feet-tall, be forewarned that the rear seat is not meant for grown humans. The best bet with the 500 is to lay the 50/50 split rear seats flat and enjoy zipping around with enough luggage space for two to have a great weekend trip.
The 500 dash is clean, basic and everything is well within reach of the driver. But, and there is that dastardly but again, the Tom Tom navigation screen appears to be an afterthought, as it is
inserted right at eye-level mid-dash and is a distraction when driving. This device also acts to sync Bluetooth through the Blue&me system for mobile phone hands-free, voice-activated communication, so it is necessary to install it into the dash when starting the car. Thankfully, once synced, you can remove the Tom Tom device, put it in the glovebox, and the Bluetooth continues to work. Of course this means you no longer have navigation, but, heck, how can you get upset when getting lost in a fun driving car?
Our 500 Lounge 1957 Edition had the six-speaker, Fiat Premium Audio System with AM/FM/CD/MP3, SiriusXM (One-year subscription included), all of which can be managed by the steering wheel mounted controls and a media hub with USB, AUX and audio input jacks.
Convenience features include power windows with one-touch down, power door locks, power and heated foldaway exterior mirrors, A/C with automatic climate control, floor mats, remote start, keyless entry, 12V and USB power outlets, multiple cup holders, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rear window wiper/washer, security alarm, and a tire service kit in lieu of a spare tire.
The 2015 Fiat 500 has an Overall 4-Star National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rating, with a 5-Star Side Crash, and a 4-Star rating for Rollover and Frontal protection. Safety features include seven airbags, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), traction control, rear park assist, remote keyless entry, engine immobilizer, Tire Pressure Monitoring (TPM), brake assist, hill start assist and cruise control.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2015 Fiat 500 has a base price of $17,965 with the 500 Lounge 1957 Edition Clean Fleet Report was driving had a MSRP of $22,650. All prices include the $850 Destination Charge. Option packages will add to these prices.
All 2015 Fiat 500 models come with these warranties:
Basic Limited Four-year/50,000-mile
Brakes, Wiper Blades, Clutch, Windshield and Rear Window, Wheel Alignment and Balancing One-year/12,000-mile
Roadside Assistance Five-year/100,000-mile
Observations: 2015 Fiat 500 Lounge 1957 Edition
I live near a high school and usually, when driving by the students, I don’t draw any attention. But, when driving the 2015 Fiat 500 Lounge 1957 Edition, all of a sudden I was getting stares,
double-takes and pointing from…teenage girls. Guaranteed they were not looking at me, but were reacting to the cool, retro 500 cruising by as they trudged to class. This was no surprise because watching Fiat’s television commercials you will see pretty quickly to whom they have targeted this car: females, 21 – 30, single, hip and fun-loving.
The Fiat 500 is fun to drive, easy to park and handle. The base engine we drove in the 500 Lounge 1957 Edition is underpowered, but it gets good fuel economy. The design is unto itself.
So what’s not to like about this cool looking small car? If you absolutely do not need a car that can haul around adults or your family and their gear, then the 500 could be a good car. Otherwise, it’s a second or third car. The Fiat 500 is a statement car that will draw attention and says something about your lifestyle and outlook on life.
Treat yourself to a test drive of this fun car. You just may drive home in something you never thought would be in your garage.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
Related Stories You Might Enjoy:
Road Test: 2013 Fiat 500e
Road Test: 2015 Fiat 500L Trekking
First Drive: 2015 Jeep Renegade