Is Fiat a Good First Car? (Fiat 500, 500x, Bravo, Panda, Punto)

Fiat makes several compact and subcompact cars.

The Fiat vehicles available depend on your region, but their lineup in the US market has been shrinking.

You don’t have many Fiat choices for your first car.

is fiat a good first car

Generally: Are Fiats Good First Cars?

Consumer Reports did not rank Fiat in their 2021 reliability report as Fiat has too few models to join the list.

Meanwhile, RepairPal ranked Fiat #18 out of 32 car brands, effectively putting it in the bottom half in reliability.

Fiat vehicles remain popular for their unique and distinctive Italian design, but their subpar reliability record and average build quality make them mediocre first cars.

Presently, Fiat does not have a strong presence in the US market – a self-explanatory situation.

But how much better are their direct competitors?

Specific Fiat Models:

There aren’t many models you can consider.

#1 Is a Fiat 500 a Good First Car?

The 500 is a two-door subcompact that combines nostalgia with a distinctive European design.

The Fiat 500 is a fine vehicle with unique Italian styling, but it is an average first car, at best, considering the competition:

  • Easy to park – its diminutive dimensions are smaller than most subcompacts.
  • Nimble city car – advantageous in heavy traffic.
  • Adequately powered – 135 hp is just right for a city car; even the Abarth isn’t too powerful.
  • Mediocre gas mileage – the auto transmission returns sub-30 mpg combined; the manual does better.
  • Subpar reliability – lags behind its Japanese and Korean foes.
  • Small rear seats.
  • Limited trunk space.

If you like the Fiat 500’s design, see which model year you should buy, or if the more powerful Fiat 500 Abarth makes a better first car than the base model in the subsequent sections.

Otherwise, you’re not short on options in the subcompact segment.

Which Fiat 500 Year Is the Best First Car?

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (manual).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Complaints: total reported problems (CarComplaints).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.ReliabilityComplaints
2019 Fiat 5003.4/4NA28/33/30NA0
2018 Fiat 5003.4/4NA28/33/30NA0
2017 Fiat 5003.4/44/531/38/3470/1001
2016 Fiat 5003.4/44/531/38/3471/1002
2015 Fiat 5003.4/44/530/38/34NA8
2014 Fiat 5003.4/44/530/38/34NA2
2013 Fiat 5003.4/44/530/38/3485/10018
2012 Fiat 5003.4/43/530/37/3277/10048
Fiat 500 model years comparison.

IIHS rated it ‘Good’ in most crash tests, except for ‘Poor’ in the front small overlap (driver) test, hence the non-perfect score.

NHTSA scored it 4/5 stars overall, except for its debut year when it received only 3 stars.

Tally those ratings, and you get a Fiat 500 with an unconvincing structural safety.

Reliability is below-average across its model years.

Opt for newer Fiat 500 models for your first car.

Avoid the debut year 2012 as it had many problems that needed resolving.

Fiat 500 or Fiat 500 Abarth for a First Car?

Let’s use the 2019 (final) model year to compare.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (manual).
 Fiat 500Fiat 500 Abarth
Engine1.4L turbo1.4L turbo
Horsepower135 hp160 hp
Fuel economy28/33/3028/33/30
Length139.6 in144.4 in
Width64.1 in64.1 in
Height59.8 in58.7 in
Cargo vol. (rear seat up)9.5 cu ft9.5 cu ft
Cargo vol. (rear seat down)30.1 cu ft26.8 cu ft
Fiat 500 vs. Fiat 500 Abarth comparison.

Both have the same standard safety features – backup camera, ABS, brake assist, stability control, traction control, and airbags.

Opt for the Abarth if you want a high-performance vehicle in a small package and with a lower center of gravity.

Otherwise, the base Fiat 500 is the better first car because the extra horsepower is unnecessary.

Fiat 500 Compared with Similar Vehicles

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems; 5yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Fiat 50028/33/3076/100$5223.4/4NAAverage
Kia Rio33/41/3683/100$4343.8/4NAExcellent
Honda Fit33/40/3679/100$3904/45/5Excellent
Toyota Yaris32/40/3580/100$3334/45/5Good
Mini Cooper28/36/3183/100$8464/44/5Good
Fiat 500 comparison with similar vehicles.

The average annual maintenance cost for subcompacts is $456.

The Fiat 500 is more expensive to repair and maintain than most competitors, except the Mini Cooper.

Further, the competition betters the Fiat 500 in fuel economy and safety ratings – crucial indicators of a good first car.

So, test drive and choose carefully.

#2 Is a Fiat 500X a Good First Car?

The 500X is the only model currently flying the Fiat flag on American shores.

In the crowded subcompact SUV segment, the Fiat 500X, unfortunately, doesn’t do as well as its rivals, and thus, is a poor choice for a first car:

  • Subpar reliability – unfortunately, it’s fairly consistent with Fiat vehicles in general.
  • Disappointing fuel economy – mid-20s mpg combined.
  • Limited cabin and cargo room – compared to its subcompact peers.
  • Average visibility – thick roof pillars and small rear window compromise outward view; a drawback for inexperienced drivers.
  • Stiff ride – both city and highway drives.
  • Relatively loud interior – car and engine vibrations and road noise fill the cabin.

You may love the unique Italian styling and find its shortcomings forgivable.

In this case, the available all-wheel-drive (for better traction) and well-made interior may still tip your decision in favor of the Fiat 500X as your first car.

Plus, Fiat provides a four-year warranty.

Fiat 500X Compared with Similar Vehicles

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Fiat 500X24/30/2673/100$5034/4NAAverage
Hyundai Venue30/33/3179/100NA4/44/5Excellent
Mazda CX-329/34/3175/100$3454/45/5Average
Honda HR-V27/31/2979/100$3014/45/5Good
Subaru Crosstrek22/29/2580/100$4924/45/5Excellent
Jeep Renegade24/32/2777/100$4983.8/44/5Average
Fiat 500X comparison with similar vehicles.

The competition beats the 500 in most quantifiable aspects.

If gas mileage matters most, go with the Hyundai Venue or Mazda CX-3.

Otherwise, the Honda HR-V has the lowest maintenance costs and impeccable safety ratings.

#3 Is a Fiat Bravo a Good First Car?

The Bravo is a four-door family hatch discontinued in 2014; Fiat Tipo replaced it.

It may be dated, but a used Fiat Bravo is still a reasonably good first car for buyers on a small budget despite some negatives:

  • Excellent fuel economy – 45 mpg on average.
  • Light steering – easy to drive around town.
  • Easy to park – easier compared to a sedan.
  • Average visibility – awkward driving position plus small back window.
  • Decent trunk (boot) space – 365 liters.
  • Second-rate safety – 5/5 stars for adult protection, 3 stars for child protection, and 2 stars for pedestrian protection.

Bravos don’t retain value well, but fortunately, you can get a used Bravo inexpensively.

If you like the Fiat Bravo as a first car, consider these as well:

  1. Volkswagen Golf
  2. Ford Focus

#4 Is a Fiat Panda a Good First Car?

The Fiat Panda is a hatchback with a steep history, which began in 1980 and has spanned three generations.

The Fiat Panda has the merits of a city car, making it a good first car:

  • Strong fuel economy – averaging close to 40 mpg (17 km/l). The Panda Hybrid gets 50 mpg (21 km/l).
  • Responsive handling – good feedback for an engaging drive.
  • City car dimensions – the compact size makes it easy to drive and park for young drivers.
  • Excellent visibility – the upright driving position, tall roof, and large windows aid outward visibility for a safer drive.
  • Quality interior – stylish and smartly-designed cabin.
  • Cramped cabin – smaller than its rivals.
  • Inexpensive to insure – UK car insurance group ratings between 3 and 6, depending on the model.

If you’re considering getting the Fiat Panda as your first car, include these in your research:

  1. Kia Picanto
  2. Hyundai i10

They offer more value for money with roomier cabins and industry-leading warranties.

#5 Is a Fiat Punto a Good First Car?

The Fiat Punto is a supermini car that began selling in 1993, spanning three generations, and had its final model year in 1998.

Like the Fiat Panda, used Puntos are your only option.

The Fiat Punto (including the Grande Punto) was an excellent city car, but its age and several drawbacks make it a below-average first car for teenagers:

  • Excellent fuel economy – between 40.9 mpg (17 km/l) to 62.8 mpg (26 km/l), depending on engine variant. The diesels are the most fuel-efficient.
  • Low-powered engines – below 100 hp suffices for a teenager’s first city car, but it will struggle with a few passengers on board.
  • Light steering – excellent for city driving, but less so at speed.
  • Decent cabin room – for a small car.
  • Relatively inexpensive insurance – UK car insurance group 4; you can find superminis in group 1 – cheaper and better.
  • Poor Euro NCAP crash test score – the Punto re-took the tests in 2017 and came away with no stars overall, a downgrade from the previous five stars when requirements were less stringent.

Going by its abysmal safety ratings, the Fiat Punto may even class as a bad first car because its competitors present a much safer option.

Viable alternatives to the Fiat Punto as first cars include:

  1. Vauxhall Corsa
  2. Volkswagen Polo
  3. Suzuki Swift

Comparison: Best Fiat for a First Car

For US buyers, your choice of a Fiat is between a used Fiat 500 or a new or used Fiat 500X.

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
Safety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)VisibilityFuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. Costs
Fiat 5003.4/4NAAverage24/32/2770+/100$522
Fiat 500X4/4NAAverage24/30/26NA$503
Fiat models comparison.

The Fiat 500 and Fiat 500X have one attribute in their favor – unique styling.

If you love the European design and can find used Fiats with proven service history, they can be reasonably good first cars.

However, judging by the practical needs of a first car, you do yourself a disservice not researching what the other automakers can offer.

Alternative Makes to Fiat for a Teenager’s First Car

The Fiat 500 and 500X are in the subcompact car and subcompact SUV segments respectively.

Do explore these options:

  1. Honda – Fit, HR-V.
  2. ToyotaYaris.
  3. Kia – Rio.
  4. Mini – Mini Cooper.
  5. Jeep – Renegade.
  6. Hyundai – Venue.
  7. Mazda – CX-3.
  8. Subaru – Crosstrek.

Always do your research, inspect, and test drive before buying.