2016 Fiat 500 Review

The Fiat 500 is as quirky as ever, but the 2016 model gets one major upgrade that makes it much easier to live with – a touchscreen. 

All this time, the Fiat was making do with a dashboard setup that could have been 15 years old, and it’s a huge relief that the 500 has entered the 21st century. This is somewhat ironic, since the Fiat 500 is already retro, and this is the special 1957 Special Edition version, an even more retro throwback to the original Cinquecento. A modern car with doubly retro aesthetics? Hipsters, man-buns and people who listen to bands before they are cool everywhere jump for joy. Nostalgic for a time that I never lived in, the 1950s are my jam, and I can’t lie about how much this car makes me smile.

Same Old Fiat?

In most ways, this is the same Fiat we’ve seen since the car came to North America in 2011 and the same one that’s been sold in Europe since 2007. Besides some barely noticeable nips and tucks and a few tech upgrades, the basic architecture and layout has been unchanged. This means that the seating position is still too upright and weird, it’s quite slow, it’s bad over rough roads, ergonomics are wonky, it has huge blindspots for such a small car, and it’s not very practical. That also means that it’s still easy park, far too fun to drive and is still one of the most stylish small cars money can buy.

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The 500 has always been full of flaws, but they’re easy to forgive because the car is so damn charming. I will realize something I hate about the Fiat 500, and then get in for a drive and catch myself smiling as I dart around town. Charming is the best way to describe the 500, and with this 1957 Special Edition, it charms even more.

What Makes This Fiat So 1957?

Fiat 500 1957 Edition

The cosmetic changes like color schemes and wheels are mostly what makes this 500 special. The 1957 Fiats come in both coupe and convertible form with either a white, pale green or baby blue paint job with matching 16-inch wheels. All three come with white roofs and mirror caps, some different chrome accents, and every Fiat badge has even been replaced with a 1950’s-style Fiat emblem. Inside, the brown and ivory leather combination and an ivory dash panel adds to this retro feel.

How Does It Drive?

The Fiat 500 is powered by a naturally aspirated 1.4-liter four-cylinder that’s hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission. I used to hate this setup, preferring the turbo engine with a manual, even though Fiat’s manuals are numb and awful. This powertrain has grown on me, however, and it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. Although its 101 horsepower and 97 pound-feet of torque figures are admittedly tiny, the car is so small and light that it feels faster than those numbers suggest.

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I drive it almost exclusively in Sport mode, as this makes shifts sharper while holding gears for longer, and makes the steering more direct. Again, this is not a sporty car, but its tiny size makes it hilarious fun to drive. With a little turning circle and subcompact size, it’s perfect for city life, but that little footprint and those tiny tires mean that it the 500 gets beat up driving over rough roads. The Fiat 500 is the definition of zippy little car.

With this engine and transmission, the Fiat is rated to get 37 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway.

Back to that Touchscreen

The Fiat gets a new five-inch touchscreen that makes using the infotainment system way easier than the previous 500, which didn’t have one at all. Pairing your Bluetooth phone and finding radio stations is a snap, as the Fiat uses a version of FCA’s UConnect system, which is one of the industry’s finest and most user-friendly setups. This is more of a “lite” version of UConnect. It has a similar look and feel, but doesn’t have all the same features or usability as full versions. This system would benefit from a home screen, because it doesn’t have one screen where it lays out all the options. Instead, physical buttons are below the screen, and they do make navigating menus easier.

There’s also a new volume knob! Previous 500s didn’t have this, so you had to “poke up the volume.”

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The 500 also gets a new digital gauge cluster and combined with the touchscreen, it does a lot to clean up the cabin. These modern upgrades work really well with the otherwise retro and fun interior.

Also, you wouldn’t believe this, but the 500 has very generous headroom in the front seats. The back seats are basically unusable, but the front is very comfortable, even for taller drivers.

The Value Question

One of the issues I grapple with is how much the 500 costs. All in, this special edition version is getting dangerously close to the CAD$30,000 mark or about $24,000 in the U.S., and for that kind of money, you can get cars that are much better and more practical. But can you get one with this much personality? Probably not. The Fiat 500 is more of a fashion statement than a car, and if that’s what you want and don’t mind paying for it, the 1957 is worth it.

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The Verdict: 2016 Fiat 500 Review

If I got a Fiat 500, this 1957 version is how I’d spec it (outside of an Abarth model). This is a charming and stylish little car that has proven to be a joy to drive. Combined with the added functionality of the touchscreen and digital gauge cluster, this addresses two of the biggest complaints I had about previous 500s, and the upgrades make the little car even more likeable.

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