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2014 FIAT 500 Overview
FIAT makes a number of refinements to its 500 compact hatchback for 2014, improving the car's comfort level and visual appeal. Entering its third year in the North American market, the 500 combines a distinctive shape, small-car European flair and unique Italian styling to create something a little different, although it follows the mold already established by such vehicles as the Volkswagen Beetle and the MINI Cooper. Like those vehicles, the 500 draws on its heritage and the original 500, which dates back to the 1950s, but adds contemporary updating and modern amenities.
For 2014, the FIAT 500 again comes in a 2-door hatchback body style at Pop, Sport, Lounge, Turbo and Abarth trim levels, as well as in a 2-door 500c cabrio/convertible body style at Pop, Lounge and Abarth trim levels. For all 2014 trims, an updated passenger seat now includes memory settings. In addition, the passenger seat now sits 1 inch lower, resulting in improved headroom for the passenger. The automaker also adds a new Avorio (ivory) interior color for the Sport trim, which includes new sport cloth seats with a matching sport steering wheel and instrument panel trim, as well as a new Hyper Nero (black) exterior color for the Turbo trim. Both the Sport and Turbo also get new 16-inch wheels. Finally, new Granito Lucente (granite crystal) and Nero Puro (black) exterior colors apply to all 500 and 500c trims.
Outside, the 500 displays a classic Italian design, with good proportions and an overall A shape, achieved in part by pushing the wheels out to the four corners, minimizing overhangs. The cabin sits back on the chassis, allowing for a short hood and a steeply sloped rear end. Up front, the narrow grille, round headlights and central FIAT red logo surrounded by chrome "whiskers" result in a cat-like appearance, while a straight-through sideline and subtle wheel wells provide visual appeal. Halogen projector headlights, daytime running lights, power heated mirrors and a chrome exhaust tip are standard exterior features, while all trims except the Pop receive front foglights. All hard-top trims also get a rear spoiler except the Lounge, which comes equipped with a fixed glass roof. The Turbo receives a few unique exterior features, including bolder side skirts, unique headlight and taillight bezels, and a black-accented rear diffuser, which helps to optimize airflow. Unique features on the Abarth include exterior spotter mirrors, side sills and dual bright exhaust tips. Cabrio trims get a black soft top, which comes standard, although owners can opt for a beige or red soft top.
Base power for the Pop, Sport and Lounge trims comes from a 1.4-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder MultiAir engine, which delivers 101 hp and 98 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. FIAT pairs the engine with a 5-speed manual transmission, which comes standard, or an optional 6-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift and Sport modes. The Sport mode provides quicker gear changes and better responsiveness, and holds gears longer near the redline. When equipped with the manual shifter, the base engine posts fuel economy numbers of 31 mpg city/40 highway. Those numbers drop to 27/34 with the automatic. Testers find the base-powered trims somewhat underpowered, but say the two transmissions provide smooth shifting with a quality feel.
Owners seeking more power under the hood can opt for either the Turbo or the Abarth trim. As its name implies, the Turbo gets a turbocharged version of the 1.4-liter MultiAir engine. It includes a single turbocharger and twin intercoolers, as well as a sport-tuned exhaust, which help pump up the horsepower to 135 and torque to 150 lb-ft. The turbo engine links to a track-tuned heavy duty 5-speed manual transmission and posts fuel economy numbers of 28/34.
The performance-oriented Abarth gets the same turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, although with a number of engine enhancements, including an upgraded intake system with a high-flow air filter and a redesigned air box. As a result, it delivers 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. The engine mates to same 5-speed manual found in the Turbo and manages the same fuel economy numbers of 28/34.
Most testers and owners find the 500 a fun car to drive, with good handling and responsive steering, although they say the ride can get a little harsh on bumpy roads. They also note the 500 tends to sway a bit in windy conditions due to its small size and light weight (2,363 pounds). Around town, however, the 500 remains easy to maneuver, especially on tight streets and in parking lots. In its normal configuration, the 500 sits on a MacPherson strut front suspension with a stabilizer bar, and a twist-beam axle setup in the rear. All 500 trims come standard with rack-and-pinion electric power steering.
The Sport gets a Touring suspension with sport-tuned shock absorbers and springs, while the Turbo rides on a Sport suspension with sport-tuned shocks, springs and steering. The Abarth has a lowered ride height (by 0.6 inches) and sits on a specially tuned chassis with Frequency Selective Damping front shock absorbers, which operate automatically depending on speed and road surfaces. The Abarth also has a 40-percent stiffer front spring rate, a beefed-up rear suspension with a unique solid rear-stabilizer bar, larger brakes and uniquely tuned steering for quicker response. The Pop and Lounge trims ride on 15-inch wheels with all-season tires, while the Sport, Turbo and Abarth all get 16-inch wheels.
The 500's cabin receives mixed reviews, due in part to its compact size and some low-quality materials. However, others like the dash's retro look, with its geometric shapes, including circles and ovals. The main instrument gauge also makes good use of concentric circles, packing a lot of information into a single display. The center stack and shift knob sit high, within easy reach of the driver, and the front seats also sit high, providing an airy feel and good visibility out the large windows at the sides. However, the sloping roofline and C-pillar limit visibility out the back. Taller passengers will find plenty of headroom in the front and back, but rear-seat legroom remains tight for adults. Numerous storage spaces are located in the dash and doors, although cargo space behind the rear seats remains tight at 9.5 cubic feet. By folding down the 50/50-split rear seat, cargo space expands to 30.1 cubic feet.
Cloth upholstery comes standard on the Pop trim, while the Lounge gets premium cloth seats and the Sport and Turbo receive sport cloth seats. The Abarth comes equipped with well-bolstered front performance high-back seats with sport cloth, accent stitching and integrated side-thorax airbags. A leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, air conditioning, remote keyless entry and memory settings for the front seats are among the standard features across the line. The Lounge adds automatic air conditioning, while the Sport and Lounge get a chrome shift knob. The Sport and Turbo also receive a Sport steering wheel, while the Abarth includes aluminum pedals, a leather-wrapped instrument panel cluster, a leather-wrapped shift knob and a turbo boost instrument gauge.
The Pop and Turbo come equipped with a 6-speaker audio system with a CD/MP3 player and an auxiliary input jack, while the Sport, Lounge and Abarth get an upgraded Alpine audio system and the Lounge receives SiriusXM satellite radio. Both audio systems include FIAT's BLUE&ME connectivity system with Bluetooth and iPod integration, though some reviewers say the system is tricky to use, and iPod integration can be complicated. Optional features include leather upholstery for all trims except the Pop, as well as a Bose audio system with a subwoofer and a TomTom navigation system with a 4.3-inch touchscreen, also available on all trims except the Pop.
The 2013 FIAT 500 was named a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS, which should carry forward to 2014, while the NHTSA gave the 500 an overall rating of 4 out of 5 stars. FIAT equips the 500 with 7 airbags, including a driver's knee airbag, as well as electronic stability control, traction control, hill-start assist and antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.