Fiat always has done things a little differently, and the North American–market 2016 Fiat 500 1957 Edition is a case in point. The original Fiat 500 was one of the world’s first true “city cars”, introduced in 1957 and continuing in production until 1975. Its stylish modern “Nuova 500” successor, which is based on the same platform as the Fiat Panda and Ford Ka, was introduced to the European market in 2007 and it finally made its way to North American shores for 2011. So far, so good.

The Fiat 500 1957 Edition was introduced in 2014 to celebrate the 57th anniversary of the popular and diminutive original, and it stuck around for 2015 and now for 2016 because, apparently, if there’s one thing better than a retro-styled car it’s a retro-styled car with extra retro touches. It’s available in only three colours, all suitably late-50s looking (a light olive green, a light blue, and a pale mint green).

Whether or not the 1957 Edition carries on into 2017 for the 500’s 60th anniversary remains to be seen, though it would seem somehow fitting. In the meantime, Fiat has been busy in the design studio, and for 2016 the company introduced a refreshed 500 with a good-looking new front fascia and grille, expressive new headlight design, funky new LED taillights, and a refreshed interior design.

Now at this point you may be looking at the photos and thinking, “Wait a minute, this Fiat 500 looks exactly like last year’s.” And that’s because my test car is a North American Fiat 500, and here in North America we don’t get any of the exterior changes, just the refreshed interior. Sigh.

It’s not clear why the exterior changes didn’t make their way across the pond – fan forums suggest possibilities including difficulty obtaining U.S. approvals for the new lights, or excess stock of existing fascia panels at North America’s Toluca, Mexico plant (European 500s are built separately in Tychy, Poland). Still, North American buyers can console themselves with the fact that:

  1. The European exterior changes, while indeed nice, are quite subtle, so only the most observant of neighbours would have known the difference anyway.
  2. The bigger news is the refreshed interior, and we do get that.

Where the previous interior was all pushbuttons and pixellated orange LCD displays, and featured an awkward optional TomTom navigation system that plugged into the top of the dash if you wanted to know where you were going, the new interior gets a revised central dash panel with a five-inch UConnect touchscreen display mounted in a slightly bulbous pod, flanked by the central dash vents and featuring proper volume and tuning knobs (hooray!). All models except the base Pop model also get a new seven-inch driver information display in the centre of the speedometer, with digital gauges that run around the perimeter (the Pop retains analogue gauges).

Voice-activated GPS navigation is available in all but the Pop trim, and while the five-inch touchscreen is a little small for navigational duties, it gets the job done and is certainly a huge improvement over the previous TomTom setup. Fiat-Chrysler’s UConnect interface is decently intuitive, so connecting my phone and finding my way around the various infotainment functions proved easy and trouble-free.

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