2019 Fiat 500

By Eric Peters

September 17, 2019 6 min read

Should you buy a new car that's just been discontinued?

It depends on the reason for its discontinuation.

If it's a bad car — unreliable, problem-prone — then the answer, obviously, is no. Don't buy it.

But what if the car isn't bad but just a victim of bad timing?

What It Is

The Fiat 500 hardtop hatchback/soft-top Cabrio is the smallest new car you can still buy ... for the next few months.

Parent company Fiat just announced it won't be selling them in the United States after the end of the year. However, Fiat will be selling them in Europe and other places where the market for small, fuel-efficient cars is still strong — because gas isn't cheap in those markets.

What killed the 500 in the United States was cheap gas. The little Fiat isn't the only small car in big trouble for this reason. Sales of the BMW Mini Cooper are way down, too. And Volkswagen dropped the Beetle.

Even the Prius is in trouble.

People want SUVs, trucks and other big vehicles and aren't worried about how much gas they use.

But if you worry about what gas might cost next year and don't want to pay a lot for a new car this year, then you might want to have a look while you still can.

The base model, Pop, costs $16,495 to start — with either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission (no extra charge either way).

A top-of-the-line, high-performance Abarth Cabrio with a partially retracting fabric top that can be peeled back at speeds up to 60 mph lists for $22,240.

Just for reference, the 500's main rival, the still-here-for-now Mini Cooper hardtop, costs $21,900 ... to start.

What's New

For the 500's final year (in the U.S.), Fiat is offering a Retro appearance package to commemorate its first year back in 1957.

What's Good

You can put it in your back pocket — almost.

It doesn't take much out of your back pocket.

It's surprisingly practical and always cheerful.

What's Not So Good

In the land of the Huge, it can feel very small.

If you go automatic, you'll get less gas mileage.

Under the Hood

All 500s, except the high-performance Abarth (Fiat's equivalent of Mini's John Cooper Works), come standard with a 1.4-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that has 135 horsepower and 150 foot-pounds of torque, paired with either a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional (but no extra charge) six-speed automatic.

Gas mileage is 28 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway with the manual. It dips to 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway if you go with the optional six-speed automatic.

For more fun, there's the Abarth. This thing's not super fast, but it's a firecracker.

The 1.4-liter engine is hugely boosted — reaching almost 30 pounds per square inch if you feed it high-octane gas — and summons 160 horsepower and 170 foot-pounds of torque while emitting the bellow of a Harley with straight pipes.

On the Road

Smallness can be its own reward.

Think of a mouse running between an elephant's legs. Maneuverability is the 500's approach to safety.

It's a small target.

Plus, you can see what's coming at you better because of the better-than-most visibility that you get due to the car's relatively tall profile. Which means you can avoid being hit by what's coming.

The 500 is, of course, most at home in urban settings and as a commuter car. But it has the legs for highway driving. And the room for it, too.

At the Curb

Though the 500 is the smallest new car you can buy, it's much more space-efficient than the next-smallest new car you can buy.

BMW's Mini Cooper two-door hardtop is 151.1 inches long versus 139.6 inches for the 500 — almost a foot's difference in overall length, which makes a big difference in terms of parking spots (and holes in traffic) you can take advantage of.

But the two cars have nearly the same space inside, including first- and second-row legroom and cargo room.

The 500 actually has slightly more back-seat legroom (31.7 inches versus 30.8 for the Mini) and cargo room behind the back seats (9.5 cubic feet versus 8.7 for the Mini).

The Rest

Don't sweat the 500's cancellation here. The car will still be produced and sold almost everywhere else, which means service parts will still be available long after the 500 no longer is.

And Fiat Chrysler isn't going anywhere, which means there will still be manufacturer support for these cars after next year.

The Bottom Line

Small isn't big right now. But that doesn't mean it's bad.

 View the Fiat 500 this week.
View the Fiat 500 this week.

Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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