By on March 18, 2011

It’s been over a quarter-century, so perhaps my memory grows hazy. But I recall enjoying the small, light subcompacts of the mid-1980s tremendously. They didn’t have much power. Power wasn’t a requirement, just a willingness to rev and to be tossed sideways through curves. I’ve spent the years since trying to recapture that experience. And failing. Too much mass. Too much tire. Even too much refinement. But FIAT’s not famed for refinement. And, at 2,363 pounds, the reborn 500 (pronounced “cinquecento”) is a quarter-ton lighter than today’s compacts. So perhaps my search is over?

Styling is clearly a FIAT 500 strength. Back in the mid-1990s I spent some time inside GM’s Design Center as part of the research for my thesis. At the time every brand and model had a few words that were supposed to capture its essence. I pointed out to the designers that “cute and friendly,” sought by my wife and others with similar tastes, wasn’t being provided by ANY of their many brands or models. They replied, at least half-seriously, that “GM doesn’t do cute and friendly.” Well, the 500 does, and then some. Not only is the car terribly cute, but the design is very well executed. The proportions are perfect and there’s not a curve out of place.

The interior is similarly chock full of character, with an oversized speedometer and body-color trim spanning the dash. Materials, certainly a cut or two above those Americans expect from FIAT, are nearly a match for those in the MINI Cooper.

The new FIAT 500 rides on a 90.6-inch wheelbase and is only 139.6 inches long, in both cases about a half-short less lengthy than the MINI. A member of the European A-segment, this is the smallest four-seater the American market has seen in some time. Yet the 500 has more space than the MINI within its back seat—at 5-9, I can fit, if with little room to spare. More cargo volume as well—30 cubes (vs. 24) with the rear seat folded. Magic? No—the 500 is 59.8 inches tall, four more than the MINI and approaching crossover territory. This additional height translates to a much higher driving position than you’ll find in a MINI—or in those cars that thrilled me back in the 1980s. With the seats so high legs don’t need to extend as far forward. The front seat cushions are size XXS and their shape applies far too much pressure mid-thigh even for people with short legs (30-inch inseam here).

While a turbocharged 170-horsepower “Abarth” variant is in the pipeline, at launch only one engine is available, a 1.4-liter four-cylinder good for 101 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 98 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000. But wait, there’s (allegedly) more: this is the first engine offered in North America with FIAT’s much-hyped “MultiAir” valve control system. By more flexibly controlling the intake valves, this system promises up to 10 percent more peak power, up to 15 percent more low-end torque, up to 25 percent better fuel economy, and up to 60 percent fewer emissions. Given these gains, FIAT claims to have achieved a game-changing breakthrough. (With which they “paid” for a big chunk of Chrysler.)

Then the rubber meets the road. MultiAir provides the most benefit under low engine loads. (I’d say “with small throttle openings,” but with MultiAir there’s no throttle.) Well, even though the 500 weighs very little by today’s standards, the 1.4 struggles to motivate it. Below 4,000 rpm there’s no power. Above 4,000 rpm there’s not much more. So WOT, or close to it, is the typical operating mode, and whatever benefits MultiAir provides are forfeited. As long as I can shift for myself I don’t need much power, but I do need a willingness to rev and, ideally, a zing in the process. Perhaps because of all the extra bits in the valvetrain, the 1.4 doesn’t care to rev and growls unhappily when forced to.

Shifts aren’t satisfying, either. A high-mounted shifter might work in a cargo van, but in a hatchback with sporting pretensions it’s no joy. One didn’t work in the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix, and it doesn’t work here. The lever’s somewhat clunky operation wouldn’t be welcome even in a cargo van.

With a low curb weight and a small MultiAir engine, the 500’s fuel economy ought to be stellar. But it’s not. The EPA ratings of 30 city and 38 highway are roughly matched, even exceeded, by some much larger, much more powerful compacts—none of which have MultiAir. And that’s with the five-speed manual. With the six-speed manually-shiftable Aisin automatic, the 500 only manages 27/34. To be fair, the similarly torque-free 1.5-liter four in the similarly light Mazda2 does even worse (29/35 with the manual and 27/33 with a four-cog automatic). But the differences between the two don’t begin to justify the hype surrounding MultiAir. Maybe the benefits will be more evident with a larger engine that doesn’t have to work so hard?

My expectations (or at least hopes) were highest with the 500’s handling. But the high seating position takes a predictable toll. Steering reactions aren’t especially quick. A Mazda2 feels friskier, a MINI more dialed-in and direct. Tossable the 500 is not. Instead, it tries too hard to behave like a larger car. Like the Ford Fiesta, it’s tuned for people who want the appearance of a small, cute car but not the feel of one.

Sadly, and unlike the Ford, what was achieved with the handling was not achieved with the ride. Even the smallest bumps dramatically upset the diminutive FIAT’s composure. The lightly loaded rear end never passes up an opportunity for a game of hopscotch. Granted, I drove the Sport variant, but if the ride is so unsettled that carving a clean line through a less than glass-smooth curve becomes a challenge, then there’s really no point in making the suspension so firm. Of the many cars in my memory bank, including the thoroughly unrefined Mazda Protege5 I own, this one rides the worst. The non-Sport would have to be an order of magnitude less jumpy to not constantly irritate those within it. Hopefully they’ll be able to better sort the suspension for the Abarth, for a 170-horsepower turbocharged four would be a terrible waste in this chassis as-is.

To give credit where credit is due, noise levels within the 500 are bearable, if those of a small car. Despite its low weight, the 500 feels considerably more solid than a Mazda2, if not quite so much as a German-engineered MINI. To put it bluntly, the car doesn’t seem cheap.

Nor is it, with the Sport checking in at $18,000. Still, this is within a few hundred dollars of a similar Ford Fiesta (a larger but less stylish car) and over $6,000 below a comparably equipped Cooper. Adjust for the Brit’s additional features using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the FIAT’s price advantage remains about $4,500.

The big question mark, given FIAT’s history, is of course reliability. With the first cars just now arriving at dealers, it’s too soon to say one way or the other. But TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey was designed to provide reliability stats on new models sooner, so perhaps by the end of the year (depending on how soon enough owners participate). You’ll see those results here at TTAC as soon as we have them.

As should be clear by now, the FIAT 500 isn’t the car I’ve been seeking for the past quarter-century. It does nothing especially well and a few things badly. But it’s so endearingly cute that even a MINI appears staid in comparison. Initial sales should be strong. But what about after everyone smitten by the styling buys one? And will the love survive a few months of living with the ride? Roger Penske went down this road not long ago. Ask him how it turned out.

Car provided by Golling FIAT

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data

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230 Comments on “Review: 2012 Fiat 500 Sport (US-Spec)...”


  • avatar
    Zackman

    I agree with the “cuteness” factor, but I still want to see a grille or some sort of trim where the raised, stamped area is, otherwise, it just doesn’t look right. My wife and I checked one out at our auto show and it appears to have accomplished everything the VW new beetle was supposed to. It has the character of the old beetle more so than the new one. Would I buy one? No. I’m a larger-car guy, but I hope it lives up to the hype and is successful.

    • 0 avatar

      Hi Zackman!

      It doesn’t have a grill as the original didn’t since its engine was mounted in the back. The designers tried their damnedst to hide the grill in order to get the original’s original design. If one of them reads your comment they’ll probably have a heartattack!!!

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      I’m dismayed that the market demands that the nose of a car have a “grille” regardless of function. Every recent attempt to launch a car with the nose styled according to function (B4 Passat and 1st gen Q45 spring to mind) rather than catering to the “it looks wrong” crowd seems to have died in the marketplace, and been forced to be revised for fashion rather than function.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      Marcelo is right. But someone forgot to attach the chrome “bumpers” that are present in the European version.
       
      “Sport”, too many scoops and underpowered. Seems like it was meant for the Brazilian market, not the US.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Gentlemen: Well, I must agree with you, as the American Corvair didn’t have a “grille” either, but I just think something more is needed from an appearance standpoint, as the front just looks strangely plain to me, but I suppose that’s the difference between American and European design. Does that make any sense at all?

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Marcelo & Steve: I suppose you are correct, after all, the Corvair didn’t have a “grille”, but had a modicum of trim that was a focal point for the front of the car. I geuss that is the difference between European and American design styles.

    • 0 avatar

      @Steve65:  The Taurus was grill-less for many years. They mocked up a grill for the original, and focus groups liked it better, but the designers pushed the grill-less one to market.  At the time it was a radical look.

    • 0 avatar
      mazder3

      A GRILLE!!!! HERESY!!! AAAAAAAACK!!! IT”S THE BIG ONE, ELISABETH!!!!!

  • avatar
    Almost Jake

    About 8 months ago, I saw one of these on the road outside Detroit. It’s a cute little bug-beater. However, I have doubts about it’s long-term success unless gas gets well over $4.00 a gallon.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    I have a hard time imagining this thing will sell in any numbers in the U.S.

    Europe? sure; here not likely, it will seem like a throw-back to another time. 

  • avatar

    Do you really mean to say this is the worst-riding car you have driven?

    DAMN

  • avatar
    snabster

    I am most curious about city MPG (short trips, blocks every light, etc).  30 MPG would be good;  I’ve seen people get similar numbers from a CRZ.  Weight seems to matter more than engines.
     
    How as the AC?

    • 0 avatar

      Too cold to test the AC.
      The MPG isn’t bad, just no better than that of larger cars without the MultiAir magic.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I’m surprised that the city mileage isn’t better than a larger car.  Weight usually makes a big difference.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      Maybe I’m having a brain cramp, but I can’t think of any non-hybird, manual transmission cars that get better city mpg (except the Smart – but it’s only a 2 seater).
       

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure anything gets better, but the Hyundai Elantra manages 29 city despite being much heavier and considerably more powerful. It’s not that the 500′s mileage is bad, but just disappointment that, given the specs and MultiAir, it’s not even better.

    • 0 avatar
      vww12

      Funny thing is, people see very small cars and are usually disappointed by their low city mileage, such as 29, 30, 31, 32 MPG.  This is Fiat 500 and smart ForTwo territory.
       
      Dude, if you ain’t getting better than that on the tiniest of cars, it ain’t gonna get better than that, no matter what government propaganda sez.

    • 0 avatar
      sjmst

      Wow, someone said this car doesn’t ride well? That’s clearly the minority opinion. Most every reviewer praises the handling and comfort. I’ve driven it and it was great. Shows that every car will have its detractors.

      This car appeals to young old, male and female. It has a solid track record, having been on the market since 2007. It will sell here, IMHO, but time will tell.

      BTW, people who have the car already are reporting 40 hwy MPG.

  • avatar
    lawmonkey

    Hitting right as gas prices are rising again – great timing for them.  Let’s see how big the overlap is for consumers of both tiny $18K new cars and untested brands.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Apparently it appeals to metrosexuals, so common sense won’t be the obstacle it might seem.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Not really fair.  There are a lot of cars out there that don’t make much, if any, rational sense and they get much more of a free pass.
       
      We buy fast cars that we can’t drive at a tenth of their potential, big trucks that do station wagon duty, and EVs that offer debatable sustainability.  Why not a car designed admittedly and honestly as a fashion statement?  The 500 might be superficial, but at least it’s not a poseur, like, eg, most Porsches and any high-trim pickup truck.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      People that spend $18K on a car generally can’t afford for it to be a shop rat that loses a dollar a mile in depreciation. People that buy other stupid cars generally buy them from companies with better track records than FIAT or Chrysler, and they generally can afford to weather any problems. My ex-gf’s Mini Cooper came with a plethora of new BMW loaners while it was in the shop a bit more than once a month. It was a pain in the rear even with the loaners. Will FIAT provide loaners? Will 500 buyers have 5 cars in their households?

    • 0 avatar
      aspade

      Does it really make a fashion statement?  All I see is “I can’t afford a real car because I am ignorant of the used market.”

      It’s under $16,000.  Not a trendy accessory like a Mini.  A poverty box like a Yaris, except without reliability or a dealer network.
       

  • avatar
    dadude53

    I think the 500 will follow the footprints of the Smart in the US. Especially sales wise.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Saw these in Amsterdam and Paris in the fall.  I like them.  Then again, my wife drives a MINI.  Anyway, I hope they do well.  Maybe it will convince other automakers that cars with character can sell.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I noticed the shifter when I got a bit of time in this.  It really does suck, but it’s not the placement that does it as much as the clunky, ropy feel.  Honda had a dash-mount shifter in the Civic SiR and it worked very, very well.
     
    What you’ve said about the drive jives as well.  It isn’t that bad, but there’s little you can do when you’ve a wheelbase this short.  Credit where it’s due, though, it’s much more people-friendly than the Mini.
     
    It will be interesting to see how this does against the Scion iQ: similar market, but a very different style.

    • 0 avatar

      The location was a problem for me, but I have relatively short arms to go with my short legs. Given your height, the slightly excessive distance probably didn’t pose the same problem. But, yeah, as noted in the review the feel isn’t nearly what it should be.
       
      The iQ and the 500 will sell (or not) for very different reasons. The 500 will sell based on styling. The iQ certainly won’t. Instead, the iQ will be bought (or not) as a cheap appliance. If priced over $15k it won’t have a chance. I assume it’ll be well under $15k.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I think this car is designed to replace the PT Cruiser.  I don’t think it will as it’s nowhere near as versatile, but it fills a similar aesthetic niche.
       
      The iQ won’t be judged as a pure appliance (that’s the strippo Yaris’ job) but I can’t see it getting cross-shopped with the 500 much.

    • 0 avatar

      We ended up getting a PT Cruiser for my wife because it did the “cute and friendly” thing AND we could fit the family in it.
       
      Eventually the manufacturers will figure out there’s a market for this combination. Chrysler did very well with it for a few years, but they had no next move when the styling grew stale.
       
      The JUKE would hit this if it were a little larger and a little less bizarre. The cube is apparently also a bit too bizarre and not quite “cute.”

    • 0 avatar

      Psar, Michael, amy I bump in?

      Psar, you get it right when you talk about the limit of the wheelbase. Throw it in really tight curves and it shines through. It might hop a little, but it won’1t swing aound (Fiat cars traditionally give the driver a large margin for error, those who know this will learn to appreciate and exploit it).Also gritty urban drives make it shine. Now, in the interstate and long, sweeping curves, yes a longer wheelbase car shines there. So, I don’t think it’s a fault of the car. It just goes with the territory. Now, the questionis, can you guys in NA get used to it? Learn to appreciate it for what it is?

      Michael, love your reviews. This one is no exception. I always find them informative and honest.

      As to seating position what I can’t stand is sitting down low in the car (a la VW). I know many will scram heresy, but I find that, in a car not meant for the race track, the higher position just lets you relax more in city driving. You have a more “commanding” (for lack of a better word) position. After a series of Fiats and Renaults and a Ranger pick up, I just hate it when I have to transition to a VW-like low sitting position. I’m a tall enough guy. But I hate feeling bunkered down in a car. The Fiat position is for me an excellent compromise between the excesses of VW and the excesses of things like a Honda Fit (where the seat is too high). Again, som e will like it immeadiately, others will find it growing on them. Racers need not apply as their mental prejudice is just too great.

    • 0 avatar

      Chrysler had a hit car that they let completely whither on the vine.  Then GM came in and made a better one so many customer’s defected to it or other brands. 

      The PT Cruiser, like the Pacifica, was a massive missed opportunity for Chrysler to keep good momentum going and quickly fix any miss-steps.  Let’s hope they don’t do the same here with the 500.

      I also consider the 500 a replacement for the PT Cruiser, for Chrysler and it’s dealers it feels the same retro, cute niche even if it isn’t as versatile and it’s even assembled in the same plant.

      I got to check one out back in August and was surprised at the quality of it.  I hope it does well.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      @Marcelo: I’m with you on the low car thing.  I like a higher seating position, even in a car with sporting pretensions.  Mind you, I never drive anywhere near the kind of way that would make use of something supercar-low, so YMMV.  I do prefer the Fiat’s driving position to the Mini’s, and the ergonomics absolutely shine next to the disaster that is the Mini’s IP.
       
      I found the car fun to drive.  It’s not overtly sporty like the Mini.  It’s more like the old Echo hatch: it’s fun because you can tell it’s light and small and you push it a little accordingly
       
      @TriShield: I would highly disagree that GM built a better PT in the HHR.  I’ve driven both, and even at the end of it’s life the PT is a better car: handles better, more fun to drive, waaaay better sightlines and better cargo versatility.  Only on fuel economy does the HHR win.

    • 0 avatar

      Good point on city driving. A high seating position WITH excellent visibility is a definite plus there. For the same reason I also find it much easier to maneuver my Ford Taurus X in parking lots than the Flex or the Acadia I’m driving this week.
       
      But for sporty driving I prefer a low position WITH excellent visibility. The two are compatible, as in the Mazda RX-8.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    This is a very exciting vehicle for the Market. Within a few months, I expect that the 500 will become the new vehicle for Barbie, and perhaps a convertible for Ken. The 500 is exactly the kind of car one of my pre-school twins is going to want.

    The challenge for Fiat is however, finding enough of a customer base under the age of ten with $18,000. Maybe if we can start basing auto purchases on college and school funds. Then there is the situation where most US states do not allow pre-schoolers to drive. Fiat is going to have to create a front seat capable of meeting child safety seat laws.

    Other than designed for the pre-school driver, the 500 is going to appeal to older drivers who need a car to match their shoes and purses. I can see many tweens, teens and cross-dressers lining up, (in a very fashionable way!), to purchase one of these cars because nothing says yummy quite like a Abercrombie & Fitch’s latest with matching accessories in Hello Kitty! pink.

    The new 500 will definately capture the San Francisco market in a huge way. Watch out Smart, there is a new toy in town! The 500 is going to be quite the item for many Disney Channel celebrities, Food Network reality stars, and as ear rings for Cher. As a matter of fact, I do believe that many Hollywood stars have implants larger than the Fiat 500, that is, the ones I see dancing around stripper poles, and that is if you consider porno stars real Hollywood stars.

    But then I don’t consider the 500 to be a real car either.

    • 0 avatar
      sfdennis1

      Hmm…an advanced-technology engine, a gen-u-ine manual transmission, sharp-looking aluminium wheels…and tires, brakes, a steering wheel, seating for 4, etc…seems like a “real” car to me.

      Exactly what size does a car need to be so one can “justify one’s manhood”?…or to compensate for lack thereof ? 

      I’m in on the joke…lots and lots of supposed “he-men” will think the 500 is only for chicks, gays, and tree-huggers. (but hey, who’s to say that many chicks, gays and tree huggers don’t have excellent and sophisticated taste in lots of things, cars included.)

      It’s always been a joke, but to those of us who know the fun to be had carving up corners in a lightweight compact ride, we know the joke’s on you.

    • 0 avatar

      touché sfdennis1

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      +1 SFDennis
      Besides, for meeting women, these cars are the automotive equivalent of the “cute puppy in the park.” My BMWs don’t get a second look, but women are always coming up and asking me about my MINI. In gas stations, parking lots, and on the street. Once, a girl that had way too much to drink gave it what could best be described as a lap dance on its hood in the parking lot of a Chinese Restaurant.

    • 0 avatar
      lawmonkey

      Didn’t the “chick car” insult die out when the Miata got its own racing series?
       
      Also, most of the gays I know drive Acuras.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      Not a real car? You need to broaden your horizons a little, fella.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      This car does have the same fundamental lack of authenticity combined with functional compromises as the VW New Beetle that was born of the same practice of a manufacturer building a replicar of a rear engined antique on a conventional FWD platform. No amount of self-proclaimed security can compensate for buying what FIAT is selling here.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I will tell you, right now, that among the women I know the 500 will definitely get much, much more interest than a “real” car ever would. The above “cute puppy in a park” comment is spot-on.
       
      From what I witness at the Toronto show, it was pulling far more people than any other manufacturer’s booth and it had only two cars you could sit in, and the people it was pulling in were, quite frankly, mostly twenty- to thirty-something Italian-Canadian men, not women, not older folk or teens, not homosexuals.
       
      There’s certainly serious interest in the car, and surprisingly more from the straight (if highly metrosexual) male front.  This thing will sell like hotcakes in cities because a) unlike the Smart, you can fit four people, and b) unlike the Mini you can fit four people comfortably without making someone contort themselves into a notional backseat.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I wanted to echo Psarjinian’s experience at the car show, the one near me, it was the same scene, people lined up just to sit in the two cars they had on the show floor. In fact, the show car was like the one in photos, very nice in person. In my case, it was all kinds of people, not just younger folks. When I got my chance, I was glad to see that the 500 has the same seating position as the older Fiats that I knew and loved.  To me, the interior was much more friendly than the MINI, If I were in a position to do so, I might go for one of these. But right now I need more hauling space…

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      I dont know any women, or girls, who think this car is cool, cute, or even would consider it.  Same with the Mini and the Beetle.  The girls I know think those cars are dorky… they like more typical flashy cars, like the 370Z, Eclipse, Mustang, etc.

      I think the stereotypical “fashion chick” who buys a “cute” car that matches her favorite shoes exists only in movies and on tv.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      A friend of mine, who was one of the first people I know of that bought a “New Beetle” because it was cute, thinks the 500 is just plain ugly. She was one of the first ones to test drive it at the dealership that just opened up. She wasn’t any more impressed with driving it than she was looking at it. There’s a demo 3.5 Challenger at the same place that is really tempting her, but I will bet she will end up going back to Mazda again.
      I’ll be shocked if I can even get into the damn thing. Personally, I think it’s hideous looking.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      So let me get this straight.
       
      On the one hand, men are choads because we might have a reflexive opinion about a relatively boring roller-skate and whether or not it qualifies as a “real car,” which, like pornography, is not easily defined with any certainty but still results in certain physiological responses if executed properly.
       
      But on the other hand, we are concluding that the true measure of this car’s merit is whether it can lure enough chicks that the other men still have a chance of getting laid?
       
      Downright scholarly.

    • 0 avatar
      LXbuilder

      Wow! Sounds like someone needs a Porsche or maybe a H2 Hummer to prove his “manhood”.
      Not every “real” man wants to drive a “tank” or high horsepower sports car to try to make up for other shortcomings.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      It’s amazing so many posters here can’t read.
       
      The 500 is a Barbie’s car, not because of its size. But because of its irrationality. The Honda Fit is a small car, but still a real car. My understanding of VanillaDude’s post is that, underage girls makes irrational decisions based on perceived cuteness. Given the number of better choices, only irrational people would be buy this crap.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      wsn got it.
       
      Keep the posts coming, VanillaDude.  They’ve been highly entertaining.

  • avatar
    cmus

    I test drove one of these last month in Austin.  I thought it was actually a pretty good ride taking it on some pretty twisty roads in the hills in west Austin.  I agree with most of the performance statements, but only when the car wasn’t in “sport” mode.  I do agree that the back end feels light.  My primary issue was the length of the clutch pedal and that it is fully disengaged with half the throw left.  I couldn’t find a comfortable position for my foot.

    There’s a pretty good review on the 500 at Allpar, for those that are interested.

    Michael, are you sure you had it in sport mode?  (this is not intended to be snarky or provocative)  The pre-prod tester that they had at Fiat of Austin did not “save” the sport mode setting, so we had to keep remembering to turn it back on when we started the car. 

    • 0 avatar

      I honestly cannot remember if I had it in Sport mode.  The button is prominently located, so I likely played with it. But the ride was so bad I ended up less able to focus on the other aspects of the car. Might have to swing by the dealer again…
       
      I’ve heard that the roads are smoother in Texas, but it really didn’t take much to upset the car I drove. The one you drove was the Sport trim? The salesman did think the others would ride better.

    • 0 avatar
      cmus

      Yes, the one that I drove was a Sport trim.  The roads here, including the ones that I drove on, are pretty well maintained.  West Austin has some very interesting curvy roads, and the car (once again…sport mode) was pretty frisky, except for the couple of times that I grabbed the wrong gear while going up a steep incline.  It was fairly anemic (disappointing) with Sport mode off, but it’s still a momentum-car.  If it sat in the road a little better (read: lower center of gravity) it would be really interesting I think.  As it is, I thought it was fair.
      There are some areas of the interstate that were “wavy”, and at 75mph, it did upset the car pretty well.  Beyond that it was OK in highway traffic.  Not really its strong point.
      My driving is 90% very large highways, 10% “residential areas”.  Heh heh, welcome to life in Dallas.  If that were reversed, this car would probably at least make my short list.

    • 0 avatar

      Inspired by comments to my review that led me to wonder whether I had employed the sport button, I returned to the dealer to give the car another whirl. Among impressions this time around:

      –the engine sounded worse than I recalled from my first test drive, and worse than the typical four these days; “clatter” seems appropriate; this Chrysler-owned car might have been abused, so it might not be typical

      –the clutch that felt like it was about to go was new, and likely due to abuse

      –the “sport” button makes the engine seem more responsive in fairly casual driving; push it, and with or without the button there’s far more bark (see earlier note) than bite

      –the “sport” button definitely adds weight to the steering, and makes it feel tighter, especially when changing lanes at 40+ MPH; steering feel still isn’t anything special

      –the seats that caused me discomfort are in the Sport and Lounge, but not the base “Pop” trim, so among the three I’d go for the latter

      –if we can assume that the engine clatter and the clutch that didnt grab at all until the very, very top of its travel were due to abuse, then this second test drive did improve my perceptions of the car, but not by much; I remain very willing to give the 500 the benefit of the doubt, and have requested one, preferably a Pop, for a week

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    From what I understand, Fiat-sler insn’t seeking/expecting Civic-like sales numbers here…and I think this car hits a (small) sweet spot in the market.

    Thousands cheaper than the Mini but just as attractive/cute/euro-cool, and having just as much useable interior space…while being even easier to maneuver/park because of it’s shorter length. I think the 500 will easily steal several thousand Mini sales a year.

    Not that they’re selling many, but in the US, it makes the Smart virtually unsellable…offering a  semi-useable back seat AND storage, and costing just a few grand more while being just as ‘unique’ and almost as economical. Smart is DONE here.

    The Fiesta doesn’t offer a coupe, only sedan/5-door hatch…and a 2-door still seems younger/sportier to most people.

    The upcoming new-new Beetle is an unknown, hopefully they don’t cheapen out the interior like the Jetta, but from spy photos, the styling has hardly changed, and the 500 is fresher and easier to park in the city.

    Keeping the 500 interesting with future special editions, performance variants, and a convertible, they could have as decent a run here as Mini has had, especially if oil/gas prices continue to increase as expected.

    I’m glad to see an interesting, economical addition to the US vehicle mix…

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      “I’m glad to see an interesting, economical addition to the US vehicle mix…”
       
      Indeed!

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Have you seen Smart’s sales numbers? Through February, either 77% or 93% of Smarts sold this year were 2010 models. One number is for Smart and the other for Saab, I don’t recall which was which, but they’re both virtually dead in the market. As for Mini, there isn’t much to be said for crashing their party either. Something like 3,200 Minis of all varieties combined sell each month. What percentage of those are the base models that the 500 will compete with? Most of the ones around here I see are Cooper S models loaded with dealer options like JCW stuff. Then there are the convertibles and Clubmen. Suppose the 500 can get the majority of the maybe 12,000 base Mini Cooper customers. Is that a business plan?

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      Your post reeks of arrogance about that which you know not of, CJ. Let’s just say you don’t care for Fiats and move on.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    This car is going to be huge with the Crosley club members. I bet there are more than a couple of them still able to drive.

  • avatar
    william442

    So, I guess you are saying it will not replace my erstwhile MG 1100?

  • avatar
    JMII

    In these photos it looks oddy tall and kind bubble-car-ish. Both the Mini and Volvo C30 manage to look squatty (wide bottom, sleek top) but the 500 doesn’t pull off the same look because its too short (length-wise) while being too tall (vertically). The other problem is the way the hatchback drops off, I think it would look better with a more square back / van like rear end. Like the Mini the dash seems to carry the “cute” factory too far, especially with dash mounted shifter. The color splash is a nice touch, but in silver or white (everyone’s favorite color it seems) I’d venture to guess this will just blind the driver at certain sun angles. Not to mention the finger prints and scratches its sure to collect over time. Its too bad they didn’t put a colored insert into the doors to help carry the theme. The seats do look nice for a small car.
     
    Agree that the 500 is doomed to follow the Smart car sales model: huge numbers at launch to people who must have a new cute toy, then a massive drop off when people realize its under-powered, no fun to drive and too small to be really pratical. SUVs will dwarf this so with one near miss any women buying a 500 will be trading it right back in citing saftey concerns. Hopefully the turbo version will have more go-kart like handling because in current form it sounds like boring, small, buzz-box = no fun. Shame but this is why most small hatchbacks fail in the US, the exceptioins – the Mini & Golf have handling and power on thier side. Personally for $18K I found a gem with a used Volvo C30 I just purchased for the wife to drive around town (3rd vehicle) …it still has one year on the factory warranty and is a much bigger car (inside & out) then most people think.
     
    This 500 looks like it has a sunroof or is that just an extendition of the front glass?

  • avatar
    mjz

    I had to check the byline on this review, thought maybe Scott Burgess had found a new job. You make it sound like a shrunken Sebring. 500,000 European buyers must be crazy.

  • avatar
    cfclark

    I guess I like it, but it looks like a MINI that was left in the dryer too long. We have a MINI (wife’s car, mostly) and although it is a fun vehicle, the novelty has started to wear off (she’s reached the point where having a nice car that she can ferry business colleagues around in is more important than having a fun toy with a harsh ride). So I agree with the consensus that sales will mirror the Smart pattern. Also interesting to see that the current and proposed engine options (101-hp base and 170-hp Abarth variants) mirror the MINI’s 108-hp base and 168-hp S options almost exactly, at least for the US. (I’m quoting from memory, so correct me if I’m wrong.)

  • avatar

    So select Chrysler dealers will be selling a midsize 200, a large 300 and a subcompact 500 until Fiat’s distribution network is finalized? Methinks the marketing critics will have some fun with that one…

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Question for MK:
     
    Would 170 HP solve a lot of the problems?  What about 130-140?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s certainly solve the acceleration problem, and there’s a chance it’ll liven up the chassis. But the Sport is too firmly sprung and I hope they find a better balance.

    • 0 avatar
      ridoca

      question for MK:
       
      would maybe PUSHING THE SPORT BUTTON solve the problem? I think anyone who has driven this car has the answert to that: YES
      Really man, did you think that everyone else that has reviewed this car and found it a hoot to drive is do dumb?, or did you really not realize that you need to push the sport button if you want to get it out of eco-snailfuelsaver-mode?

    • 0 avatar

      Your reading of other reviews must have been highly selective. NONE of those I’ve seen have reported the car to be a “hoot to drive.”

  • avatar

    We rented a Lancia Ypsilon for our honeymoon in Tuscany last summer, which is pretty dang similar to the 500. It reminded me a cheaper, not as well made Italian version of my Fit. It had a switch for steering effort, which was fun and actually somewhat useful. It had a wheezy 1L, 60 hp engine that burned about 3/4 of a tank over the entire week we had it (and at $7 a gallon, that was a fair tradeoff for power). And I just remember thinking that while it was a good, cheep city car, I’d much rather have my Fit. Or a Mazda2. Or a Fiesta. or a Versa. Or a Yaris. Granted, the Lancia didn’t have cuteness going for it. I’m sure the 500′s styling will help sales here in the US. Trouble is, once the people who are buying it for the cute/quirk factor are satisfied, you still have the folks who want cheap for the sake of cheapness and people who wants small and good to drive. Those buyers are going to stick to the cars I just mentioned.
    I’m excited about the Abarth, but without some serious reworking of the chassis, I’m afraid it’s going to be a wasted effort.

    • 0 avatar
      ridoca

      Actually Mike what you rented last summer was a previous generation Ypsilon, wehich has nothing in common with the 500. The new Ypsilon (just unveiled in geneva), is however based on the same plkatform as the 500, and the Panda. Other than that the engine in your ypsilon has 40bhp less than the 500…

  • avatar

    I sat in one of these at the Chicago Auto Show this year. You should’ve tested one with the leather interior. Softest, most plush leather I’ve ever touched in a car. The whole interior is absolutely divine.
    I’d probably never buy one. Too slow for the price. But I think anyone they can get to sit in the upscale trim of these will immediately opt for the classy interior. They’ll make bank on that markup.
    And, regarding all the Smart ForTwo comparisons, I think the plush and cute is what makes it. The Smart is not cute. It’s not classy. It’s not plush. The Cinquecento is all these things. The Bakelite style interior is another serious eye-grabber.
    This will be a hit with young urban-lifestyle women. The styling will bring them in to try it out. The crossover-high driving position will make them feel confident and less vulnerable than in a Mini. That it’s highly maneuverable and easy to park is another bonus. Since these buyers are looking for distinction, a single-car make (a la Mini when it first started) pretty much seals the deal.
    I think it’ll do well. Just not so much with enthusiasts — at least until we see the Abarth.

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    Does the steering wheel telescope? 

    The dash picture makes it look very GM/Toyota-grey inside.  Is that just the picture’s distorsion?

    What did you think about the dealership and sales experience?  Can they pull off the MINI boutique anti-establishment cool vibe?

  • avatar
    findude

    Sounds like the take-home message is to stick with MINI.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      You noticed the $4000+ price difference? That takes the MINI out of this market.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      How much of that $4,000 difference will evaporate because the empty vessel types will be snapping up the first 3 months of Fiat 500 production while Mini Coopers are stale bit players? Throw in that Mini Cooper ownership buys you BMW treatment at BMW dealers while Fiat 500 ownership will buy you Merkur treatment at Chrysler dealers, and I see a learning experience in the making for people who need one.

  • avatar
    mjz

    I had to check the byline on this review, I thought maybe Scott Burgess had gotten a new gig at TTAC. (By the way, looks like you were at Golling Fiat in Bloomfield Hills, MI)

  • avatar
    obbop

    Reminds me of a fishing lure.
     
    Not that that is a bad thing.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    FAR better than the mediocre Fiesta.  Head and shoulders above it in every way.
     
    It’s a fantastic little car.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Guess I’ll keep my xB1.  It doesn’t have the cute curves, but its 2398-lb curb weight, real 30 mpg city, 108 HP, and huge interior volume give me the 1980′s feel MK is looking for.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Absolutely keep it. How likely is it that anyone else will produce a car that does the same job as well? I’d have recommended the first Scion xB’s to various friends and family members, except I couldn’t get past the obnoxious central gauge cluster. It ranks right up there with putting the steering wheel in the back seat. Naturally, my girlfriend at the time agreed with me so much that we wound up with one of the first US Mini Coopers.

    • 0 avatar

      Try out the Doblò Ed talked about a couple of weeks ago. if Fiat produces a passenger version, you’ll find a lot of original Scion xB in the Fiat. Although I believe (but am not sure) the Fiat is smaller.

    • 0 avatar
      ridoca

      Hi Marcelo,
      They do fo rsure, I saw them in Milan recently. However, the model that is most popular is the Qubo, based on the smaller Fiorino.
       

  • avatar
    Kosher Polack

    Question: Does this latest buzzword-shod engine “require” premium fuel? For the much-touted engine technology and low weight, I’m surprised neither of the numbers begins with a 4. Maybe an auto-stop system or some redesigned aero pieces or a new transmission could get us there in future refreshes.
    Taking all bets! How many years until they release a porky four-door version? I say 2015.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    Fiat sent a mini-fleet of these to the US for testing by my employer in the fall of 2008, and I had a chance to check one out pretty closely. The cute and stylish attributes were quite apparent then, but my attention was completely dominated by the other model we tested at the same time — the Alfa Mito.  It was larger only in comparison to the 500, and answers most or all of the dynamic criticisms voiced here. And it’s just as stylish, but in a decidedly non-chick car way — in which, if our test group was any indication, the 500 is in serious danger of being stereotyped. If the Mito comes here too, I would never give the 500 a second thought. There’s your real Italian Mini.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    So let me get this straight.  (BTW I know that the buyers of these two won’t be cross-shopping each other but lets pause for a moment.)  I can spend $20,000 for a stripped down Hyundai Sonata that gets 24/35 (according to the EPA) or I can spend $16,000+ for a Fiat 500 that won’t carry half the stuff the Hyundai will and only gets 27/34?  Wow, unless I’m a city dweller with no parking options and a confirmed bachelor, I guess the choice isn’t that hard.
     
    Multi-air is apparently no match for Gasoline Direct Injection.

    • 0 avatar

      Betcha it’s easier to get real life numbers closer to promise in 500. Bigger car, bigger engine, bigger right foot. Plus yes, lots of citi driving 5 or so miles per gallon add up pretty quickly. It’s not a car for all, but provided you have another car like said Sonata, it’s a (small) family’s perfectly acceptable second car. Think of ot that way and you’ll start to understand.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      I’m going to say it again. $4000+ is an added 25% percent to the 500′s price to get to a stripped Sonata. Do all shoppers have an extra 4 grand laying around to spend on a bigger car? Do all shoppers want a bigger car?

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      That is a poor comparison. Two very different cars… not sure how you make the comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      What I’m saying is Fiat builds a car so dang small you can practically park 2 of them sideways in a typical American parking spot and it can’t even get 40mpg!  That thing looks like it should get 60mpg like the old Geo Metro!  I am not impressed by Fiat’s technology.  What is the point of a tiny car if it doesn’t get insanely high fuel economy? 

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      @Dan:
       
      Getting 40mpg on the highway is a big-car trick.  You need a small frontal area, not a lot of drag, an engine you can lug in high gear and an (automatic) transmission that will lock up the torque converter on a moment’s notice.  This is pretty much mutually exclusive with a small car that’s well-packaged and sprightly enough around town.
       
      All those 40mpg interstate queens?  I guarantee you their city mileage, real world, will suck (as the larger cars do) or they’ll be dogs in town (like the Fiesta is).. Only hybrids can do both well.
       
      It’s important to understand the purpose of a car when considering it’s mileage.
       
      We, in North America, have been fed the highway number for so long that it’s all we look at.  This is partly because it’s easy and cheap to achieve good highway mileage, partly because we drive on highways more, partly because our cars have always been designed to be highway-friendly.  The problem is that this makes it difficult for us to consider cars that aren’t designed for highway use.  I don’t think I’ve seen a single manufacturer—Toyota and it’s hybrids aside—tout their city mileage, and from reading Consumer Reports it’s common for highway queens to turn low twenties at best, while trucks and crossovers are in the mid to low teens.
       
      Yes, this car is more than three-quarters the price of a Sonata and doesn’t get appreciably better EPA mileage.  But the Sonata is much harder to park and manuever,  will turn MPG figures in the teens in “real” city driving, and has terrible sightlines.  It’s very much a case of “right tool, right job”.

    • 0 avatar

      Dan, I think Psar pretty much summed it all up as to MPG. Like he said, unless you do a lot of highway miles, you’re much more likely to save some money by having a small, relatively light car in the city.

      Anyway, I understand your point. My point is that economy aside, if either mom or pop already drives a Sonata, Fusion, Sienna, Oddy, Civic, or whatever, why do need a replicate? SOme peole, granted that especially ,but not exclusively, those who live in large urban centers will see the benefits of having a small, urban runabout. To look at least different while hitting the mall, picking up the kids (max 2  – whoever said you need to have a Sequoia for the school run?), going to work, even for that romantic get-away on the weekend. No you don’t need a PU or SUV to do that. And this is a cute, economic, and (different from Michael I don’t think it drives badly at all, it just drives like small cars drive, better in some points maybe and worse in others) different way to do this.

      Case in point, my wife has a Logan. Comparetively let’s say it is and does what a Camry does in America. Do I need another sedan in the house?  The Logan will handle the road trip, the large supermarket runs. The 500 could take the kid to school and me to work. Do I need another sedan for my needs?Anyway, it’s different fromwant. If you want another sedan ok. But to discount the 500 out-of-hand just because it’s small and not freakishly economic? Then I disagree. It’s just a different, some think more fun way, to do thesame thing.

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      We, in North America, have been fed the highway number for so long that it’s all we look at.  …this is partly because we drive on highways more

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      agreed there’s a theoretical niche for this as a second car, or a city runner.  but the combination of (seemingly) golf cart like performance PLUS weak for class (or class equivalent) MPG is truly strange.  basically, you either LOVE the styling, you share a single parking space with a mini owner, or you look elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar

      The thing is, as noted in the intro, I AM a small car person. I like how the similarly light Mazda2 drives, even though it’s engine is similarly gutless. I’m still waiting for someone to offer a small car that thoroughly engages me the was the first CRX did back in 1985. The 500 doesn’t come close. Frankly, the MINI is somewhat of a disappointment in this regard as well, but comes closer.

    • 0 avatar

      Michael I see your point and I feel your pain. I think weight is culprit.

      What you have to understand about this car is that except for the Abarth version it has zero sport pretensions. Anyways, I always felt this Sport version wS a misnomer and quite frankly, possibly a mistake. Euro car makers, when they launch a “sport” version many times just mean it has go-fast appendages and decoration and little else. Thanks for heads up. I always prferred the way the Lounge (horrible name) was set up. Guess I’ll keep to that. 

      Now, as to why you feel the Mazda 2 is so much better, I can’t comment. Never driven one. Sorry

    • 0 avatar

      Weight is definitely a big part of it. My “small” Mazda Protege weighs 2,800 pounds, and more recent compacts are even heavier. This is what midsize cars weighed back in the 1980s.
       
      At the same time, some cars these days manage to feel lighter than they actually are. As noted in the review, I get the sense that the 500 was tuned to provide the opposite impression.
       
      The Sport is clearly a mistake. It doesn’t have the power or the handling to justify the harsh ride.
       
      I’ll see if Chrysler can provide one of the other trims for a week, so I can follow up on your suggestions and do my best to really get to know the car. Maybe even the Lounge, though it is auto-only here.

  • avatar
    Robert Fahey

    This doesn’t look like a Fiat to me. Maybe if you photographed it at the end of someone’s driveway, jacked up on cinderblocks, with three inches of pine needles on it — THEN it would ring a bell.

    • 0 avatar
      pgcooldad

      ” this system promises up to 10 percent more peak power, up to 15 percent more low-end torque, up to 25 percent better fuel economy, and up to 60 percent fewer emissions.”

      Interesting that in all these posts, there hasn’t been one mention of a pretty spectacular feat achieved with MultiAir- up to 60 percent fewer emissions.

      Where did all the greenies go?

      Ooops, ended up on the wrong place. Wasn’t supposed to be a reply.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      Too clever by half, Fahey. I put the blame squarely on your mother for keeping you in knickers and Buster Browns well into your teens.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Oh man. I remember those pine needles from my 124 Sport Spider days!

  • avatar
    seanx37

    I just test drove one! Not 2 hrs ago. I am not buying one. But wanted to drive one. It was…fun. Cute. But I kept thinking “I wish Honda would sell something like this”. Then the engine wouldn’t seem as noisy and weak. The gearbox would be Honda smooth. The dash was good looking. But I thought the whole thing would fall apart in 6 months. And the ride was not great on the roads of Metro Detroit. You can’t blame the car for that. Most roads here look as if they were cluster-bombed.
    I did wonder how fast til someone bolts a turbo on one. And when I could drive that.
     

    • 0 avatar

      FIAT’s going to bolt a turbo onto one in about a year.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      Honda won’t design one like this, much less sell one. They’ve forgotten how. Ask me why I sold my ’04 Civic Si.

    • 0 avatar

      Touché General! Not to mention that Honda would kill all the ludic side of the design by making it look like some angry, cibernetic, killer fish.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Making fun of Honda design is pathetic when the Italians have been reduced to recycling 50 year old styling. I guess you’d have to know about cars to realize this. When the Italians were influential in the design world, were they backwards looking? Does anyone need help with the answer?

    • 0 avatar

      OK, I’ll play.

      So, Italian design has no influence anymore? Guess that’d be why VW recently bought a leading Italian design studio. I guees that’d be why a plethora of Chinese cars have been sporting Italian design. Guess it must be very cheap for them to buy those designs in Italy.

      Yes design does go around. In terms of fashion. There was a period German design was very influential. 2 of them now head Korea’s main companies and are doing well. Japanese design did qite well back in the 80s. Not so much now, I think. American companies were very influential in the 50s and 30s. And were making a comeback with Chrysler in the 90s and JMays at Ford. Now, original design is showing some life at Ford, but nothing major.

      Why is the retro 500 design bad? In a world with a limited number of cars designed thusly (Challenger, Beetle etc.) I find the Fiat’s design refreshing and modern. Doesn’t look like it’s going backwards. Does it to you? Really??? The car that did look like it was going backwards and is from 50 years ago was the original Fiat Multipla. Is that what you’re going on about?

      Anyway. Design reflects a culture. Iits surroundings. The 500 looks perfect in Rome. Its translation into a US context may or may not be successful. It at least would add some old world charm and romace in to NA’s streets.

      Jap car design has been rather weak of late. I specially don’t like the little, odd, jumped-out shapes they all seem to like to put into their cars lights. Heck even the KJoreans and Americans have quit copying them. And sorry, a lot of it seems to go into making cars sport angry fish faces

    • 0 avatar
      Ulpian

      It’s funny but here in Europe the gear lever position is loved.  It falls easily to hand and has short easy throws.  Not so in America apparently. 

      There was mention of the wheel adjustment and the tester didn’t remember if it had reach adjustment – it doesn’t – only rake. The ride is a bit bouncy, but not as bad as many other cars and it feels very well planted and as for performance, well, I haven’t driven the US engine, but once it has a few thousand miles under it it will loosen up considerably.

      Certainly this car is a fashion statement and it isn’t nearly as roomy or convenient as the five door Panda on which it is based – same major controls etc. – but the high seating position and ease of ingress and egress make it a joy for popping in and out in town, and there is more than enough room for day to day usage.  It is not a family car so it shouldn’t be compared with the Jazz or the Focus, neither of which are in the same marketplace at all, in Europe at least.  This is a smallish, handy, easy to park, manoeuvrable small car that will fit down narrow streets and park in very restricted spots.  Admittedly such requirements are unnecessary in America, but since it can run all day at ninety plus mph it can also make the occasional long trip. 

      Here small cars are driven flat out all day.  Just take them in for a service once a year and check the tyres and levels regularly and off you go.  Enjoy!

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Everyone keeps talking about the $4000 price difference to a Mini, or other cars for that matter.  Only th base model stripper is $15500.  The Sport model starts at $17500, and equipped with basic options gets to $19k fast.  The base Mini with no options is still pretty well equipped at $20k.  Plus, the Fiat is “no haggle”, the Mini can be found discounted.  The price difference isnt that bad for what seems to be a better drivers car.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    I first saw a 500 in Sorrento, Italy right after it came out in summer, 2007.  It was a showstopper.  The original 500 is an Italian icon and still not an uncommon sight on the road.  The new car clearly struck a chord with the people who grew up with it, and it’s adorable enough to appeal to everyone else.  I nearly  ran off the road rubbernecking at a truckload of U.S. speck 500s south of Nashville last December.
     
    Unfortunately, Michael’s review seems to confirm my reservations about the spec sheet.  Too slow, crap mileage for a small car and a suspension that just isn’t fit for the average American consumer.  Too bad.  Fiat and Chrysler need this to be a hit…although it still may be in spite of itself.
     
    I’ve been toying with the idea of a late-model Mini Cooper/Clubman as my next front drive commuter/foul weather car.   I guess I won’t be cross-shopping the Fiat.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      A poor review is a terrible reason to strike a car from your serious consideration list. Test drive it yourself and reach your own conclusions about its compromises.

    • 0 avatar

      I wrote the review, but I couldn’t agree more. I don’t expect my reviews to serve as a substitute for your own test drive.
       
      Who knows, now that I’ve adjusted your expectations you might find the ride unexpectedly good : )

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      My biggest disappointment is the reported lack of tossability. I drove a Suzuki Sidekick as a daily driver for 10 years, and a Le Car for 5.  I really don’t give a rats ass about “lack of power”. But “unhappy at high RPM” and “dull handling” both are likely to have me looking elsewhere when I’m in the market. In many instances I preferred my Le Car over the A1 Scirocco which replaced it, just because the motor was more engaging.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      Don’t get me wrong…I’d love to drive one at some point, just for the heck of it.  Even with crap dynamics, it’s still a cool little car.  I had just been hoping for a more enthusiastic response now that the 500′s finally hit our shores.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      They should have opened with the Abarth… get the enthusiasts buzzing about it, and THEN offer the lesser cars to regular people.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      As someone with 2004 Mini Cooper experience, I can tell you that it is only a foul weather car if you live somewhere that the roads are plowed before you get up for work and you’re good about having the right tires for conditions. That is an and, not an or. The lack of ground clearance will stop a Mini Cooper with new Blizzaks in 6 inches of fresh powder.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      Fiat 500 vs. Mini… close, but no cigar, Mini!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ae1RvNu9-pI

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      GeneralMalaise,
      That is a hotter 500 than we’ll get in the US, having a 6-speed manual to our 5-speed for example. Meanwhile, the UK Mini One in the video is a 90 hp 1.4 liter, while the base model Mini in the US has a 1.6 liter engine with 122 hp. Close, but no cigar GeneralMalaise.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I heard 95 HP for the Mini, CJinSD. And I note you have nothing to say about the tester’s clear thumbs-up to the 500 over the Mini.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      You’re not capable of much inference then, because I believe my post could be paraphrased as stating that she didn’t test the Mini Cooper, she tested the far less powerful and enthusiast oriented Mini One.  It doesn’t matter if she liked the UK version of the 500 v. the UK Mini One, because we don’t get either of them here. Instead, we’ll get the Mexican developing world spec 500, which has nothing to trade on but novelty. It doesn’t measure up very well to the US market base Mini, which has 22 more hp, an extra gear in the transmission, and a mature distribution network. I still wouldn’t buy another one, but I can assure you that my BMW/Mini dealer experience was much better than my Chrysler/Dodge dealer experience. I worked for a Chrysler/Dodge dealer that is still in business and is part of an organization that has their names on a huge percentage of all car dealerships in Virginia. I don’t think anyone who needed support from the dealer with a problem car ever got it, and there were plenty of people who needed advocacy with their Mopars.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      95HP and a 5 speed for the Mini and 100HP and an extra gear (5 speeds and shorter gearing would be an advantage, CJ) for the 500 in the comparison. Sounds like a fairly even match to me. It was obvious which car this reviewer preferred.
      I look forward to comparisons between the Abarth EsseEsse and the Cooper S in the not-too-distant future.

    • 0 avatar
      Ulpian

      Actually the review wasn’t representative of my experience of the, admittedly European, version. As with anything you have to try it yourself.  He didn’t like the gear lever position (or action), which is one of the great features of the car – and it would be hard to imagine where else it might go – and he seemed vague about a number of aspects of the design when queried here, so my own feeling is that the test wasn’t exhaustive. 

      It won’t ride like a big car, but certainly it is nimble, and the new twin cylinder version is particularly so. Pity you don’t get it.

      I have driven the Mini and there is simply no comparison, the Fiat is the better small city car.  Easier to get in and out of, not horribly low, easier to get in the back of, and not nearly so contrived. And that Mini dash is far too busy.

      But it is a small car. If I lived in a congested American city and needed to nip and tuck to get through the traffic I’d have a go, but I gather Americans stick to lanes rather obediently and don’t play in the traffic, so you will have to learn more adventurous driving techniques;)

      If I lived in Wyoming on the other hand I think something else might be more suited.  Is it even sold in those big empty mid-west states?

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    In my direct experience with Fiats the gas mileage is usually quite a bit better than what the official figures suggest. Its a small, light car with a small capacity motor… how can you go wrong? As to reliability, Fiat sorted that out years ago. The US missed that transition. I sat in one a few weeks ago and at 6-2 I found it comfortable. Its a great car and I will be looking to get one.

  • avatar
    th009

    I think in the end, Michael’s conclusions are pretty consistent with Tal Bronfer’s earlier review of the 500 Convertible:
    “If you’re a John Steel, you would probably hate the Fiat 500 Convertible. The back is cramped, the plastics are cheap, the ride is bumpy, the driving position is horrible, the engine is weak, the gearbox is annoying and the steering is awful – I could bash this car for hours. But then again, judging the 500C acutely would be wrong. It drips with character, sits theoretical four people and some luggage, attracts loads of looks and has a shiny tan roof, which is what Miss Levy looks for in her brand new city car. So if these are the qualities at the top of your shortlist and you can’t afford the more expensive (but much better, albeit less practical) Mini Cooper Convertible, the 500C may be the car for you. I, for one, know it’s not for me.”
    To sum it up …
    Pro: Looks, pretty big inside
    Con: Everything else

    • 0 avatar

      Fiats routinely get beat by VWs in Brazil in comparos that take into account performance only, but you know what? Down here people are abandoning VW in droves. The car has got somthing.

      A recent comparo between the 500, the Mini and Smart, placed the 500 squarely in the middle. Why? Performance. Like Michael and Tal noted the 500 is the more practical.

      That’s Fiat secret, at least in Brazil. They never have übber performance (most consumers couldn’t care less), but it’s adequate. The suspension is never sporty (to most people this a.k.a. as hard), but it’s not on novacaine, either. MPG is never best in class, but never worst. Bang for the buck is usually better than competition. Interior space always shines as do ergonomics. Seating is usually very appreciated by all but would be race drivers. Steering is always exceptional. Transmission is usually worse than the best, but there are much worst out there (and some people don’t like VW-like supershort throws, but unforgiving demand for precision and noise). At least is quiet. Reliability in Brazil is good and upkeep is cheap and fast.

      That my friend sums up a modern Fiat. Like I’ve said before, people with race cars aspiraions will find plenty to criticise. However, for most consumers, they fit the bill quite adequately and most find some form of enjoyment from the well-designed interiors and exteriors. Many become repeat buyers.

    • 0 avatar

      I haven’t read Tal’s review since it was posted, and hadn’t realized mine ended up so similar. Interesting.
       
      Somehow I managed to go into my test drive still hoping for a thoroughly engaging car.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      Tal’s review is of the Euro/world version, which is a 1/2 generation behind what we’re getting in North America.

  • avatar
    Joss

    4 cylinder Fusion over a loaded Lounge.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      You are totally missing the point.  People who buy the 500 will WANT a small car, not a big car. There are dozens of mid-size sedans to choose from, but only a couple nice small coupes/hatches.

  • avatar
    ajla

    When is Alfa Romeo arriving?

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    sigh.
    i miss my x1/9
    serious cool looks
    screaming 1.3l engine.
    scalpel like handeling.

    oh well i prob could not fit into it now anyway.
    sigh.

    please, before i die, bring back a car like that.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I hear ya, my brother. I currently own a ’76 1300 and a souped up ’81. More grins per mile than any other cars I’ve driven, let alone owned.

    • 0 avatar

      Years ago my elderly neighbor bought one of the last X1/9s, at that point badged a Bertone rather than a FIAT. Totally different than anything you can buy in the US today. He died quite  few years ago. I wonder if that car is still around somewhere.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I also owned an ’86 Bertone X… not much difference between the stock ’81 Fiat and the ’86 Bertone… both 1500′s… but the ’86 had power windows.

  • avatar
    anchke

    Well I’m hearing it’s (very) small, slow, rough riding, unsuited to highway cruising, not all that ecomical, wants premium fuel.  Between the lines I’m also hearing that in areas that have a winter like the last one, this is an 8-month car. 

    Some things I’d like to hear — Will it haul $200 worth of groceries? Could two people and their stuff take it on a long weekend of, say, 300 miles? What is the biggest flat screen teevee it can swallow? Who would win in a fight with a deer?

    Yes, she’s a cutie pie. But could she be a tease and nuts to boot?

    • 0 avatar

      I think this is coming down to perception and what to expect from a small car. With a short wheelbase. No, it doesn’t ride like a Panther. No it doesn’t ride like a Camry. Heck it isn’t even as sporty as a Mini, but that’s because it’s a simpler car. It doesn’t make use of all the Mini hadware. That at least part of the reason it costs less.

      Fiat cars however ride well. Ford usually does a good job with small cars. GM not so much. VW is different (harder, to some more sporty, to others just harsher). The French are usually pretty good, too, the ride is better on highway but steering is worse. Honda is too hard and Toyo somehow is just too boring.

      Keep in mind I’m talking small cars. The 500 pleases most. It makes do with all the simplicity inherent to it. It’s very well-balanced. I think it’s tossable.

      Now, and here I think Michael showed his NA roots, again, it’s not a big car. It has to rev. Italian engines make different sounds than what you’re used to, too. It’s not complaining. Hear the voice. Some find beauty in it. Rev it, trust the steering. Here the tyres squeel, feel confident that the limits are pretty high, but it warns you early. Force it a bit after it warns you, it will settle down.

      It’s a learning process. Italians approach cars and car-making differently. I know many of them. They genuinely like their small cars. They know how to make the most of it. Best is, when you don’t feel like racing, keep a light foot and the economy is there to be had.

      Again, the learning curve will be big for NAmericans. Question is: Will they be willing to learn? Will they give it time? If they do they might just find a kind of motoring far removed from V8s and stoplight racing. But they’ll find a kind of motoring rewarding iin a different way. More or less rewarding depends on your particularities. Will you give it a try?

    • 0 avatar
      confused1096

      Marcelo: Not so much as what is expected from a small car as what you get for the money. This thing costs as much as a Honda Civic. The Civic, while also a small windup car, is a lot more practical, capable, and has a known reliability. These are going to be cross shopped with other compacts and subcompacts.
      I’d love to see FIAT do well here, just for the sake of competition. I don’t think this toy is the answer though.
       
      Disclaimer: I am not a small car person.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed ! Now like I said elsewhere on this thread what about if a person already has a sedan? Camry, Fusion, Sonata and such. Couldn’t this be a second car? Why get another sedan?

      Or if a person is single. Or elderly. Or going to highschool. It could fit into these peoples lives well enough.

      What I mean, you don’t always have to get the biggest car out there for the money. Some big cars are boring for example. This caqr costs as much as a Civic but if you’re not doing the family thing, or already have another sedan, it becomes a viable alternative. That’s my thinking.

      Disclosure : I like both big and small cars. And I specially like funky cars. This one fits my bill.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    One thing I don’t remember reading here is that these little Italian cars have personality… soul, if you will. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you don’t get it and probably never will.
     
    jerseydevil gets it… and so does Marcelo.

    • 0 avatar

      Hear hear General!

      The Soul is not as evident as in your excellent rides, but it’s there. Hidden somewhere between the extra weight unavoidable ’cause of modern safety reuirements. But it’s there. Drive it. Keep it. The Soul will shine through.

      But you have to know how to do it!

    • 0 avatar

      You’ve got me wondering. But if this soul is there, why make it so hard to discover?
       
      I’ve found I can love just about anything if I spend enough time with it, as I become intimately familiar with the feel of a car. I even grew fond of the sloppy-handling Lexus GS 400 I just sold. But I’m not sure that in these cases the love is fully deserved. Instead, it’s kind of like Panther love.

      Sorry, Sajeev, couldn’t resist.

      Now, I also find it hard to initially love cars that are so technically perfect that they have little evident personality to them. Somewhere in between a car really does it for me. Near perfect in many ways, but with enough of an edge that it engages me. I keep coming back to the RX-8 because it is such a car for me. Going back to the mid-1980s, I had a delivery job that used a 1981 Civic. Very weak, and vastly inferior to today’s small cars on any objective measure, but it was always fun.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I had a Fiat. It had an engine that sang, screamed, and had cams that were profiled for power starting at 6,000 rpm. It had a direct, mechanical gearbox that was a joy. It had beautiful lines that paid homage to nothing from the past, and one of the best soft tops ever put on a car. It also had all the flaws that caused Fiat to fail in the US against superior Japanese cars. It rusted profusely. The electrical system did things that still can’t be explained. A lower control arm parted company with the front crossmember under braking, and it became a parts car. This new Fiat has none of the strengths that made putting up with Fiat’s traditional weaknesses worthwhile, if only temporarily. Its engine isn’t an eager celebration of light reciprocating mass. Its gearbox isn’t superior to those in alternative cars. Instead, it is a reminder of the sort of manual transmissions that gave automatics the US market. It doesn’t wear a beautiful new body that educates the observer about unexpected possibilities of form. It is just a contrived replicar of an old design. Maybe you don’t remember what it was like when the Ialians were relevant, but appreciating this car has nothing to do with ‘getting it.’ The first Panda, the first Uno, the first 128; those were groundbreaking cars. This is a gimmick.

    • 0 avatar

      Michael,

      That’s the point. Did you keep it enough? I agree with your definition of soul. I find that the newer Fiats have them, but they are so much, on the whole, bettter than the old Fiats, that this added layer of sophistication makes it difficult to perceive. Sophisticatiion is often cold. That’s why it’s not as soulful as cars past, but its got moe soul thaan typical Civic/Corolla. More than Mini, but less than older cars.

      CJin

      I agree with you up to a point. But…

      Italian engines are still made to rev. This one is no exception. Manual shifter, I like it. Period.

      Italian cars don’t rust faaster thanaverage  anymore.

      It’s a retro design excercise. As such, what’s not to like? Original Uno? I had 3. They had moe soul than my Palio, but my Palio is better. Palio was not revolutionary, it was evolutionary. Much like new Uno. It’s head and shoulders aabove original. And you know what? Maybe thats the point. Too many revolutions and innovations in Fiat’s history. Maybe they should take an evolutionary stance.

      500 celebrates Fiat’s past. Punto, Bravo, Panda, Linea the future. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to try them out in Anerica.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    The expanses of paint on the front end are going to make the businesses that apply protective film rub their hands in glee.

  • avatar
    CraigSu

    So, my question is how will Fiat-Chrysler market the model name?  Will they promote it as the Cinquecento or as the 500 (Five Hundred)?  Does Ford still have the trademark on Five Hundred?  This could get confusing since Chrysler is using 200 and 300 for other models and it would make sense for them to continue this theme rather than attempt to teach Italian to Americans.

  • avatar
    Robert Fahey

    General, you’re right about cars lacking personality. Even buttoned-up Toyota flirted with greatness with the original Scion XB, but quickly forced it to grow up into a porky and grim adolescent. It’s too bad the erstwhile cars with soul were booted out of the U.S. for stinking up the place with bad quality, like Fiats, Peugeots, Renaults, Alfas, Lancias etc. Even the Yugo GV was supposedly fun.

    At least we have Mini, though Mini took last place in the latest J.D. Power report. It’s the curse of the soulful car, I tell ya.

    Buster Browns? You were close. I do wear Doc Martens.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, be careful. The soulful cars are back. One at least has made a huge success and as documented on this very site, is the leader in its segment.

      No, not the Fiat, of course, but a Renault.

      What, Renault don’t sell cars in the US, you say? What’s a Nissan Versa. Also known as a Renault Clio. What did Shakespeare say.. arose with another name would still be a rose…or something to that effect.

      The Japanese just took the Clio, uglyfied it a bit for the NA market and called it a Versa. If you or any of your friends or acquaintances drive one, please don’t tell them it’s a French car. If they realize thre supposed beloved Japanese was born in the Atlantic region, they might throw a fit. Imagine, a red blooded American driving a French car? German well ok they’re so superior, but French?

      BTW, don’t tell them that if they’re driving the 1.6 16v engine it’s French, too. If such info reaches the car, I’m sure the engine will burst into flames right there and then. If they’re driving the 5 speed auto or 6 speed stick, please don’t tell them either they were commended by French engineers. I’m sure the trnsmission will develop a ghost and start accelerating. You and your friends are safe though if you use the CVT. That is purely Japanese.

      Anyway, I wish more Americans would give the soulful cars a try. This ain’t the 7os no more. Not for American cars and not for Euro ones either. FWIW it ain’t the 90s anymo either. Despair the Japanese!

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      What makes a Versa soulful? It is as much of an automotive disposable diaper as a rented Renault is in Europe, for whatever that is worth. Maybe you need to look up the definition of soulful. It doesn’t merely mean least expensive and least ambitious. As for uglied up for North America, I saw a Mexican dealer tagged Clio this week. You’re splitting some mighty fine hairs saying one is uglier than the other.

    • 0 avatar

      No, I didn’t say soulful cars are back. I said (or tried to say) that the purveyors of some soulful cars are back. Renault never made a soulful car? R4? R12? Twingo?

      Clio has never beenvery soulful and the prsent one is even less so. But the one from1999 almost had it. Which Clio did you see? The Brazilian one? or the current French one? The Brazilian is ugly, but, from pictures, I sympathize with the Frech one.

      Sorry man, bbut i like Frech cars. Specially older ones. Peugeot 205, 404 .Citroen DS and 2CV. All soulful. Euro and American Fords. Euro Fiestas (up until 2000), Cortina, original and present Focus, original Escort. American Mustang, Falcon, Bronco, Fusion. All have some soul. Brazilian Fords old Corcel I and Escort and focus.

      Never had the pleasure of driving a soulful Japanese car. Only drove 95 and younger ones so…Maybe that’s what’s missing.

      Current Versa as revised sheetmetal EuroClio that it is, is not a soulful car. But it is a solid car. Goes down the road well. And the 1.6 16v engine is a mighty fine one. In my old 99 clio, it made that car almost soulful. Alas, it lacked something. From what I read the current Clio is far removed from that one.
      But as I was saying it is funny that Americans can’t stand French cars, but have made one the leader of its segment. I find the Versa is a solid small car. I prefer it to the Fit. I prefer it to the new Fiesta. It’s worse than Focus but not by much. It offers space, economy at a good price. Anydone, but inoffensive design. Hence, solid small car. It is not soulful, but it comes from a company capable of such (Renault).

      That1′s what I meant to say.

  • avatar
    Steve65

    Let the (optimistic) profiteering begin!!!:
     
    http://sfbay.craigslist.org/pen/cto/2269484927.html

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    Michael, this is the most negative Fiat 500 review i´ve ever seen.
    You shouldn´t eat lemons for breakfast.

    • 0 avatar

      No lemons for breakfast. Perhaps there’s another explanation?

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      No lemons for breakfast. Perhaps there’s another explanation?
       
      Hmmmmmmmmmm.  Maybe because judged objectively as a car and not as a fashion statement, the car is kinda crap?  (Sorry guys you know I’m usually a ‘live and let live’ sort of guy but seriously I’m more impressed by the original Geo Metro than this thing.  Heck my fiance’s Vibe gets 26/33 and will carry the two of us and all our luggage with room to spare.)

  • avatar
    Monty

    I haven’t had the opportunity to test drive the 500 yet, but I think the car it most closely compares to is the Toyota Yaris – how many other short-wheelbase two-door sedans are offered for sale in North America. And as I own a Yaris, I can say that if the Fiat has even a microscopic amount of soul it will be more fun than the Yaris.

    Does the Yaris check off some of the same boxes as the 500? Lets look, shall we?

    Underpowered? Check.

    Sloppy shifter? Check

    Not keen to rev? Check.

    Jittery rear end? Check.

    Room for 4? Check.

    The Yaris is awful. It is an underpowered, sloppy handling econobox with no soul. It also has the centre stack IP.

    And it also sells in enough numbers that it’s still for sale, long after being originally introduced as the Echo some 11 years ago.

    The 500 crushes it, on looks alone.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      I was thinking the same thing. While many seem to feel that the main competition for the 500 is the base MINI and smart fortwo, I suspect the majority of 500 sales in the US will come more from prospective shoppers of the Yaris 3-door (and probably Mazda2, as well). Viewed in that light, the 500 should do okay.

      In fact, it sounds like the 500 might even be described as “a Yaris with soul”.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The Yaris sells because it is an inexpensive Toyota. People who had Tercels are comfortable buying a Yaris because they know it will serve them well for a dozen years. It still doesn’t sell in big numbers, but Toyota likes every sale it makes because it brings down their CAFE number. Fiat doesn’ enjoy Toyota’s reputation. They’ll sell the first 3 months supply of Fiats to the kind of people who are surprised when their i-prank is obsolete after 6 months and still buy the next one immediately. After that, they’ll need to sell to people who think, at least a bit. Fiestas sold strongly at first. Now I see them advertised for $77 a month, and my local Ford dealer must be considering stacking them to free up some room on the lot.

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    True. Unfortunately this site is extremely negative against small cars.
    Perhaps auto journalists that have access to free, $40K plus sedans with free gas and 270+hp are simply unqualified to evaluate small, inexpensive cars. Read the Nissan Maxima review.
    Here we have a car that gets better mileage than every other non-hybrid, is inexpensive, and light. It is not just better than the small Hondas or Suzukis that the author remembers fondly, it is likely better than those cars were at the time also.
    Maybe what the site needs is a 17 to 25 year old reviewer, or at least to make reviewers pay for their own gas out of pocket.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      +10, you young whippersnapper! If you want an appliance, buy a Honda or Toyota. Nothing wrong with that.
      You want personality… a car that will put a smile on your face when you drive it… that will make you want to go out of your way to take the long way home (and no, smartasses out there, not due to the need for a tow)… you want to have fun and not cringe every time you pull into a gas station to fuel up, give this car a shot.

    • 0 avatar
      Scott_314

      That came across more negative than I intended, the site still has superior reviews and it successfully points out the good and the bad. I was just thinking that inexpensive and small is hard to like when expensive doesn’t cost any more out of pocket.

    • 0 avatar

      I want to have fun. That’s why I didn’t like this car. I drove it. I didn’t have fun.
       
      I’m actually biased in favor of small cars. I’ve written one of the most positive reviews you’ll find of the smart fortwo. Not because it’s a great car but because at least it delivers a unique driving experience with some entertaining aspects. You’ll find a positive review of the Mazda2 elsewhere on this site. But the 500′s ride irritated me while the handling did far too little to compensate. It’s simply not that fun to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      Scott_314

      Thanks for the reply Michael, and I appreciate your thought about fun-to-drive.

      I guess part of my blame could be shifted from negative reviews to enthusiasts who don’t walk the talk. If we really bought small and sporty there would be plenty more than there are.

      Even then the 500, the Mazda2, and Fiesta are all about right, never mind the minor quibbles. Also buying one sends a message to develop better successors. Since I’m not putting up, guess I should shut up :).
       

  • avatar

    I want the electric version that comes out in late 2012. If the electrification of the automobile is inevetable, I want one with Italian style.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    All cars – US, Asian and European – had rust issues in the 70′s and 80′s and some domestics still do…ever see an ’86 Taurus without rust?
    The classic Fiat and Lancia cars were technologically advanced beyond anything that the US and Japanese makers had to offer.  The Fiat 128 Sedan in ’69 had an overhead cam engine driven by a cogged rubber timing belt, aluminum head and transaxle, a first in the industry, and now standard today.  The X19, a unibody targa-top roadster, was fitted with four wheel disc brakes, independent suspension and exceeded the proposed 1974 US crash safety standards (80mph roll-over/50mph barrier) before they were softened, the only maker besides Volvo to do so.    In 1979 Bosch/Marelli electronic ignition replaced points/condensor ignition on all models, and in 1980, the fully electronic Bosch L-Jet fuel injection was standard on all models, 5 years before Ford introduced FI to replace carburetors.   Pay attention to the new Fiat models from a technology perspective, as they are industry leaders in both technology and function.
     

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      “All cars – US, Asian and European – had rust issues in the 70′s and 80′s and some domestics still do…ever see an ’86 Taurus without rust?”

      Yes, rust was a problem in most cars in the older days, but it is a matter of both record and observation that Fiat products were especially fierce rusters. One reason was that Fiat used Soviet-sourced steel obtained as payment for helping to set up the Lada factory in the USSR. Lancia’s rust problems in the UK were so bad that the maker was forced to implement a buy-back program and even today, Fiat won’t use the Lancia name in English-speaking European countries for its upcoming products – they’ll be called Chryslers. Every used/classic car guide in every language warns about Fiat’s rust problems. I lived in a Florida coastal town in the ’70s and ’80s and watched many new Fiats and Lancias literally crumble to pieces in a couple of years. Only Vegas and a few Mopars came close as far as solubility in salt air.

      “The classic Fiat and Lancia cars were technologically advanced beyond anything that the US and Japanese makers had to offer.”

      Technological advancement is meaningless if the cars were as fragile and unreliable as Fiats were in the US. This is also a matter of well-documented record. Why do you think Fiat slunk away after 1982 with its tail between its legs?

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      1970s Fiats rusted *much* worse than just about any other car of the period short of a Vega. Look at Lancia’s problems in the UK. Not only were they forced to have a buyback program, the Lancia name is so poisonous in English-speaking Europe that Fiat will be introducing Lancias there under the Chrysler name – yes, Chrysler. Every used/claasic car guide warns against rampant rust on Fiat products. Living in a coastal Florida town, I watched new Fiats and Lancias literally rust to pieces in a couple years. My brother’s 1975 124 Spyder (sweet to drive but horrible reliability) had more rust at three years of age than my decade-older Mustang.
       
      As for technological advancement, it means nothing if the cars are fragile and unreliable like Fiats were in the US. The cars were so bad that Fiat ended up slinking away from the US after 1982 with its tail between its legs. Oh, and my 1975 Plymouth Duster had fully electronic ignition. Pontiac had a cogged-belt OHC Six in 1966.

      I would like Fiat to succeed in the US with the new 500. It looks nice and I can appreciate small zippy cars having owned a CRX for a decade. I, however, remain skeptical because Fiat’s quality in Europe remains somewhat spotty.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    The classic Fiat and Lancia cars were technologically advanced beyond anything that the US and Japanese makers had to offer.  The ’69 Fiat 128 Sedan had an overhead cam engine driven by a cogged rubber timing belt, aluminum head and transaxle, a first in the industry, and now an industry standard today.  The X19 was fitted with four wheel disc brakes, independent suspension and exceeded proposed 1974 US crash safety standards (80mph roll-over/50mph barrier) before they were softened, the only maker besides Volvo to do so.    In 1979 Bosch/Marelli electronic ignition replaced points/condensor ignition on all models, and in 1980, fully electronic Bosch L-Jet fuel injection was standard on all models, 5 years before Ford introduced FI to replace carburetors.   Pay attention to the new Fiat models from a technology perspective, as they are industry leaders in both technology and function.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    I test drove one of the very basic ‘Pop’ versions of the 500 before I left the UK a couple of years ago, and I have to agree with a couple of the criticisms. The ride wasn’t wonderful, and the 1.1 I drove wasn’t rapid, but it did have good visibility and an upright seating position (benefits for city driving), however your criticism about how sluggish the 1.4 engine is, just seems to chime with how I feel most drivers in North America don’t seem to like any engine that is below 2.0 in size. 
    One of my colleagues swears “I’ll never buy a car that doesn’t have a V6, I need the power.” Does he hell, when the lights turns green he moves with the alacrity of an arthritic slug. On the freeways he barely does does 60mph – does he need a 3.8 V6? Not at all. In fact do a majority of the people I drive past every day need the vast cubic capacity that they’ve all bought? No. Non of them actually use it. Europe has survived with small 4 pot engines for many, many years, and in general I’ve found that European drivers tend to go a hell of a lot faster everywhere than drivers in North America. I’m all up for complaining about underpowered cars, but lets get this in perspective, if a majority of the 500′s sold in Europe have the 1.1 engine, then the 1.4 will be more than adequate for most peoples needs.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    I test drove one of the very basic ‘Pop’ versions of the 500 before I left the UK a couple of years ago, and I have to agree with a couple of the criticisms. The ride wasn’t wonderful, and the 1.1 I drove wasn’t rapid, but it did have good visibility and an upright seating position (benefits for city driving), however your criticism about how sluggish the 1.4 engine is, just seems to chime with how I feel most drivers in North America don’t seem to like any engine that is below 2.0 in size. 
    One of my colleagues swears “I’ll never buy a car that doesn’t have a V6, I need the power.” Does he hell, when the lights turns green he moves with the alacrity of an arthritic slug. On the freeways he barely does does 60mph – does he need a 3.8 GM V6? Not at all. In fact do a majority of the people I drive past every day need the vast cubic capacity that they’ve all bought? No. Non of them actually use it. Europe has survived with small 4 pot engines for many, many years, and in general I’ve found that European drivers tend to go a hell of a lot fastereverywhere than drivers in North America. I’m all up for complaining about underpowered cars, but lets get this in perspective, if a majority of the 500′s sold in Europe have the 1.1 engine, then the 1.4 will be more than adequate for most peoples needs.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    HOOOO-RAAAAY! Fiat’s made another version of the Italian purse! And Mazda retains the title of “Fun to drive cars” with the 2, 3, 5 and Miata!

    • 0 avatar

      I respect Mazda’s zoom-zoom. Just a little too thirsty for people who have to pay through their noses for gasoline. Fiats are fun and sip gas. That’s my idea of Hurray!

    • 0 avatar

      Didn’t want to edit so I’d like to add. Design-wise, the 1st Miata was the sh…! Nowadays? Let’s call it challenging. I also liked very much the MX3 (not sold in America IIRC). But I hate, hate, hate I tell you!, black on black on black interiors

    • 0 avatar

      The MX3 was offered in the US. But not many people bought them.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I owned a ’92 Miata… bought it from it’s original owner in 2000. I gave it to my oldest son upon his high school graduation. They are a fun car to drive, but not nearly as fun (or handle as well)  as my ’81 X1/9 and it doesn’t ride as well, either.
      1st gen RX7 not as fun… 2nd gen RX7 not as fun… 3rd gen RX7, fun, when it was running.
      I haven’t driven an RX8, but have a friend who owned one who was like a broken record complaining about the lousy gas mileage. But the car mags all sing its praises, as they did the X1/9 for its entire production run.

  • avatar
    anchke

    Seems to this value consumer that “soul” in a car should be understood — not as a quality inherent in the vehicle — but as an interaction between car and driver. If a car hits your sweet spot, the car has soul. For you. But for the next guy it might be just a nagging pain in the butt. For many (most?) drivers, a car’s appeal (over time, not same as curb appeal) is in how  well it is suited to how you use it.  If the car you impulsively choose constantly lets you know of the sacrifices it is making to do everyday tasks that you ask of it, the initial infatuation will wear off and you’ll be out looking again. I think a reason NAs haven’t bought more very mall cars is that they’re a poor fit for the NA market, though I keep hearing this may change. They might be bought as a second car, but then the owner doesn’t use it all that much. Plus few NAs have access to convenient mass transit systems, which our fortunate Euro brethern can use as mainstay or backup. And there’s the eternal economic question  – do I want this brand new cute, soulmobile?  Or would I be happier in this cpo sedan that’s bigger, more powerful, the mileage is better than just okay, it takes regular  and, at day’s end, I can crank up the stereo and AC, turn the back warmer up to roast, snuggle a can of beer down in the, um, beverage holder, and take a relaxing ride home effectively sealed off from the outside world.  Or you can drive some sullen little bitch that won’t move unless you redline it at every shift, beating the steering wheel with your fist and shouting Oh! Come! On!

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      Or would I be happier in this cpo sedan that’s bigger, more powerful, the mileage is better than just okay, it takes regular  and, at day’s end, I can crank up the stereo and AC, turn the back warmer up to roast, snuggle a can of beer down in the, um, beverage holder, and take a relaxing ride home effectively sealed off from the outside world.

      Sounds like you need to put a motor on your Barcalounger, my friend. Please say “hi!” to Lawrence Welk.

    • 0 avatar

      Hahahaha! You make a valid point, too, sir! In spite of the snark.

      That’s the question Americans will have to answer. Now you don’t redline it always. You rev normally in city driving.

      The question is : Can Americans adapt? Will they do so willingly? Will economic circunstance or the powers that be force it on you? Will early adopters and people who do like small cars buy them in enough quantity?

      Anyway, what’s wrong with the car succeeding? You’ll have an alternative to the ususal. Is that bad?

      I can’t understand this hatred / fear of the unknown. Some will try it nad find they like it, others will not. But to absolutely ignore an alternative and even more, to wish ill on those who want to try…Doesn’t seem American to me somehow.

    • 0 avatar
      ktm

      Or you can drive some sullen little bitch that won’t move unless you redline it at every shift, beating the steering wheel with your fist and shouting Oh! Come! On!

      I had to log-in to respond to this statement.  Thank you.  Thank you!  This was, quite possibly, one of the funniest statements made in any TTAC review, editorial, of B&B comment (for me at least).  I am still chuckling.

  • avatar
    sjmst

    Here are what I would consider fair complaints:

    “It looks ugly to me”
    “It’s too small for me”

    Other than that?

    Safety? Excellent crash test scores

    MPG? 33/38 with real world already coming in at 40+

    Ride? With a short wheelbase, no one ever said it rides like a Buick. But very few have anything but praise for ride and handling.

    Power? 101 hp is low. But, it feels quick and is fun to drive.

    Reliability? Fiat had a bad track record in the US…28 years ago. That is ages in the automotive world. Today they are reliable enough to be very popular in Europe. Also, they are sold here with 3 year 30,000 mile warranty and free maintenance. Fiat also road tested the North American version for a million miles.

    Smart failed so this will? What? A Smart and a 500 share very few things in common. A Smart is way smaller, no one ever accused it of being pretty, lousy ride and handling and awful transmission. Not a fair comparison at all.

    It looks like you couldn’t afford anything more expensive?
    If that’s your concern, don’t go to a car dealer; see a therapist. ;-)

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    Fiat 500 vs. Mini… close, but no cigar, Mini!
     

  • avatar
    djn

    The review and comments sparked me to test drive a Cinquecento today.  Sport model, located a the Chrysler Dealer in Kirkland, WA.  They had 4 Prima ediziones on the lot waiting to be picked up.  The sales gal said they had delivered 25 PE’s so far.  That is 5% of the total limited production in little old Kirkland  Interesting.
     
    I test drove the sport model for a short distance.  Found the ergonomics great, ride acceptable in normal mode, very harsh in sport mode, and the kind of 4 cylinder power/weight feel I come to expect from a Fiat or Alfa 4 cylinder.  I own an a number of Alfas from the 50′s to 90′s as well as several Fiats.  The fun factor was right on target.  Pocket rocket, no, but I never expected that of any of my cars.
    The complaints about the linkage are baseless.  If you have to prove your manhood by slamming the shifter into gear (like my 20 yr old son trashing is 318is), than this is not the car for you.  If you can learn to shift precisely and deliberately, you will find the manual transmission a great deal of fun.  The high shifter location is very similar in feel to the Alfa Giulia 105 series,  think GTV and Spider.  The quality of the positive feedback of the shifter is on par with my Alfa 164 which is quite good for a fwd car.
    Echoing other comments, it feels much larger inside.  At no time did I feel at all cramped with the sales gal in the passenger seat.  The car is much better looking in person than in the photos.
     
     

  • avatar
    Zarba

    Call me when it’s 3 years old.
    I had a 1995 Alfa Romeo (FIAT) 164Q.  One of the most beautiful cars ever made. Also one of the worst for reliability. An absolute money pit.
    I still want it back.

    • 0 avatar
      djn

      Zorba, none of us know what things are like today, but your 94 164 was screwed together on par with Audi, Saab, Volvo.  However a car like that should not be in the hands of a “pure” checkbook mechanic.  Alfa Club membership is a must for the support network.
      Last word of advice,  Never sell an Alfa.  Regret will follow you around for decades. My folly is selling a 1962 Giulietta Veloce Spider – complete.
       
       
       
       

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    That Kirkland WA dealer is only a couple of miles from me. We bought a Grand Cherokee there in 97. One of the best Chrysler dealers in this area. Very good service.
    I saw the Fiat sign go up about six weeks ago, not surprised at all that they have sold so many.

    Not surprised they are selling so well, lot of Minis around here.

    I think I will take a trip there tomorrow!
     
     
     

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Well, the new 500 won’t rust because it’ll be using Mexican steel, you won’t have to wait weeks for a part because they’ll be supplied through Chrysler’s parts network, and they should be well put together because they’ll be assembled by the same Mexicans who built the PT Cruiser and are building the Dodge Journey. That should take care of all the reminiscences from the ’70s. Now, any way of putting multi-air on a hemi?

    • 0 avatar

      I think MultiAir can be integrated into any engine. Its a cheaper and (cleaner in the sense of less parts) that basically replicates those VVT, double vanso and others. What’ll happen is that some makers will insist on their own systems for a while, but some will eventually license the tech. It’ll save them a buck

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      The 500 won’t rust because Fiat is using cataforesis/ED/e-coat or whatever is called for rustproofing, as any car manufacturer does. Some employ galvanized steel, even Fiat, but maybe that’s not the case with an economy car like the Cinquecento.

  • avatar
    Disaster

    Looks:  Cute…maybe a little, but not really cute.  Not sporty looking like the Mini crowd so you won’t have great luck picking up those customers…maybe their wives or girlfriends.  I think there is going to be much less cross shopping between this and the Mini than people think.
    Price:  Not cheaper than the similar bigger cars like the Fit or Elantra.  The first one I looked at on the lot stickered over $18K.  I think they’d sell much better at $12-15K.  I get tired of the excuses people use for the pricing.  “Well, it is a much nicer car than the Yaris.”  Is it really?  Ironically, they use the opposite excuses for it’s poor performance.  “You can’t expect it to be as refined as a Fiesta.”  Why not?  It costs as much!  You don’t get it both ways.  It is either cheaper because it IS cheaper, or it is more expensive because it IS more expensive (ie. has more expensive features and refinements.)
    Mileage:  How come we are seeing such great mileage on these new high horsepower motors, but this thing, with only 100hp, only gets 30mpg in the city.  The new Elantra with 50% more power only gets 1mpg less.
    Reliability and maintenance cost:  This is going to be a big question mark initially.  The Mini is really bad on reliability and really expensive when it breaks but people still buy them.  Will parts and service, at least, be cheaper because they go through the Chrysler dealerships?
    Bottom line:  In order to charge a premium you have to do some things better or one thing really well.  I don’t see enough of that with this car to keep it going.

  • avatar
    Joss

    MK re-review of softer sprung Pop/Lounge with automatic appreciated. Let’s see how Fiat’s NA spec auto handles hwy & around town for us small car urbanites.
     
    Using the Fusion 4 as a price benchmark ONLY. Of course they’re different beasts.
     
    For around the same price of a Lounge the F-4 offers 6-sp auto or 6-sp manual (1 more cog than Cinq). For not much more in mileage and quite possibly less insurance. Apologies I haven’t been able to get a quote yet on Cinq. Yeppa there were preorder folk who were shopping insurance blind.
     
    The Fusion-4 offers acres more metal without all that cuteness. 

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    Looking at the dealer list, it appears that FIAT is targeting the 500 at the same hip, urban buyer for whom the Mini and Smart were intended.
     
    Granted, things are just gearing up, but there are a number of MSAs with a population of 500,000 or more that lack a dealer. In my case, the nearest one is over 200 miles away, and this MSA has the highest per capita income in the state. Given the fact that reliability remains a huge question mark, it’s not a plus for potential buyers.

    • 0 avatar
      Buckshot

      MSA=  Malaysia-Singapore Airlines?
      “reliability remains a huge question mark”
      It shares the underpinnings with Ford Ka, so it shouldn´t be that bad.
       

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      MSA=Metropolitan Statistical Area. Sorry, thought that was a fairly common acronym…it comes up readily in a search of Google or Wikipedia.
       
      Sharing underpinnings is no guarantee of reliability, as many U.S. buyers of the Sterling 825 discovered. The mechanically similar Honda/Acura Legend topped quality and reliability surveys, while the Sterling struggled in these areas through its short run. Not sure about the Rover on which the Sterling was based, but it appears that the British version’s issues were eventually sorted out.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    Over 200 comments on a car that some of you say won’t sell, interesting.
    Nice review Mike, suggest you get Baruth suited up for when the Abarth arrives.
     

    • 0 avatar

      My thoughts exactly. Well at least as it regards the comments! I think Michael could do a very nice review of the Abarth when it comes! Haven’t seen this much debate about a car at this website for a long time. It’s a sure sign that it at least is making waves. Good for Fiat

  • avatar
    abgwin

    I really get tired of otherwise sensible reviews bogging down on Fiat’s quality. The American notion of low-quality Fiats is based on cars that have been out of production for decades.
    The 500 has been on sale in Europe since 2007 with nothing remarkable quality-wise.
     

  • avatar
    slance66

    Great review Michael.  It confirms my opinion, this is a great car to buy used as a little run-around for a spoiled teenager.  A a thrifty people mover, it seems to fall behind cars like the Fit.  If you have more $ to spend, you can get better mileage and way more room in a Prius (with zero excitement).  It doesn’t really get the excitement crowd that might buy a Mini or Focus Titanium, or Civic SI, and can’t match the pure MPG ability of a Diesel Golf or Prius.  Seems destined as a “chick” car fashion accessory.  That said, it may sell in that demographic.

    • 0 avatar
      slender1

      Lets get real Looks and Charm are a big deal. So  I’m gonna be wide open to the Arbarth….Unless VW lets in that Diesel GTI (the GTD) with all of that mpg & Torque.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Having test driven one very recently, I found it quite fun and yes, I drove it on some less than stellar roads and while its ride isn’t glass smooth, it’s much better damped on rough surfaces than Mom’s 04 Dodge Stratus as the motions were well muted but still very much there, just not hard or jarring, which I found nice and definitely liveable.
     
    The horsepower isn’t fast, but with the sport button on, it IS frisky and that’s what I’m after and yes, I drove, for 6 years a 1983 Honda Civic and found this car much like that old car but with improvements where it needed it.
     
    I found the highway ride good and the car got up to speed, just gotta wind it up to at least 4Krpms, preferably more before shifting into the next higher gear to gain speed, not unusual for most small 4′s in my opinion but I’ve heard there IS better low end grunt, enough so that if you do it right, the car WILL chirp the tires from a standing start.
     
    It’s more about knowing where/how to operate a manual sifter to get much out of this motor but once you do, it’s a fun little ride indeed.
     
    I’m going to go back to the dealer today to do some more serious looking over of the car again and may (or may not) do another test drive, we’ll see.

  • avatar
    Bigvin

    I like it! Lookswise for sure. I’m in the market for a commuter car now so I think I’ll schedule a test drive.

    The one thing I’ve learned is that every automobile has it’s nuances good or bad and not every one is going to appreciate them. My 05′ Mustang GT …..I can bang gears on the T3650 5-speed all day long. The 500 isn’t meant for that.

    I picture myself cruising and enjoying the retro look of the interior and feeling like I’m driving something special with different characteristics from all other cars on the road. Appreciating the cars nuances ……Oh! looky there…..pretty girl passing in her MB clk320 and glances over (Not at me….at the cute little obscure looking fiat 500 :) I wave and yell out the window “Buon giorno bella signora giovane. La mia matita è grande e giallo.” That’s when she waves, smiles and then my beautiful wife gives me a smack upside the head because I forgot she was in the car with me. I lost myself for a moment, picturing myself driving the Italian countryside and enjoying the scenery. It feels good to be different. Not to mention all in all, you really are getting a looker of a car for the money that even a $50k – $60k Mercedes owner can admire and appreciate. :) Just my humble opinion.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    Just went out with my fiance last night to do some test driving to find something to replace her Rabbit. Drove a 2011 mini clubman (not the “S” just the standard) and then a Fiat 500 pop. We both agreed that the Fiat seemed a much more solid car. Less engine noise, better interior materials, better sound system if you get the Bose rig, and if they offered a Hello Kitty paint job I believe you could sell them to 20-something yuppy girls all day and night.

  • avatar
    karen10ason

    I just bought a Fiat Sport 500 this evening. I love it. Yes, I’m a chick, and I think it’s adorable! But, it’s exactly what I was looking for. A small, compact, economical, reasonably priced new car with some personality. I’ve test driven so many cars this past month, and nothing has come close to the look, feel and price.

    This is just a car for me and my daughter to run around town. It is exactly what we wanted. The stereo is incredible, the gas mileage is great, there is plenty of space to pack up for a weekend trip, and it just makes me smile.

    I agree with some of the people that say that some people will never get it…it’s a matter of personality. Long live FIAT!!!

  • avatar

    I just had a Fiat 500 Sport for a week as a rental. With 20,000 kms on the clock, it still looked brand-new, so build quality was much better than I expected. People asked me about the car. It was fun and pretty comfortable: I found it quiet on the highway and, unlike the reviewer, I found the seats excellent. The gas mileage was surprisingly low for such a small car. I drive pretty conservatively so my feeling is that the little engine has to work too hard. Most of the time I was driving on very good roads but the ride quality over bad roads is quite poor. Interior design is excellent. The automatic box was okay but the shift action was very clunky when moving the lever, the only cheap note in the car. Visibility when changing lanes and looking back to the left is awful but I guess you get used to it with the split-view side mirror. The car was fine on the highway and I never felt threatened by other traffic. A good effort overall.


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