Test Drive: 2017 Fiat 500 Pop

The original rear-engine Fiat 500, also known as the Cinquecento, was built from 1957–75 and racked up over four million sales. The word icon may be much overused in these times, but the Bambino surely deserves that status, rubbing shoulders with other diminutive mega-selling people movers like the BMC Mini, Citroen 2CV, and VW Beetle.

The 500 still looks ready to run circles around the Coliseum or bop merrily down the Amalfi Coast.

Hard to believe that Fiat 500 version two, launched as a 2007 model in Europe, is halfway to matching the original’s numbers. It’s been around for 10 years and has found about two million homes. Any chance of it catching up with its progenitor?

It sure won’t get much help from the North American market. Launched here as a 2012 model, the honeymoon with this Euro-chic pipsqueak is long over – 500 sales have slowed to a trickle.

Our Mexican-built Fiat 500 comes in all kinds of trim levels and flavours – Pop, Pop Cabrio, Lounge, Lounge Cabrio, Abarth, and Abarth Cabrio. The Pop and Lounge models run with a 101 hp, 97 lb-ft 1.4L MultiAir four, while the Abarth cars get a turbo version of the 1.4 that kicks out a raspy 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. The 135 hp Turbo model, which was arguably the one Goldilocks would find “just right”, has been discontinued for 2017.

Here we are looking at a back-to-basics 2017 Fiat 500 Pop hatch, which could be considered the model most true to the essence of the original. After all, the Cinquecento was all about affordable transportation for the masses, and with the Pop’s current $3,000 discount, its starting price (with five-speed manual) drops from $19,245 to a palatable $16,245.

This tester sported the essential $1,300 air conditioning, along with Laser Blu paint ($195) and SiriusXM with a one year subscription ($375). If you want a six-speed auto, it runs $1,495.

So is this Pop’s enticing sticker enough to lure a few more romantics into the fold? And let’s be honest, the 500 still looks ready to run circles around the Coliseum or bop merrily down the Amalfi Coast. Put the pasta on boil Maria, I’m bringing the Sangiovese.

The 500 got a much-needed interior refresh last year, supplanting the old hard-to-read interface with FCA’s intuitive Uconnect, featuring five-inch screen and rotary control knobs. And somewhere along the line, Fiat finally lowered the hip point of the driver’s seat so you no longer feel like you’re perched on a bar stool.

Unlike fellow retromobiles Mini and VW Beetle, the Fiat 500 remains tiny, which helps with inner-city maneuverability but hinders when it comes to hatch space and anything resembling back-seat accommodation. Additionally, the continually updated Mini and Beetle drive like… er, proper cars. The Fiat 500 is a slow, wobbly, cutie-pie powered by nostalgia and not a whole lot else.

Oh, but it is a cheery little thing. The clutch is light and the stick-shift sprouting from the lower dash works with easy precision. The steering is quick, and within its modest limits the Pop is a zippy handler. With such a short wheelbase, the ride can get a bit pitchy over rough surfaces, but overall it is pretty civilized.

There is a placebo-like Sport button on the dash that, is this manual transmission car, only firms up the steering a bit. With a six-speed auto, the shifts points would get more perky in sport mode.

The standard six-speaker audio sounds pretty good. (It was tuned to the 60’s satellite channel when I picked it up. A missive from FCA PR perhaps?) Other nice touches include one-touch lane-change signaling, a convex section on the driver’s side mirror for blind-spot checking, and a rear wiper that comes on automatically when putting the car into reverse (when the front wipers are on). No heated seats or back-up camera though.

The big central gauge with its concentric speedometer and tach can be hard to read at a quick glance, and my wife complained about reflections off the body-coloured dash panel. I say “dolce vita”. Without these charmingly retro cues, the Fiat 500 would dive-bomb into irrelevance.

Standard kit for the Pop includes hill start assist, cruise control, 5.0-inch Uconnect touch interface, fabric seats with driver height adjustment, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, USB and aux port, Bluetooth streaming, split 50/50 rear seat back, power/heated exterior mirrors, rear wiper and 15-inch steel wheels with covers. On the safety front the 500 gets advanced multi-stage front airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, driver’s side knee bag, seat-mounted side airbags and front-seat active head restraints.

Available options include sunroof, navigation, alloys, sport appearance package, and comfort convenience group along with the aforementioned A/C, SiriusXM and six-speed auto.

At this point in the review I could rattle off a number of cars that give considerably more for the money. Case in point would be the all-new 2018 Kia Rio that in LX+ trim ($16,595) that offers more room, modern dynamics, 130 horsepower, heated seats, air conditioning, automatic transmission, back-up camera, a killer warranty… oh, c’mon, this exercise is futile.

The Fiat Pop is as a cute a St. Bernard puppy – and about the same size. If you want to put your money into this endearingly flawed slice of Italian nostalgia, we won’t hold it against you. Just don’t try to back your purchase up with logic.

2017 Fiat 500 Pop
Engine Displacement: 1.4L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 101 hp
Peak Torque: 97 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 7.7/6.1/7.0 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 269/852 L seats down
2017 Fiat 500 Pop
Base Price $19,245
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $20,010
Optional Equipment $1,870 – Laser Blu paint $195; air conditioning $1,300; SiriusXM $375
–$3,000 rebate
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.4
9 Styling
6 Powertrain
6 Quality
6 Comfort
6 Practicality
6 Drivability
6 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
5 Features
6 Value