Stylish, at times sporty, and at others efficient, the 2013 Fiat 500 brings a lot to the table considering its small size. But can it overcome Fiat’s previous reputation for poor reliability, especially in a market teeming with alternatives from America, Asia, and Europe?
With pert, upright styling that wraps a compact passenger compartment in simple, yet somehow characterful lines, the Fiat 500 manages to look upscale in a budget segment. Inside, it’s more of the same, with high style executed in cost-cutting materials–without looking it.
New for 2013 is the Fiat 500 Turbo, which raises output to 135 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque from a 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged four-cylinder. A taller final drive gear ratio on the standard 500 and 500 Cabrio improve gas mileage to 31 mpg city and 40 mpg highway as well. A new Beats by Dr. Dre audio system gives the 500 and 500c better in-cabin sound, and new colors and premium leather seating enhance personalization. A five-speed manual transmission is also now standard on 500 and 500c Lounge models.
Despite these improvements, and the 500’s already capable Abarth performance version making headway, Fiat still has a high hurdle to clear with regard to its rather hideous reputation from 20 years ago. When the brand was last in the American market, build quality and reliability were notoriously poor. Thankfully, that appears to have been remedied for the 500 in all its various guises.
Better yet, the 500 is engaging to drive, especially if you’re used to a toaster-like appliance driving experience. Combined with features usually reserved for the next segment up, including Bluetooth and auxiliary input jacks, the Fiat 500 makes a strong case for the value buy, especially for the urban dweller.
Even with a full year of sales under its belt in the U.S.–a year which fell far short of Fiat’s optimistic goals–it’s unclear if the 500 will manage the swim upstream against its past. Given the car’s strengths, especially against the competitive set, however, we think it has a good chance.
That chance is even greater if buyers in the subcompact segment have great taste, as there’s no question that the 500 stands out from the crowd that includes the Rio, the Yaris, and even the Fiesta. Despite its tiny price tag, it’s as much art as it is appliance, and that’s a refreshing change in the small-car world.