Car Reviews

2015 Fiat 500 Pop review

Robert Pepper’s 2015 Fiat 500 Pop review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.

Editor's Rating

How we rated the Fiat 500 Pop 9.0
Practical Motoring Says : The small-car segment is full of dull whitegoods, yet the Fiat 500 Pop stands out like a rainbow lorkieet amongst pigeons.  It's as much fun to own and operate as the disintictively stylish looks suggest, and strongly recommended for those that enjoy driving and cars.  If that's not you, there's cheaper options with automatics that take less effort.
9.0

On the outside

The Fiat 500 Pop is beautifully styled, and has a history, or ‘heritage’ to use PR-speak, dating back to 1957. That’s when it was less than three metres long (the current car is a behemoth at around 3.5m), powered by a two-cylinder, 0.5-litre engine good for all of 10kW. Nearly four million were produced up until 1975.
 
Then in 2007 Fiat brought the 500 back to life because there’s no old car that can’t be resurrected for a modern incarnation, and today you read a review of the latest version, the 2015 Pop. At least Fiat have faithfully kept the 500 small and nippy, unlike other heritage attempts elsewhere that simply slap a retro looking body on the same chassis as a more staid cousin.
 
2015 Fiat 500 Pop review
 
So, the looks. Being a technical editor and therefore devoid of taste, I consulted my friends who said:
 
“It looks like it’s trying to be a modern take on retro styling that would suit a young girl for her first car (is that sexist or ageist?) Or perhaps a hipster guy or girl that lent towards the Italian influences, when they weren’t riding their Vespa that is.”
 
“The styling? It looks like a marshmallow, or a mouse. Its decidedly soft, feminine, and cute. I want to pat it.”
 
“Sweeeeeeeeet! It’s adorable and so much cooler than the Mini.”
 
“The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it’s taken its styling cues from nature. It’s just missing whiskers and a tail.”
 
The general verdict was that it’s cool. Nobody had a bad word about it, and of all the cars I’ve tested of late this one attracted the most attention which was universal praise.  And nobody could believe the price either.
 

Room & Practicality

It’s a Fiat 500, so it’s not big. It’s Italian, so you’d expect it to be all prima-donna and form over function.
 
In reality, the 500 uses what little space it has fairly well, but is a bit low on storage compartments. It doesn’t actually let form erode function either, with well laid out controls.  The centre LCD display is a little too compressed and fussy, but over time owners would get used to it.  
 
There’s the odd missing touch such as no light to illuminate the boot.  If the effort of turning a steering wheel on a car that weighs less than 900kg is too much, there’s a City mode which makes it even lighter, you can almost blow on the spokes to rotate the wheel.
 
The rear seat back folds down kind-of-flat for extra storage. But a full load of shopping and some extra small bags saw the space all used up.

RMP_4920

There’s no centre console, this being a small car.  Instead, there’s a hefty parkbrake but it’s all too easy to grab instead the seat height adjuster.  Seatbelts can be a bit fiddly too, but both problems are solved with a bit of familiarty. Again, it just shows this car needs a bit of learning and familisation.

On the inside 

If you like your cars predictably Japanese, you are going to have a bad time soon as you open the door.  
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It will be an alien world, like operating an Android phone if you’re an Apple fan.  The gearshift is strange, and not just because it’s called Dualogic.  There are weird buttons here and there, in the European style which means just icons not letters on them.  At the sides are big, shiny chrome doorhandles.  In front there is a giant speedometer with a small LCD display.  
 
It’s all very well done and stylishly brave in a way which other manufacturers either don’t dare to try or don’t know how, giving a very pleasant in a modern-yet-retro ambience.  That’s to be expected.  What’s not expected is that everything pretty much works, once you’ve spent an interesting few minutes figuring it out.
 
The car is like a puzzle. For example, first thing I do with a press car is pair my Bluetooth phone, after scrolling through to see which other journos have left theirs in. This took me ages, sitting there with car idling and some office workers looking on wondering what I was doing. Eventually, I gave in and consulted the manual which told me that “Blue&Me” pairs phones by voice recognition. Well of-bloody-course it does. Why not use buttons for such a task? Because Fiat 500, that’s why. So I activated the voice recognition, paired my phone and off we went (eventually I found the button option later on!)
 
2015 Fiat 500 Pop review
 
I really should be annoyed at such usability failures, and if it was an anodyne boremobile I would reach deep into the bag of well-used cliches marked “For When The Car Annoyed Me” and let loose.  
 
But I just can’t be nasty about the 500.  It’s like coming home to a house with the contents of the mantlepiece upside down on the floor and a little kelpie puppy in the middle bouncing around in a yellow puddle looking innocent, you know you should be angry but you just hug him instead. So I don’t mind the 500 being a bit difficult to work out, it’s all part of the experience.
 
But in some ways the 500 is very easy to use.  Most modern cars disappear up their own exhausts with complexity, forcing the driver to navigate layers of touchscreens to do basic jobs like change radio channels or the heating. Not so the 500, which has pleasingly large, simple and old-school dials and controls for all the important features. That’s a design trifecta – looks good, does the job, easy to use.  Take note, everyone else, just because you can make something a menu option doesn’t mean to say you should!
 
Now to my bugbear.  The driving position is not ideal.  The steering wheel is a bit too large in my view, and is only adjustable for tilt not reach.  The base of the seat can be tilted, but it’s not true height adjustment, and there’s only the seatback angle left to play with.  I could not find an ideal driving position, which was a great shame.
 
The rear is seating for two only, and adults of average height and above are going to find the headroom limited.  The slide-forward front seat arrangement isn’t the 500’s finest feature, so if you are regularly transporting large, non-athletic people this car is not going to top your shortlist.  In the front the car doesn’t feel as small as it is, perhaps due to the near-panoramic views out front – and this is one modern car where I never felt the A-pillar was in the way.

Performance, Ride & Handling

The Fiat 500 has the best combination of low-speed handling fun and about-town practicality of any car I’ve ever driven.  
 
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Yes, it has only has a 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine, but those hamsters under the bonnet are on steroids.   Revvy, great brakes, neutral handling with a touch of oversteer on occasion, and highly chuckable thanks to the suspension, short wheelbase and the gearbox which holds gears well beyond the normal call of duty.
 
Anyone that loves driving will love this car, pure and simple.  You might not accelerate fast, but the speed this thing can carry into and through curves never fails to impress.  The variations into corner entry with brakes, gear and steering are endless, exciting and rewarding of experimentation.  Yet this is in a little city car, with a super-tight turning circle, an easy-to-use high driving position with great visibility and no outwards signs it is in fact a micro sportscar or maybe even more fun than the Toyota 86.
 
Yet some things in life are meant to be enjoyed in moderation, and this is true of the Fiat 500 Pop.  Driving this car long distances would be like listening to high-volume AC/DC for a whole day.  It’s noisy by modern standards, has only five gears, indifferent wind noise damping and no cruise control. It is a towncar, first and foremost, and the little engine becomes tedious when asked to power the car around fast rural roads.
 
2015 Fiat 500 Pop review
No “P” for Park! Doesn’t need it!

The automatic transmission is of course different to the norm. What’s missing? P for Park. You put the car in gear, first or reverse, when you park. That is because this is a ‘automatic manual’, a concept which is fully explained here. Suffice it to say that if you love your manuals, but want the convenience of an automatic then this design of gearbox may just be precisely what you’re looking for – most of the involvement, driveability and fun of a manual with the boring work part removed.  An excellent choice by Fiat, and this is one of the few automatic cars where it’s actually interesting and rewarding to use the manual mode.
 
 
But if you just want to drive without any effort this car is not for you.  The automatic manual is not a smooth shifter, and there is a distinct pause as the next gear is selected, particularly with the lower gears and under medium to quick acceleration. The solution is either to shift yourself, which is the best way to drive the car for any of performance, economy or fun. Alternatively, you must learn to anticipate the point at which the auto will shift and slightly back off the accelerator, then smoothly reapply it, in exactly the same way you would if it was a manual manual. Too much effort?  The Toyota dealership is over there, with its Yarises, or try the i20.
 
There is an Eco mode which changes gears early so you annoy other road users.  Don’t bother, just drive with a lighter foot and to be honest you don’t use much fuel even going hard. The Pop lacks a sport mode when the transmission is in automatic, but you don’t need it, just take control of the gears and go for it. The ride is good to excellent, dispatching bumps and urban problems with aplomb.
 
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Quality

Italian cars have a poor reputation for quality, but let’s bygones be bygones and look at the reality of 2015.  Pretty much everything is well finished with no unsightly gaps.  Some of the plastic storage compartments could perhaps be better built, and there was a bit of a ripple on a weatherseal but this is not a top-end car.  The transmission does develop a bit of acutator noise which one tester said would “drive him mad”, but I could live with it, I don’t mind listening to a car’s internals work.
 
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Pricing & Equipment

You can always tell how desperate car manufacturers are by what they list as a feature. In this case, it’s “Electric front windows” and “manual airconditioning with pollen filter”, which is like a phone manufacturer of today saying “Colour screen and does Internet”. Translated, this means if you want lots of gadgets, gizmos and luxury look elsewhere, or at least further up the range.  It’s not just the big-ticket items that are missing, like cruise control. The windows aren’t one-touch up and down, the headlights aren’t auto-sensing and the stereo is a bit basic.   
 
Sure, you can certainly buy cars with more equipment for less money, in the same way that instant coffee costs less than barista-made. But if you want more gizmos Fiat can oblige. Our test car was the entry-level Pop, then there’s the 500S. The 500 Lounge is a semi-convertible, and finally is the Abarth, the really luxurious sporty one with more than double the power. 
 
Our automatic-manual car commands a $1500 price premium over its manual-shifting cousin.  Interestingly, the car’s owner book was devoted entirely to the manual version and the automatic transmission was covered in a supplement. That’s because the main 500 market is Europe where they love their small, manual hatchbacks.
 
The Pop has a Bluetooth system from Microsoft called Blue&Me, which works well enough but has one huge, massive, failing. But first, Microsoft in a stylish Italian car? It’s like ordering a box of Belgian chocolates and finding an, ahem, Coles Home Brand biscuit inside. Anyway, the problem.
 
There is no Bluetooth audio streaming.
 
In 2015, that’s unforgiveable. All you can do is use a USB key, or plug in your phone via the aux input with a cable.  Horrible.  Or look to the aftermarket and use a gadget that accepts audio streaming from the phone and plays it into the car via the aux socket, like this one.
 
The warranty is three years / 150,000km which is kind of sneaky by Fiat because very few towncars will do 150,000km in three years. Would be more impressed with four years / 100,000km.  
 
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Safety

A 5-star safety rating , but it’s a small car so we suggest not crashing it into anything big.  The Pop lacks the latest active safety aids such as autonomous emergency braking and the like.  There’s not even a rear parking sensor on this model, but you could always just reach out the window and feel for the kerb.
 

2015 Fiat 500 Pop Dualogic 

PRICE : from $18,500  (+ORC); WARRANTY : 3 years/150,000 kilometres; SAFETY : 5 star; ENGINE : 1.2-Litre four-cylinder petrol; POWER : 51kW at 5500rpm; TORQUE : 102Nm at 3000rpm; TRANSMISSION : five-speed automatic; DRIVE : Front-wheel drive; BODY : 3.54m (L); 1.63m (W), excl mirrors; 1.48m (H); TURNING CIRCLE : 9.3M; WEIGHT : 900 kg; TOWING : 400kg unbraked / 800kg braked (really!); FUEL TANK : 35 litres; SEATS : 4; SPARE : Space saver (full-sized does fit, but you’d lose 40mm  of boot space as it’s a wider tyre); THIRST : 5.1/100km (ADR81/02 combined); FUEL : 95 RON

Comprehensive Car Insurance

ALSO CONSIDER

Basic small cars – you can buy cheaper, better equipped cars from the likes of Toyota and Hyundai but frankly, they’re nowhere near as much fun, no more practical, and far less stylish.  But you’ll save money, not that you’d be the sort to spend cash on anything as frivolous as fun.
 
Small sportscars – sportier Minis, Fiesta ST, Toyota 86 and the like.  To be quite honest around town the 500 is the better drive, cheaper, more practical and more fun.  Only once you get out onto the open road will the faster, purer sportscars pull head in the fun factor stakes.  Read a comparison of the 86 vs the 500.
 
 park-meme
 True story, we encountered an officer and that’s what he said.

 


2 Comments

  1. Adam Howley
    April 15, 2015 at 8:38 pm — Reply

    So a Yes, seat sucks for the “right” position. Boot light in each model except pop. USB streaming for iPhone and let’s face it you always need a recharge anyway. Because it’s plugged in you can use Siri eyes free which means no fines. Blue and me really isn’t worth using. Did you ever find the door Lock? I love that they design very simple solutions.
    The fact they have multiple “menu’s” for different functions is painful but it’s a sign of their cost savings. For a car that ultimately is still the 2007 model it’s pretty bloody good. Things I really like that you only learn over time are things like heated mirrors, auto door lock when you reach 10kms etc, stuff that others don’t add or consider. Cruise control is missed but I bet it would have been a weird way of implementing it anyway.

    Glad to hear you like to because it makes me feel more sane for my rational, the S gave me a better steering wheel which is such a nice feel.

    • Robert Pepper
      April 15, 2015 at 8:47 pm — Reply

      I’m an Android user 😉 Door lock yes, liked that. Auto door lock I didn’t disable. It’s a very lovable car and a good drive. No question I’d recommend it to the right sort of buyer.

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!