The 500 is fun to drive, fun to look at, fun to park, and fun to be seen in. You’ll make new friends wherever you roll up.
Subcompact three-door hatchback
Back in 2011, one of Italy’s hottest automotive exports to Canada wasn’t a 200-mile-per-hour Ferrari with pricing in the six figures, but rather, a cheerful and affordable little hatchback from Fiat called the 500. Three doors, four-cylinder engines, and a smattering of peppy styling, custom options, and fuel-saving technologies helped drive sales of this Italian “micro-car” that was big on getting noticed.
Shoppers can consider the Fiat 500 alongside comparable models from Smart, Mini, and Scion.
Good mileage, instantly recognizable looks and a slew of possibilities for customization are top reasons to consider one – as well as the fact that the 500 is fun to drive, fun to look at, fun to park, and fun to be seen in. You’ll make new friends wherever you roll up.
Depending on the model selected, a used Fiat 500 may come with side skirts, fog lamps, a sport-tuned suspension, heated leather, automatic climate control, and a power sunroof. For the aspiring audiophile, upgraded stereo systems were available with satellite radio functionality.
The 500 appeals with cute looks, upscale feature content, and overall uniqueness, but may not prove spacious enough for shoppers who frequently need to travel with several grown-ups. It’s got four seats, but it’s a small car – and not one likely to be ideal for lengthy road trips with a full complement of adults on board.
The 500 featured an all-four-cylinder engine lineup, including a 1.4L four-cylinder with 101 horsepower, and two turbocharged versions thereof. The first of these was fitted to the Fiat 500 Turbo from 2013 and on, with 135 hp. The sportier Fiat 500 Abarth’s turbocharged 1.4-litre engine made 160 hp. Both automatic and manual transmissions could be had, and all units were front-wheel drive.
Note that the Fiat 500 Abarth was a specialized, higher-performing version of the standard 500 upon which it was built, and that the 500c was a convertible model, which utilized a slide-away fabric roof panel for quick access to open-topped motoring. Various special-edition models of the 500 were available, too, with unique looks and feature content, depending on the year.
The Fiat 500 came in other variants too, but we’ll be focusing on those listed above for the balance of this feature.
What Owners Like
Owner-stated pluses include the 500’s unique looks, character, excellent fuel mileage, fantastic up-level stereo systems, and overall fun-to-drive dynamics. Braking performance is rated highly by owners, too.
What Owners Dislike
Common gripes include tight headroom for taller occupants, small rear seats, and the less-than-logical placement of some controls. Some owners report a choppy highway ride too.
The Test Drive
Here’s a machine that appeals more for its fun factor and uniqueness than low maintenance and running costs. For context, here’s a discussion where a perspective shopper asks the owner’s community if the 500 is a reliable car. Some owners reported no issues, others reported many – most note that in online forums, nobody posts that their vehicle had no problems and performed flawlessly on a given day. The gist? Take owner forum discussions with a grain of salt, and protect yourself when buying a used Fiat 500 by having a technician familiar with the car check it out ahead of your purchase.
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Tell any seller you encounter that you’ll want to have the vehicle inspected via a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) at a Fiat Chrysler dealership before you agree to buy. This inspection costs about $120 and takes about an hour. The seller may be able to meet you at the dealer, or let you take the vehicle there for its appointment. Schedule this in advance if possible. Note that a PPI can reveal hundreds of dollars’ worth of problems or issues with a used vehicle – often paying for itself should a big repair bill be lurking.
A full check of the steering and suspension should be completed before you purchase – via some standard checks on your test drive, and by a technician at a service centre. Note that any unwelcome clunking, popping, or slamming sounds as you travel at varying speeds over rougher roads are typically signs of somewhat commonly reported suspension component wear, and will require attention. Further, when stopped, move the wheel quickly from side to side, and note that any binding sensation, popping, or a vibrating or slamming sensation detectable through the floor near your feet indicates a problem too.
Whether you have any noise-related concerns or not, the Fiat 500 should be checked for issues with its strut mounts, and all consumable suspension components, like end-links and bushings, as a bare minimum. Here’s some more reading. And a little more.
Further, be sure to inspect the 500 you’re considering for signs of uneven or excessive tire wear, possibly caused by an out-of-spec axle, or a bad alignment. If you’re not sure how ask a mechanic to investigate. Due to some sporadic owner reports online, shoppers are advised to have their used 500 candidate checked for signs of excessive wheel-bearing wear, too.
Scrutinize the interior and body trim for signs of damage, missing pieces, loose pieces, or other damage. Some owners have reported quality issues ranging from loose panels to rattly steering wheel covers to broken fog-light housings to door rub-moldings that come loose and fall off in automated car washes.
If the model you’re considering seems difficult to start, during your test drive or later during ownership, here’s some information on a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) which may help, with revised software.
Going with a manual transmission? Confirm that the clutch operates properly, doesn’t slip, and releases as expected, in a consistent manner. Familiarize yourself with this thread, which outlines a recall to fix an issue with the clutch release system. This recall seems to have affected many models from 2012 to 2016. Contact your nearest Fiat Chrysler dealer with the vehicle’s VIN number to see if it’s affected by the recall. Here’s some more reading on one owner’s story, in which he reports that the clutch pedal winds up “locking up”, and can’t be depressed.
Check the brakes for remaining life, noting that some owners have reported faster-than-expected wear of factory brake components. Though brake system wear is largely a function of driving habits, locale and maintenance, it may pay to ensure the vehicle’s seller isn’t trying to stick you with the bill for an upcoming brake job.
Other checks should include a full, on-the-hoist inspection for leaks from the engine, transmission, transmission cooler, and associated plumbing, as well as a check that all remote keyfobs and all exterior door or hatch release handles work properly. On board, confirm proper operation from all door lock and window switches, too.
If you’re considering a 500 Abarth, note that fuel, maintenance, insurance and tire/brake costs will typically be higher than a standard model thanks to the higher performance. Avoid a used Fiat 500 Abarth that’s been modified from factory stock, for maximum peace of mind. Note that white, oily smoke from the tailpipe can be a sign of turbocharger problems, as can an excessive accumulation of engine oil in the vehicle’s charge piping, which connects the turbocharger to the intercooler.
If you’re considering a Fiat 500c, be sure to open and close the roof several times on your test drive; to check the lower, outer edges of the cabin for signs of leakage, moisture, or mold; and to remember that leather seat segments that look dried-out and beef-jerky-like have typically been soaked and dried several times, which can indicate a water leak.
The Fiat 500 seems to appeal more for its uniqueness and looks than for durability and reliability. Some commonly reported issues with suspension wear and quality issues dull the appeal slightly, though shoppers set on a Fiat 500 can protect themselves with extended warranty coverage, proper maintenance and inspections, and by having any model they’re considering inspected before purchase by a trained technician.
Shop carefully for a used Fiat 500, and seek out a clean bill of health from a professional before agreeing to buy.
A list of recalls.
Crash Test Ratings
IIHS: Top Safety Pick (2013)
NHTSA: 3/5 Stars