The Fiat 500 is a cute car with a couple of shortcomings, but Fiat will fix one of them this year: the automaker has tweaked manual-transmission naturally aspirated 500s to achieve 40 mpg.
Previous Fiat 500 and 500c models were rated at 30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway with a five-speed manual transmission, but Chrysler says that it's changed the 500's five-speed for this year, which has a taller final-drive ratio, down to 3.44 from 3.733 last year. 500 Sport models with the five-speed will get a 3.73 final drive. All manual models get a slightly different second gear as well to improve acceleration.
That doesn't make a whole lot of difference--the EPA estimates that the 2013 model will get 34 mpg combined, up from 33 last year--but it's enough for the little hatchback to hit the magic number of 40 mpg highway. Doing so puts it in the company of cars like the Ford Fiesta SFE and Chevrolet Sonic (with the optional 1.4-liter turbo four).
Among its competition in the teeny-tiny hatchback market, the 500 now scores the highest highway fuel economy, even if it does fall short in overall numbers. The Chevrolet Spark scores a 32 mpg city / 34 mpg combined / 38 mpg highway score, the Scion iQ achieves 36 mpg city / 37 mpg combined / 37 mpg highway, and the Smart ForTwo reaches 34 mpg city / 36 mpg combined / 38 mpg highway. Crucially, the iQ and Spark get those scores with regular gasoline, while Fiat and Smart still recommend putting premium in the 500 and ForTwo's tanks. Then again, the 500 has the most horsepower among those competitors (101 hp to the Spark's 84, the iQ's 94, and the ForTwo's 70), letting it keep the crown for sportiest entrant.