THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: The modern take on classic Cinquecento styling on this Italian icon. It’s all about style, whimsy, fuel economy and nimble, small car maneuverability.
- What’s Worst: Slightly anemic engine. Tighter interior spaces for passengers and their stuff than some competitors. All problems are overridden by style if you’re into retro Italian design.
- What’s Interesting: Rumours of a possible mild hybrid version for 2019 or later, utilizing a 48-volt electrical system. Stay tuned . . .
I pulled into the open parking spot, did my best to ignore the tantalizing aroma of pizza, and crossed to the other side of College St.
And then aimed the camera back at the Fiat 500 posed in front of Trattoria Taverniti.
Toronto’s Little Italy was standing in for the real thing. But even without an authentic European background, the car was carrying it off anyway, thanks to the genuine Italian flavour of this iconic little Fiat.
We can trace today’s Fiat 500 way back to the Topolino (little mouse), or at least back 60 years to the inspirational styling cues of the original 1957 Cinquecento.
This modern, sixth generation version was resurrected a decade ago, following the modernized, explorative cues of 2004’s Trepiuno concept. It also made a tip of the hat to other successful reiterations of past icons – BMW’s MINI and VW’s New Beetle.
The Fiat 500 fills only a small subcompact niche in Canada, playing second fiddle, or should I say, seventh fiddle to Micra, Yaris, MINI, Fit, Spark and Fiesta, although somehow still scraping up enough sales numbers to kick the smart fortwo’s butt.
Globally, it’s a different story where, since it’s 2007 debut, more than a million Fiat 500 models have been sold in more than 100 countries around the world.
The Fiat 500 carried over relatively unchanged for 2017 and will probably do the same for the 2018 model year, with a major revision, including a possible 48-volt mild hybrid system, slated for the future.
The 2017 lineup was simplified, however, dropping the 1957 retro tribute model and sticking with three trim levels – Pop, Lounge and Abarth models, available in hatchback or cabrio (500c, convertible) configurations, harnessing either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic, and coming in 15 different colour choices complemented by 10 interior treatment variations.
Tested here, our 2017 Fiat 500 Pop hatchback offers an affordable entry to the lineup at $19,245 (reduced to $16,245 by a $3K sales incentive at the time of writing).
Inside, the Fiat 500 Pop adds two new interior choices this year, capitalizing on a treatment that blends hallmark Italian styling with modern technology.
The interior works.
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The body-colour metallic dash and trim pieces inside add zing, as do the embroidered cloth seats, and the layout is just kitschy enough to not contrast too much with off-the-shelf Chrysler buttons and knobs.
The Fiat ambiance is not quite as quirky as MINI styling, but the overall effect captures traditional 500 cues with a lighthearted and youthful flair.
And even this entry-level Pop model starts with Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, Electronic Brake-Force Distribution and Hill Start Assist, power group, a tilt steering wheel with audio/cruise controls, remote keyless entry, 50/50 split-folding rear seat, height-adjustable driver’s seat and FCA’s UConnect 5.0 multimedia with 5.0-inch touchscreen and Bluetooth streaming six-speaker audio and connectivity.
Granted, here in the cheap seats, we’re stuck with steel wheels and have to kick in $1,300 for air conditioning.
I also noticed the lack of a rear view camera, an extra we’ve come to take for granted these days. But it’s available on higher trim levels and I didn’t really consider it a problem in this case, when I could literally reach out and touch the rear window and not-quite-blind spots.
A standard 101 hp, 1.4-litre MultiAir inline-four banger does its best to keep up with traffic, most ably mated here with the standard five-speed manual.
Fuel economy with this combo is rated at a frugal 7.7/6.1L/100km (city/hwy) with my results averaging 7.5L/100km (comb).
Yeah, you could wish for a six-speed manual but the tallish fifth gear is not overworked at highway speed, with the engine spinning at around 2,500 rpm at 100 km/h.
Most customers will probably pony up the extra $1,495 for the Aisin six-speed automatic overdrive tranny with Auto Stick. And for those with a lust for more power, there’s the Abarth option with its same-sized but more powerful turbocharged 160 hp 1.4-litre engine.
So, how do you summarize the Fiat 500?
Well, small car choices are usually rated on objective factors like engine power, fuel economy, comparative room and affordability.
But throwbacks like the Fiat 500, MINI and Beetle add the subjective vagaries of romance, tradition and nostalgia to the mix.
Which brings me back to that picture in Little Italy and our real reason for being there. It was almost a year to the day since my wife and I spent a month in Italy and, after Rome, Venice and Florence, we squeezed in some seat time in a white rental Fiat 500, a perfect little tourer for the twisties leading to the hilltop towns of Tuscany.
You can’t really revisit those memories here in Canada, even with Renato Carosone crooning from your iPod, and even with those stops in Little Italy for cappuccino and gelato.
But, as always with the perky little Fiat 500, it was sure fun to try.
2017 Fiat 500 Pop Hatchback
BODY STYLE: Two-door subcompact hatchback.
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive.
ENGINE: 1.4-litre MultiAir four-cylinder (101 hp, 97 lb/ft)
CARGO VOLUME: 269 litres, 855 litres with rear seat folded.
TOWING: not recommended
FUEL ECONOMY: 5MT 7.7/6.1L/100km (city/hwy); As tested 7.5L/100km (comb).
PRICE: 2017 500 Pop $19,245. As tested $21,215 incl. A/C ($1,300), SiriusXM with one year ($375), Laser Blu metallic colour ($195).
WEB SITE: Fiat Canada