In the middle of a section full of high-end Porsche, Dodge Vipers and miscellaneous Italian exotics sat a vintage Fiat 500. The tiny city car looked like it could fit into the trunk of any of the vehicles surrounding it at the car show. But the little hatchback didn’t fade into the background. Rather than being eclipsed by the exotic supercars, the 500 stole the show. In fact, when the official event photos were published, the Fiat’s “Cinquecento” main the first page of the story.
Fast forward as we stare at the latest version of Fiat’s subcompact. The 500’s retro styling and “less is more” approach continue to command a loyal following of enthusiastic owners and fans. Fiat’s standout design, entertaining driving dynamics and excellent fuel economy provide well above average fun in a relatively affordable package.
The four-passenger 2019 Fiat 500 and 500c subcompact can be purchased as a hatchback or convertible. It’s sold in four trims: Pop, Lounge, 1957 Retro Edition and Abarth. Pop and Lounge models are powered by a normally-aspirated 135 horsepower four-cylinder engine. Our 500C Abarth model gets a turbocharger that boosts power to 160 hp. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a six-speed automatic gearbox is available on all models. Front-wheel drive is standard.
Our Review Vehicle: 2019 Fiat 500C Abarth
Our reviewer checks all of the available boxes: a more powerful engine, Abarth styling and performance packages, 17-inch wheels and a unique convertible top that provides in-between open and closed options. Need a little sun and fresh air – tap the button to roll the canvas top back to the equivalent of a sunroof. Coming home from the night shift and need a boost to keep you awake? Hold the button down until the roof is completely open.
It is hard to deny the 500C Abarth’s personality. Taking a look at the vintage model, you can clearly see how the latest-model is inspired by the legendary 1950’s vehicle, considered by many as the world’s first “city car.” Much like the original, the 500’s footprint is miniscule but the subcompact’s presence is huge.
The 500’s interior is simple but fun, fitting of the Fiat’s personality. Front seating is surprisingly spacious, but the back seats are tiny (a word we use a lot in this post). Two adults would be hard pressed to even fit in the rear seats, never mind ride in them for anything longer than a short trip around town. The hatchback version allows the rear seats to be folded down, creating a comfortable two-seater with a decent size cargo area. Our convertible top comes at the expense of cargo space. With only 5.4 cubic feet available, you’d be hard-pressed to fit more than a roller bag or two in there.
Driving the Abarth
Our Abarth model’s turbocharged engine and sport-tuned steering and suspension are lots of fun on the road. The exhaust crackles and pops between shifts and when you let up the throttle. While the Abarth isn’t the fastest car we’ve driven, the tuned suspension, larger brakes and wider tires make every ride a little adventure.
The entry-level 2019 Fiat 500 Pop starts at $16,495 plus fees, providing the subcompacts retro-styling at an affordable price. Our performance-themed Abarth starts at $20,745 our nicely-equipped convertible was just shy of $27k plus fees.
Those looking for an entry-level vehicle that still commands attention will likely find the base model 500 a great deal. However, enthusiasts will find the pricing premium of the Abarth model to be well worth the added expense. For us, the 2019 Abarth hatchback with the 5-speed manual is the pick. The extra power and performance options transform the little city car into an enthusiast-friendly vehicle that loves to be driven.
Chris Brewer is an automotive writer and photographer living in Northeast Florida. Chris is a regular contributor to numerous automotive magazines and founded Jacksonville Car Culture, an automotive lifestyle firm that runs Jacksonville’s Cars & Coffee. Chris also works as the director of communications for The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, a world-renowned automotive event and two-time winner of the International Historic Motoring Event of the Year award. He also has a doctorate degree from The Institute for Worship Studies.