2015 Fiat 500 Review

2015 Fiat 500 - The fun-to-drive 2015 Fiat 500 has Italian charm and a handy size for urban use.


Prices: $16,845-$29,495

Fiat-Chrysler is banking on the fact that a fair number of Americans want a small car with Italian flair, is fun to drive and delivers good fuel economy--all for a reasonable price.

The front-drive, two-door Italian Fiat 500 is such a car. It comes as a hatchback or Cabrio with five trim levels, three engine horsepower choices and two transmissions.

The Cabrio version is a quasi-convertible with a long sliding power soft top with a clever design.
List prices for the Fiat 500 range from $16,845 to approximately $29,495, but desirable options are rather costly for what is essentially an economy car.

Fiat-Chrysler says several hundred thousand Fiat 500s in various trim levels have been sold in 80 countries since 2007. The car has been offered here with U.S.-style modifications to make it softer and quieter for several years. It's done reasonably well, considering that it debuted with few dealers and has stiff competition from better-known American rivals.

Also, many younger Americans knew nothing about automaker Fiat, which is a large, legendary Italian auto producer that makes all sorts of cars for foreign markets.

While it's billed as a four-seater, the 500's tiny rear seat really makes it a two-seater. There's only room for, say, pre-schoolers in back.

There's plenty of room up front in supportive seats, but the Cabrio's cargo area has a high opening and is small. Chances are a family can't fit a week's worth of groceries in it without flipping the rear seatbacks forward. Doing that significantly increases the cargo area. The 500 hardtop model has considerably more cargo capacity.

Horsepower of the 500's small 1.4-liter engine ranges from a standard 101 to a turbocharged 135 or 160. Transmissions are a slick 5-speed manual or an efficient 6-speed automatic with a manual-shift feature
My test car had the 101-horsepower engine and automatic transmission. It was no fireball like the racy160-horsepower 500 Abarth version, but provided lively all-around performance and decent 65-75 m.p.h. passing times, partly because the 500 isn't very heavy.

Putting the car in "sport" mode with a dashboard control sharpens steering and throttle responses, but I only noticed a slight difference between sport and regular modes during routine urban-suburban driving.
The engine emits a high-rev sound during hard acceleration but isn't objectionably noisy. The interior is quiet when cruising at highway speeds.
Estimated fuel economy of the hardtop 500 is 31 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on highways with the manual transmission, but drops to 27 and 34 with the automatic.
I tested the  $22,800 Fiat 500C upscale "Lounge" Cabrio version. However, the bottom-line price was $27,030. The price included a $1,900 option package with such items as leather seats, the $1,350 automatic transmission and a $980 destination charge.
Those on tighter budgets can do without the options. For instance, my test car had a good amount of standard equipment. It included air conditioning with automatic temperature control, speed control, 7-inch color cluster display,  premium audio system, power windows and door locks, tilt steering wheel with audio controls,12-volt auxiliary power outlet and 50/50 split folding rear seat.

Safety items included air bags and rear-park assist.

Doors opened wide and had long-but-shallow storage pockets, but I had to flip up the driver's small center arm rest to buckle the seat belt. Controls were clearly marked, but cupholders were set low, and the oddly designed tachometer was hard to read quickly. Dashboard materials weren't impressive.
The steering was precise, but the turning circle was wide for a small car. A nicely designed suspension and electronic stability control allowed my test 500 to handle fast curves without drama. The ride was supple, although a short wheelbase allowed some bumps and freeway pavement expansion strips to be felt.

The four-wheel anti-lock disc power brakes had good pedal feel and impressively stopped my test car.

The quasi convertible top hinders rear visibility when up or down, but outside rearview mirrors help out here.

Like most Italian cars, the Fiat 500 has a special charm that rivals lack.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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