Strengths and weaknesses:
- responsive pedals and steering
- manoeuvrability and ease of parking
- more power than similar economy two-seaters
- unusable rear seats
- poor headroom
Fiat raises the cute factor by 500
A well-known name across the pond, Fiat’s 500 is a little late to the cute-party on this side of the Atlantic, but the Italian-bred urban runabout arrives in time to compete with entries like Scion’s iQ and the already-established Smart Fortwo.
The distinctive little car boasts styling that differentiates it from the aforementioned competition (and Honda’s CR-Z, the only other entrant in the class I can think of off the top of my head, but a completely different animal) by opting for less quirks in the styling and more practical proportions.
Standing on 15-inch wheels, my test model this week (a 2012 hatchback in “Lounge” trim) doesn’t look as cartoony as, say the iQ. The alloy rims, blinged with 500 badges, are a compliment to the car’s overall shape; which rather than being ‘boxy’ is almost a pyramid. Steeply swept pillars front and rear taper the passenger compartment to the small, low roof, and Fiat thankfully steered clear of the latest trend of sticking a clashing, out-of-place front end onto a little micro-commuter.
Technically not a two-seater (it has vestigial rear seats and belts, which makes it a four-passenger car) it may as well be, with a tight cabin across all axes, and headroom that will bother taller drivers.
The steering wheel doesn’t telescope, and the sunroof in my tester lowers the ceiling. I have to recline the seat until I am almost lying down so my hairless skull isn’t rubbing the liner, with arms outstretched to reach the wheel. Not my idea of a driving position; in real life I prefer to sit bolt upright and closer.
It goes without saying though, that everything in the cockpit is within easy reach; and a simple, uncluttered center stack (and steering-mounted Bluetooth phone controls) leaves the dash uncluttered.
While it’s no powerhouse with its 101 horsepower and 98 lb.-ft. of torque, the 500 is still significantly more powerful than the Scion or the Smart; and I like the Fiat’s automatic transmission better than the competition’s, as well.
The six-speed Aisin gearbox does a good job (though in order to wring the most out of the 1.4 litre powerplant, a buyer might want to select the five-speed manual, with which the car is available, and shave some money off the bottom line). Nowhere near as jerky as I have found Smart’s automatic to be, and with a more sport-oriented personality than a CVT, it may also be why I’m not getting the mileage from my 500 I have in the past from other cutie-compacts.
Extremely responsive pedals are another point in the car’s favour, as far as I am concerned. Despite the low numbers, the 500 brings what it can when the gas pedal is depressed, and brings it without hesitation or sluggishness. In its intended environment, the little car allows a bit of fun-factor to come through.
Its advantages in the city are obvious: the car is extremely manoeuvrable and can be parked in many spots into which ordinary cars can’t get. The hatchback bodystyle allows it to maximize the small rear’s limited cargo capacity.
Fit and finish in my tester seems pretty good, particularly on the exterior, where its chromed accents and spoked alloy wheels elevate it above an entry-level econobox, which is good, because the tester’s price is anything but ‘econo’.
Building on a base price of $19,500 (for the Lounge Hatchback trim; 500s start as low as $15,995), this one adds rear park-assist, heated seats, the power sunroof that bothers my headroom, and those snazzy wheels (and a compact spare tire, which is a $200 option) to push the sticker price to $22,245 before freight and taxes.