Nimble handling and a free-revving engine make the funky, retro-styled Fiat 500 microcar engaging to drive. Zippy around town and easy to park, this two-door subcompact seems the ideal urban runabout. Its cuteness may be undeniable, and the front cabin is surprisingly spacious, but slow acceleration, a choppy ride and a noisy interior detract from the fun.
Other drawbacks include an awkward driving position, cramped backseats that are hard to reach, and a skinflint cargo area.
On the face of it, the 33 mpg overall we recorded looks terrific, but considering this car's minuscule size -- more than three feet shorter and 400 pounds lighter than a 32-mpg Toyota Corolla -- that fuel economy isn't so extraordinary. It also takes some work to wring the power out of the small engine.
Two different turbocharged models, a 135-hp Turbo and the riotous 160-hp Abarth, are available. The convertible 500c has a rollback fabric roof that lets the sunshine in by pulling the top back either fully or just part way. Even the all-electric model is surprisingly fun, with instant response and improved ride comfort brought about by the battery's extra ballast.
The sporty Abarth version of Fiat's microcar is anything but a wallflower. From its bold side stripes and red-trimmed seats to its raucous exhaust note -- one that barks, snarls, and whistles with every gearshift -- the Fiat 500 Abarth oozes with character and stands out from the crowd, both visually and audibly. Driving it is like having dinner with boisterous relatives: loud, entertaining, and memorable.
The Abarth's miniscule dimensions and relentless grip make it fun to drive, although its disappointingly vague steering lacks finesse and robs it of the go-kart feel and pinpoint accuracy of a Mini Cooper.
Adding a turbocharger to the regular 500's normally lethargic 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine brings a welcome energy boost, but acceleration still isn't that quick. This car is more about style and the driving experience than posting impressive track numbers.
Although it's a fun city car, the 500's flaws stack up too high for us to recommend it. Other downside includes a Poor showing in the IIHS' small-overlap frontal crash test.