The Truth About Cars » Fiat 500 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:58:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Fiat 500 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Fiat Adds Automatic Abarth, Young People “Don’t Drive A Manual Transmission” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/fiat-adds-automatic-abarth-young-people-dont-drive-a-manual-transmission/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/fiat-adds-automatic-abarth-young-people-dont-drive-a-manual-transmission/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 05:39:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788642
In a bid to boost sales of the Fiat 500 Turbo and Abarth, the two boosted versions of Fiat’s city car will get an optional automatic transmission.

Automotive News is reporting that Fiat will add the two-pedal gearbox in July, when the 2015 models begin production. While Fiat sold about 36,000 500s in the USA last year, around 5370 of those were Abarths, and Fiat boss Jason Stoicevich puts a lot of the blame on its manual-only configuration.

Speaking to AN, Stoicevich was blunt in his assesment of what was holding the Abarth back, stating

Frankly, [young people] just don’t drive a manual transmission,”

According to him, the addition of the auto could add another 2700 or so units to the Abarth’s sales tally. Overall, 500 sales have been down by about 13 percent year-over-year.

EDIT: 500 Abarth sales figures updated

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Fiat Punto to Be Axed, $13.2 billion Spent On 20 New Models Over Next 3 Years http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/fiat-punto-to-be-axed-13-2-billion-spent-on-20-new-models-over-next-3-years/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/fiat-punto-to-be-axed-13-2-billion-spent-on-20-new-models-over-next-3-years/#comments Tue, 10 Dec 2013 13:30:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=676138 Fiat Punto, not long for this world.

Fiat Punto, not long for this world.

Sources tell Bloomberg News that Fiat Spa will spend as much as 9 billion euros ($12 billion) over the next three years developing new models for for the European market. The Italian automaker hopes the strategy will end losses on the continent and restore drastically underutilized Italian factories to profitability. Many of the new models will be based on either the Fiat 500 subcompact or the small, low cost Panda.  A five door version of the 500 will replace the Punto. The Punto, last restyled in 2005, has long been a fixture in Fiat showrooms and as recently as 2007 it accounted for almost a third of the Fiat brand’s sales in Europe.

Though Fiat wants to use its Italian factories better, the Punto’s replacement will be built in Poland to save on costs. Sergio Marchionne believes that “made in Italy” works with upscale brands like Maserati and Alfa Romeo. The upcoming Maserati Levante SUV will be made in Fiat’s Mirafiori factory.

Not able to access the profits that Chrysler is banking because it’s not wholly owned by Fiat yet, Marchionne must find a way to staunch the parent brand’s bleeding red ink in Europe. Fiat has previously announced that it hopes to develop about 20 new models for Europe by 2016, including eight Alfa Romeos. Some of those cars are a 500 based SUV along with Italian made Jeeps to be introduced alongside the open version of Alfa’s 4C sports car.

Fiat has lost market share in Europe for the past four years, with deliveries dropping 47% over that period and market share going form 9.3% to 6.2%. The Italian automaker has had almost 2 billion euros in operating losses since 2011, including over 300 million euros in loses for the first three quarters of 2013.

Many of Fiat’s 30,700 production workers in Italy have been furloughed this year, most of them for more than five months.

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Dispatches Do Brasil: 56 anos de 500 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/dispatches-do-brasil-56-anos/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/dispatches-do-brasil-56-anos/#comments Fri, 15 Nov 2013 10:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=651786 2014-fiat-500-1957-edition

1957. Italy was having a ball. La dolce vita was in full swing and Italians were on the up and up. Along came the original Fiat 500, or Cincuecento, to enliven things that much more. It’s hard to understand nowadays how exciting it is to see a nation get motorized, but the 500 helped Italians along and get over the World War doldrums.

Now, you Americans will be able to get a taste of that fabled time in recent Italian history. Fiat has cooked up an even more retro 500, Called the 1957 Edition, which seems to be an American special.

If you get it, you’ll be able to enjoy Fiat’s Multiair 1.4 16v engine good for 105 ponies mated to a manual or an auto 6 speed. More important than that, this special edition features a brown leather interior with sand colored details. Exterior colors are very 50-ish too: baby blue, water light green and white. The wheels are a modern take on 50s hubcaps and are 16 inches. According to sources, the suspension is calibrated in a more sporting set up. Finally, Fiat logos are done in the style of the 50s.

To be even more perfect I’d have called it Edizione 1957 to complete the Italian-ness. Call me jealous.

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Cain’s Segments: The Fiat 500 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/cains-segments-the-fiat-500/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/cains-segments-the-fiat-500/#comments Mon, 07 Oct 2013 12:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=605793 TTAC_Fiat-500-sales-chart-September-2013downsized

Fiat’s recent North American downturns have caught the attention of many automotive industry observers, particularly those who never believed Fiat had a high-volume future on this side of the Atlantic.

There’s no better way to keep brand volume high than by introducing new models. Consider the new CLA250, which helped Mercedes-Benz to a 6.6% year-over-year increase in September. Without the CLA, Benz volume was down 3.3%.

However, so profound was the 500’s decline in September that the 500L’s 1031 additional sales were not enough to overcome the 500’s massive decrease. Fiat brand sales were down 24% and accounted for 2.2% of the Chrysler Group’s September volume, down from 2.9% this time a year ago.

After reporting 15 consecutive year-over-year increases, 500 sales slid 12% in June, 24% in July, 28% in August, and 49% in September. Yes, September was a much shorter selling month this year than last, but even the 500’s daily selling rate was down 45%.

These numbers tell us how the 500 is performing in relation to how the 500 performed a year ago, but it doesn’t answer the question of how the Fiat is faring in comparison with competitors.

Is the Fiat 500 heading toward the basement alone? Or is it simply following a trend in a market that is perhaps suddenly rejecting small, retro, European, (sometimes Mexican-built) hatchbacks?

BMW’s Mini brand is up just 2% this year, despite the arrival of an additional model, despite the 8% increase in new vehicle sales during the first three quarters of 2013. September sales of Mini’s core model, known as the Hardtop, fell 0.4% to 1789 units. The Cooper Hardtop and Convertible outsold the 500 range (convertible-inclusive) by 149 units in September, although they trail the 500 by 4778 sales so far this year. Mini also has the current advantage of selling the stretched Clubman, two-seat Coupe, and two-seat Roadster. Sales of those five models totalled 3636 units in September. (http://www.goodcarbadcar.net/2013/10/mini-usa-car-sales-figures-september-2013-ytd.html)

As for the Volkswagen Beetle, topless volume reached 1574 units in September, 14,819 this year. That’s 43% of the Beetle nameplate’s total. Sales of the hardtop are down 7% to 20,099 unitsand fell 24% to 1980 in September.

That 642-unit drop, along with with the Golf’s 1123-unit drop, the Jetta’s 1441-unit slide, the Passat’s 1600-unit decline, and yet more decreases reported by the Eos, CC, Touareg, and defunct Routan, brought the Volkswagen brand down 12%, or 4419 sales, in September. VW’s DSR was down 4.5%.

A potential Fiat 500 customer doesn’t necessarily or exclusively cross-shop the Mini or Beetle. Indeed, it’s worth noting that some potential 500 buyer wants a 500 and nothing else, and the same could periodically be said of the Mini and Beetle. Yet there remains the possibility that many Americans who wanted a Fiat 500 already have one.

And what of the newer, bigger Fiat? As the 500L established itself, Countryman sales in August and September, fell 20% and 41%, respectively. Fiat sold 2245 500Ls over the last two months; Mini sold 2822 Countrymans. Paceman sales in September, at 479 units, reached the highest level yet.

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Auto
Sept.
2013
Sept. 2012
Sept.
%
Change
9
mos.
2013
9
mos.
2012
YTD
%
Change
Fiat 500
(500 & 500C)
2126 4176 - 49.1% 28,994 32,742 - 11.4%
Mini Cooper
(Hardtop,
Convertible, Clubman,
Coupe & Roadster)
3636 2897 + 25.5% 32,374 33,186 - 2.4%
Volkswagen Beetle
(Coupe & Convertible)
3554 2622 + 35.5% 34,918 21,566 + 61.9%
Total
9316
9695 – 3.9% 96,286 87,494 + 10.0%
Fiat 500L
1031
3748
Mini Countryman
1191
2002 - 40.5% 15,596 15,345 + 1.6%
Mini Paceman
479
1665
Total
2701
2002 + 34.9% 21,009 15,345 + 36.9%
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That “Small SUV” Coming From Chrysler Will Be A B-Segment Jeep Crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/that-small-suv-coming-from-chrysler-will-be-a-b-segment-jeep-crossover/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/that-small-suv-coming-from-chrysler-will-be-a-b-segment-jeep-crossover/#comments Tue, 24 Sep 2013 15:40:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=526673 Fiat500LTrekking-450x337

Much has been made over the one future product announcement in Chrysler’s IPO filing. Apparently, it will be a an SUV based off of the Small Wide platform. A bit of detective work can help us figure out what it will be.

Small Wide currently underpins the Fiat 500L and we were told that there would be more B-Segment cars coming. At the presentation for the 500L’s launch, we were shown a diagram showing a “modular” section right where the rear differential would be, suggesting that all-wheel drive is a possibility in future Small Wide products. When pressed, Chrysler and Fiat staff trotted out the usual “can’t discuss future product” tropes, but suggested that the flexibility was built in for that precise reason.

With that in mind, it seems that a Jeep B-Segment crossover is the most obvious candidate. Small crossovers are booming across the world, and Jeep is eager to expand into global markets where it currently doesn’t have a big presence. Small Wide offers the right packaging for world markets, while an all-wheel drive system is more than adequate for the kind of driving that a B-Segment Jeep will see (i.e. not the Rubicon). This will strictly be an “image” car for Europeans who want to Jeep aesthetic but not the capabilities of a true off-roader. Don’t discount the possibility of a front-drive only version either. The front-drive only 500L Trekking is a pretty good preview of what that will be like.

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Review: 2014 Fiat 500L (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-fiat-500l-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-fiat-500l-with-video/#comments Fri, 06 Sep 2013 21:15:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=507441 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-008

I have to admit, I’m a fan of the Fiat 500. Yes, I know it’s just a Fiat Panda with bubbly sheetmetal. Yes I know it’s a little peculiar. Yes I know it’s trying to ride on MINI success. It doesn’t matter, the wee Fiat makes me grin every time I drive one. Whether it’s the slow-as-dirt standard 500, the ludicrously loud Abarth, the almost-convertible 500c or the totally impractical 500e, the Cinquecento knows how to brighten my day. I was therefore excited when Fiat announced the 500′s success would spawn a four door stable-mate for 2014.  Is the 500L 40% more smiles for 20% more cash?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

When I first saw the 500L at the Chicago Auto Show, I tried to keep an open mind about the exterior styling. The perfectly orchestrated lighting, booth babes and a free cappuccino mug certainly helped distract from the car’s lines. Once I had the super-sized 500 parked in the grocery store parking lot under the harsh California sun, my opinion was set. Something is wrong with the 500L.

2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

On the face of things, a larger 500 sounds like a great idea, I love the way the new 500 looks. The problem is: the 500L is not a stretched 500. Instead, the L is an entirely different car riding on a completely unrelated architecture co-designed by Fiat and Opel. The result is a 500 that got stung by a bee, not a 500 Xeroxed with the enlarge setting at 140%. I don’t think the 500L is hideous, it’s just awkward. Like a slightly overweight person in skinny jeans and a tube top.

If you want a 500L that looks slightly more rugged, the Trekking model gets a tweaked bumper cover featuring more black plastic. Apparently black plastic tells others you’re an outdoor sports person. The side profile is dominated by slab sides and an unusual A and B pillar location. If you can’t tell from the picture above, check out the one below. The A pillar and B pillar are up by the dashboard allowing the windshield to be pushed out towards the front of the car, improving interior room but creating a style that is far from common in America. If I might proffer an opinion: I think going for a 1950′s wrap-around-bubble windshield would have been more unique and more harmonious. Out back the 500′s raked hatchback style is out, replaced by a more practical vertical hatch. I realize that style is subjective so, so I’ll end this section by soliciting your opinion in the comment section. Ready? Set. Flame!

2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

While the funky styling on the outside turned my nose up, the Euro-funk on the inside whet my appetite in a strange sort of way. (Kind of like admitting you eat peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and aren’t pregnant.) Cars in America are so cookie-cutter these days with every car company pulling from the same pool of suppliers are parts that the 500L stands out. In addition to switch gear you won’t find in a Ford or Toyota, the overall style is refreshingly different. Our 500L Lounge tester had the optional pleather dash in a faux-marble pattern that is on the one hand unique and the other a little strange. From the seat design to the parking brake handle and the steering wheel to the air vents, the 500L is just a little different. If you like breaking from the herd, this interior is for you.

Front seat comfort was acceptable for a car in the 500L’s price range ($19,100-$27,895) but could have been better. Part of this is because our Lounge model was a pre-production vehicle and did not have the four-way power lumbar support that is normally standard on Lounge models and optional on Easy and Trekking. I was unable to locate a 500L with the optional lumbar support so keep that in mind. Power seats are not available at any price and the manual adjustment range of motion is more limited than I had expected, but Fiat did go the extra mile and give the same height adjustment levers to the front passenger seat. The 500L’s chunky leather wrapped steering wheel and well placed controls have a premium feel to them you don’t normally find in this price range.

2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L.Dykes

Logically the 500L exists to give 500 shoppers an alternative that can seat 5 and schlep more widgets. Indeed, the rear bench has three belts, is split 60/40, adjusted fore/aft and folded/flipped forward to increase cargo capacity from 21 cubes to 64 cubes. (The front passenger seat also folds flat.) Unfortunately our model was had the panoramic sunroof, a trendy $950 option. Why is that unfortunate? Two reasons. The sunroof drops the ceiling low enough that my head brushed the ceiling and I’m only 6-feet tall. The other problem is the perforated cloth sunshade. It sieves the light rather than blocking it. This didn’t seem like a problem at first, but on a 98 degree day having my head baking and my face freezing lead to a headache that wouldn’t have happened in anything other than a convertible. Except in a convertible I could have put the lid back on. Phoenix shoppers beware. It is now that I should point out I had a passenger who thought this was the best feature ever. I think her head has been in the sun too long.

Americans love cupholders because we love fast food as much as we love fast cars. This is one cultural difference that even European car companies that have been in America for decades continue to get wrong. (I’m lookin’ at you BMW.) If you’re considering a 500L as a family car, there’s a serious deficiency you should know about: the 500L has three cup holders. That’s two less than the car’s occupancy, one less than the American bare-minimum standard and three less than ideal. Yes, the cup holder that slides out of the rear armrest is sturdy. Yes it can handle a 42oz McCokePepsiDew from the drive-thru. But there is only one. Fiat kindly includes a bottle holder in each of the 500L’s doors but tells you to never put a drink without a screw cap in them. Holding your Big Gulp between your knees may be acceptable in Italy, but in suburban America it is grounds for mutiny. Trust me, I found out the hard way.

 2014 Fiat 500L

Infotainment

The 500L is the first Fiat to use Chrysler’s uConnect Infotainment system. (Yes, I am discounting the re-badged Fiat and Lancia models.) Because the 8-inch system found in most Chrysler vehicles wouldn’t fit the dash, a 5-inch system is used in base models while most seem to get the 6.5-inch unit. Both systems carry the uConnect name but the 5-inch system runs an embedded version of Microsoft Windows ala MyFord Touch and the 6.5-inch system runs on the same QNX operating system as other uConnect systems (and Blackberry phones.)

Despite running a different OS, the 5-inch system looks and feels very similar to the other uConnect devices and it follows Chrysler and Fiat’s new direction in infotainment: no standard CD player. Like the RAM trucks and new Jeeps, you can pay $190 for an optical drive but it will be located somewhere other than in the dash. Fiat has said the 5-inch system can also be upgraded to include GPS navigation but details remain sketchy.  If you’ve seen the 8-inch system, you’ll be right at home with the 6.5-inch version. I assumed initially that the reduced screen real estate would be an issue for my inner-nerd, but I was mistaken. The reason is that Fiat moved the permanent on-screen button bank to a row of physical buttons below the screen making the useable area almost as large as its bigger brother. If you want the infotainment deep dive, check out the video. I was unable to discern a difference between the standard 6 speaker system on the 500L Pop and the “premium” system found on the other models. I did however find the 6-speaker Beats branded system to have a strange balance with exaggerated bass and muted mid range.

2014 Fiat 500L Engine, Fiat Multi-Air, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

In many world markets, popping the hood of the 500L will reveal a 0.9L two-cylinder engine good for 79 ponies. Clearly this would have taken “Euro-funky” to a level Americans would never accept. In an interesting twist, Fiat skipped over their 1.4L 135HP turbo and gave the 500L some Abarth love the form of their 160 horsepower 1.4L MultiAir turbo. In a move that may make Abarth owners feel left out, Fiat tweaked the small four again, bumping torque from 170 ft-lbs to 184. Thanks to the MultiAir system, the turbo’s 18psi (maximum) of boost can still be enjoyed with 87 octane.

Further upsetting Abarth owners is the fact that this engine is mated to a 6-speed manual or a quick-shifting 6-speed dual clutch transmission. Unlike most of the dual-clutch units out there, Fiat’s “Euro Twin Clutch” transmission uses dry clutches rather than wet clutches as seen in VW’s original 6-speed DSG. Cost and complexity are the main reasons for the dry clutches, however shift quality is not quite up to VW’s standards as a result. Another interesting side effect of the dry clutches is driving at slow speeds, especially on sloping roads, can heat up the clutch pack enough you can smell it.

2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Based on the 500L’s proportions you might be temped to think it handles like a giant marshmallow. You’d be wrong. At 3,200lbs (with the dual-clutch) the 500L is [relatively] light and thanks to the chassis stamping, the center of gravity is low. Toss in some Italian engineering and the optional 225/45R17 tires (205/55R16s are standard on all models except Trekking) and the 500L is surprisingly agile on the road. I spent a few hours behind the wheel of the base Pop model with the 6-speed manual and the 205-width rubber and came away fairly impressed even in stripper form. The 500L with the optional rubber easily out-grips the Buick Encore and Kia Soul, but if corner carving in your almost-crossover is your style, the Countryman has higher limits and better feel.

Fiat uses a modern electric power steering system in the 500L so that means we can skip steering feel for other topics at hand. Tossing the 500L into corners produces less body roll than you might imagine and the chassis is tuned to the stiffer side of this segment. The 500L’s cabin is considerably quieter than the Soul or the Countryman but not as quiet as Buick’s crossover.

2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Headlamps, Piicture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The 6-speed manual transmission has an excellent feel, moderately long throws and a linear, but slightly spongy clutch. The shifter feel is reminiscent of the smaller 500 Abarth except the 500L gains an all important 6th gear and looes the incessant drone designed into the Abarth’s exhaust. The extra cog helps the 500L achieve a very respectable 25/33/28 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) EPA score which is three city and one highway MPG lower than the Abarth. Adding the dual clutch tranny drops the city and combined number by one MPG to 24/33/27. In a week of mixed driving and hill climbing I averaged an impressive 28.9MPG, several shy of the Buick Encore but 4MPG ahead of the Mini Countryman S.

Opinions on Fiat’s dual-clutch transmission are likely to be as mixed as the exterior design. The 6-speed unit has all the benefits and flaws of every other dual clutch robotic manual on the market. Because this is a manual transmission at heart, there is no torque converter. If you understand what’s going on inside the transmission, the behavior makes sense. If you’re passengers aren’t “car people” they will ask: “dude, what’s wrong with your car?” The reason is: the 500L drives like a someone driving a manual. Takes offs have a hint of clutch slip and then an engagement point, this is especially obvious in slow driving where the car is almost constantly slipping the clutch. The 500L gets hill hold assist, but if the incline is shallow, you’re pointing down hill, or you wait too long to press the accelerator, the 500L will roll. On the up side, the transmission’s shifts are fast and crisp and the Fiat unit is just as eager to downshift as it is to up-shift making it a decent companion on mountain roads.

2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Pricing & Competition

Ah, the bugaboo of every review. Any car can seem like a slam dunk in a vacuum (I’m thinking LS 600hL) but pricing makes the deal. With a spread from $19,100 to $27,895 (without destination), the 500L’s pricing spread isn’t out of the ordinary, but what else competes with the super-sized Fiat? I suppose you could call the $14,700-$23,400 Kia Soul competition, but are they really the same thing? It may not handle as well, be as quiet on the inside or get the same fuel economy as the 500L, but it’s about $4,000 cheaper. That’s a significant difference.

On the other side of the spectrum we have the Buick Encore and Mini Countryman Cooper S. Both the Buick and the Mini seem like better competition thanks to their turbocharged engines, mini SUV looks and more premium brand image. The Buick and Mini both have AWD options which is something to keep in mind, but the majority of their sales are FWD so the comparison is valid.  The Buick is over $3,000 more expensive and not as powerful, but it does deliver at least $3,000 worth of interior refinements in my opinion. The Mini on the other hand fails the value proposition costing $8,000-$9,000 more than the Fiat depending on the options. I’d like to say the Mini makes up for the difference, but I’d be lying. Yes the Mini does have better road manners and I like their version of BMW’s iDrive, but the difference isn’t worth the price especially when Mini continues to use some crazy cheap plastics in their cabins.

The 500L is certainly 40% more Fiat for 20% more cash, but the size increase exacts a 50% toll on the cuteness factor and a 20% reduction in fun. Once that math is done, you’re left with the Kia being cheaper, the Encore doing almost everything better and the Mini still selling on brand but delivering little else. The 500L handles well, is reasonably priced, gets good fuel economy and has the largest cargo hold of this group. Paired with a large helping of Euro-funk, I can see why someone would want to own one, I’m just not that person. If you’re torn between the 500 and 500L, get the 500 and rent a four-door when you need one. If you need four-doors all the time, the 500L is unquestionably a better buy than the Mini Countryman, and in many ways a better vehicle as well, but the Kia Soul is a better value and the Buick Encore is just a better car. I can’t believe I said that about a Buick. Someone help me find my wheelchair, I know I left it here before that whippersnapper came in the room.

Hit it or Quit it?

Hit it

  • I know I’m the only one, but I love a dual-clutch transmission.
  • The baby uConnect system hasn’t lost what makes the 8-inch unit great.
  • Larger cargo hold than Encore and Countryman.

Quit it

  • Awkward looks.
  • Distinct cup-holder shortage in the rear.
  • The Kia Soul is a better value.

Fiat provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.47 Seconds

0-60: 8.34 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.72 Seconds @ 85.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 28.9 MPG over 460 miles

2014 Fiat 500L Engine, Fiat Multi-Air, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Engine-001 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-001 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-003 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-004 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Headlamps, Piicture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-006 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-008 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-009 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-010 2014 Fiat 500L Exterior-011 2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Picture Courtesy of Fiat 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-001 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-002 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-003 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-004 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-005 2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L.Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-008 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-009 2014 Fiat 500L Interior-010 2014 Fiat 500L Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes ]]>
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Review: 2013 Fiat 500e Electric (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/review-2013-fiat-500e-electric-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/review-2013-fiat-500e-electric-video/#comments Sat, 22 Jun 2013 16:45:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=491871 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Despite being an incredibly small part of the US market share, you don’t have to look far in California’s urban areas to find a car with a plug. The reason for that is California’s controversial EV mandate. California wants 1.4 million EVs and plug-in hybrids on the road by 2025. Up till recently, California’s regulations seemed like a pie-in-the-sky dream with a far-away deadline. That changed last year when CARB (California Air Resources Board) mandated (in a nutshell) a combined 7,500 zero-emission vehicles be sold between 2012 and 2014 by the large auto makers in the state. (Credits and trades are not included in that number.) Come 2018, smaller companies like Volvo, Subaru and Jaguar will have to embrace plug-love and at the same time, most of the silly green credits go out the window. By 2025, if my home state has its way, 15% of new cars will be an EV. In California. This brings us to the little orange 500 Fiat lent us for a week. Because everyone is getting into the EV game, this will be our first EV review where we make no mention of living with an EV, range anxiety or charging station availability. If you want to know about that, click over to our 7-part saga “Living with an EV for a week.”

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Fiat’s pint-sized car started its life as a Fiat Panda, a popular European car that is constantly bashed on Top Gear. (The Panda isn’t a bad little car, but it looks like something the soviet government would have cooked up.) The 500 however is modern Italian chic from bumper to bumper. While the Nuova 500 (as the Italians call it to distinguish it from the original) isn’t as handsome as the original “new” Mini, it is a plucky little car that makes people smile and point as you drive by. It could have been the $500 optional bright orange paint, but the 500e received more points and waves from passers by than a BMW M6 drop-top or a $120,000 Jaguar.

How small is a 500? We’re talking 139 inches long and 64 inches wide. That’s 7.0 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower than the Mini and a whopping three feet shorter than a Civic and 5 inches narrower than the compact Honda.

For EV duty, Fiat stuck with the 500′s winning formula. The EV gets a tweaked front and rear bumper for improved aerodynamics, wheels that have very little open space to reduce drag and a spoiler designed to do the same. Together the aero improvement reduce drag by 13% over a gasoline Italian. Fiat dropped the charging connector behind the fuel filler door and kept EV badging to an absolute minimum. The 500e’s discrete personality (you know, aside from the orange paint) didn’t go unnoticed by me or by my weekly troupe of lunch guests. Oddly enough when I first drove a 500 gasoline version two years ago everyone I met asked me if it was Electric. Now that there is a 500 electric, nobody thought about asking if it was an EV.

2013 Fiat 500e Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

EV variants of “normal” cars suffer from the same problem as high-performance variants: the common parts bin. The 500′s plastics and trim parts are entirely appropriate in a $16,000 500 Pop edition but a gasoline vehicle starting at $31,800 would normally be expected to have nicer bits. But this isn’t a gasoline car so we should talk actual competition before we go much further.

The gas 500 finds itself head-to-head with the likes of the Mni Copper, Scion iQ and Smart, the $31,800 500e swims in a larger and more varied pond. We have the $28,800 Leaf, $29,135 i-MiEV, $39,200 Focus Electric, $26,685 Spark EV, as well as the lease-only Fit EV, the expensive crossover RAV4 EV, the crop of “almost EV” plug in hybrids and, yes, even the Model S. (The Mini E is not available for sale yet and Think! went belly-up.)

With the competition now in mind we can assess the interior more honestly. As a dedicated EV, the Leaf was built to a weight so plastics are hard and thin. Ditto the Volt and i-MiEV. The C-MAX and RAV 4, being based off slightly more expensive gasoline vehicles have more luxurious interior plastics. Meanwhile the 500 has plenty of hard plastics but Fiat cast them in stylish shapes that are sure to lure PT Cruiser, HHR and Mini buyers. The only real change to the 500′s interior was the installation of shift buttons where the traditional shifter used to live. I think the change was fine but I wish Fiat had gone further and just removed that portion of the dash so you’d have more knee-room.

EV efficiency is driven as much by environmental concerns as the reality that range is limited and charging times are long. Weight the enemy of efficiency so you won’t find heavy items like cushy seats, adjustable lumbar support or power adjusting mechanisms. The 500e’s thrones aren’t uncomfortable, but they lack the range of adjustibility you find in an average mid-sized sedan. Thanks t0 the 500′s upright profile, the rear seats are surprisingly easy to get into and provide enough headroom for a pair of 6-foot tall adults. On the down side, the battery pack intrudes making the footwells four-inches shallower than the regular 500. (Check out the video for more.) The EV conversion doesn’t really shrink the cargo area as much as it converts it. The 500e has a flip-up cargo floor that reveals a can of fix-a-flat and the 120V “emergency” charging cable which suck up about six-inches of cargo load floor.
2013 Fiat 500e LCD Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

 

Infotainment & Gadgets

The 500 may seem fresh to Americans since it’s only been sold here for three years. Unfortunately for gadget lovers, the 500 is really a 6 year old car launched in 2007. That means that the gadgets on offer were already ageing when “our” 500 hit dealers in 2010.  That means you won’t find any snazzy touchscreen LCDs, self parking doodads or Ford SYNC aping voice commands. To correct this deficiency, 500es sold in the USA come standard with Fiat’s customized Tom-Tom nav system that “docks” into a dedicated hole in the dashboard. For some reason our Canadian brothers and sisters (who are able to buy the 500e) don’t get standard nav-love but Fiat will sell you one for some extra loonies.

Helping counter the 500e’s price tag, Fiat throws in the up-level Alpine sound system from the gasoline model with Bluetooth speaker phone integration and a USB/iPod interface. EV buyers also get a snazzy 7-inch LCD gauge cluster. The disco-dash offers slick graphics but limited customization in this generation. Instead of reworking the car’s controls for the 500e, the LCD is still controlled via the complicated combination of steering wheel buttons, a button on the wiper stalk and three buttons on the dash. Confused? Check out the video to see what they all do.

2013 Fiat 500e Electric Motor, Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain & Drive

In place of the gasoline engine sits a 111HP/147lb-ft three-phase AC synchronous motor. That’s a 9HP and 49lb-ft improvement over the 1.4L four-cylinder gasoline engine. Power is stored in a 624lb, 24kWh battery pack that’s liquid cooled and heated that is located mostly under the 500′s Italian body. Power gets to the front wheels via a single speed transaxle. Transaxle is perhaps not the best word to use here since the 500e doesn’t have a transmission in the traditional sense; its more of a reduction gear and differential combination. No reverse gear is needed because the motor can spin backwards just as easily as it can forwards.

Charging is handled by an on-board 6.6kW charger which will take the pack from zero to 100% in just under four hours if you have access to a 240V level 2 charger. 120V charging will take 22 hours, a notable improvement over some EVs thanks to the small size of the 500′s battery. Range clocks in at 80-100 miles depending on how you drive and my range numbers landed in the middle at 90. Thanks to an efficient drivetrain and the 6.6kW charger, the 500e can “opportunity” charge while you’re shopping gobbling up 20-25 miles of range for every hour of 240V public charging. Due to the ongoing DC-charging standard war, Fiat decided to skip on the feature leaving 500e owners to gaze longingly at the possibility of gaining 4 miles of range a minute.

The 111HP motor changes the way the 500 drives dramatically. Motors deliver all their torque from nearly zero RPM to moderate speeds. As a result the 500e has far more “oomph” from a stop than the regular gasoline model that needs to rev to bring the power to a boil. This means the EV version has more torque steer and more one-wheel-peel, but it also runs out of breath over 65 MPH in a way the gas model doesn’t. If you mash your foot to the floor you’ll clock 30 MPH in a very respectable 2.69 seconds, 60 MPH in a four-cylinder Accord 7.87 seconds and a slow 79.7 MPH quarter mile after 16.37 seconds. Keep your boot in it and 88 MPH will happen eventually, at which point the Bosch battery management system will kick in with German efficiency reducing power to keep you from toasting your Samsung cells. Those performance numbers slot the 500e right between the $16,000 500 Pop and the $19,500 500 Turbo which makes sense given the linear power delivery EVs are known for.

2013 Fiat 500e LCD Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The 500e may have more around-town scoot than its gasoline brother, but an overall weight gain of 600lbs vs the dino model and low rolling resistance rubber define the 500′s handling. While its true the battery pack causes the 500e to have a better weight balance than the gasoline 500, it just means you’re going to head into the bushes door-first rather than nose-first. Still, 2,980lbs is a fairly light electric car and that is obvious when you drive the 500e back-to-back with a Leaf or Fit EV. Electrification hasn’t destroyed the 500′s dynamics, but it has dulled them.

Despite the changes, the 500e is still an excellent runabout with a tight turning radius, decent visibility and (thanks to is small size) it’s a breeze to park. The same can be said of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, but it’s dreadfully ugly and the 500′s pug nose has a cute factor that can’t be denied. The 500e is also running Bosch’s latest regenerative braking software which handles the friction brake/regen brake transition the smoothest of any car I have driven to date, an important feature in a city-EV. Fiat has one selling point we haven’t covered, the ” Pass program” which gives owners “free” access to 12 days of rental car access per year for three years via Enterprise, National or Alamo. The logic is to quell range anxiety with almost a fortnight in a gasoline car for your yearly road trip. Speaking of leases, I’m not sure how many people would pay $31,800 for 500 that ran on electrons, but Fiat’s $999 down, $199 a month (plus a heap of taxes and fees) is fairly attractive. Nissan is also offering a $199 a month lease on the Leaf, but it required another grand down. Based on the little car’s operating costs, the 500e would make an ideal commuter, especially if your employer foots your charging bill (a growing number in California do.) Just keep in mind that you can’t claim that $7,500 tax credit that is heavily advertised by EV makers if you lease, and Fiat only sells the 500e in California. Bummer dude.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Most fun to drive EV this side of a Model S.
  • Good looks can’t be overlooked.
  • 36 days in a rental car sounds like a reasonable perk.

Quit it

  • Fiat’s infotainment options are old school and awkward interfaces abound.
  • No DC quick-charging ability leaves you wishing you had a Leaf sometimes.

Fiat provided the vehicle, insurance and 24kWh of electricity for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.69 Seconds

0-60: 7.87 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.37 Seconds at 79.9 MPH

Average Observed Economy:148 MPGe over 580 miles

 

2013 Fiat 500e Cargo Area 2013 Fiat 500e Cargo Area-001 2013 Fiat 500e Electric Motor 2013 Fiat 500e Electric Motor, Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-001 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-002 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-003 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-004 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-005 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-006 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-007 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-008 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-009 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-010 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-011 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-012 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-013 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-014 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-015 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-016 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-017 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-018 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-019 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-020 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Interior 2013 Fiat 500e Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-002 2013 Fiat 500e Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-004 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-005 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-006 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-007 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-008 2013 Fiat 500e Radio 2013 Fiat 500e TomTom Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Wheels IMG_4666 2013 Fiat 500e LCD Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4758 ]]>
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Honda Cuts Fit EV Lease Costs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/honda-cuts-fit-ev-lease-costs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/honda-cuts-fit-ev-lease-costs/#comments Thu, 30 May 2013 16:37:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490072 2011-Honda-Fit-EV-007-550x358

New and current Honda Fit EV customers can look forward to a reduction in their lease costs.

 

The old lease cost of $389/month for 36 months with 12,000 miles allowed annually has now become $259/month for 36 months with unlimited mileage. Also included are scheduled maintenance, collision coverage and a free 240V charger (the unit is free but you have to pay for installation). Customers who already leased a Fit EV will be able to take advantage of the new rates going forward.

The EV market is experiencing a bit of a price war lately, with aggressive deals from Fiat, Nissan and Chevrolet. For commuters in California, this presents an opportunity for a cheap runabout for short distances. TTAC contributor Jeff Jablansky is slated to give us his impressions of what it’s like to live with the Fit EV in the next couple weeks. In the mean time, Alex Dykes has driven a pre-production version, and currently has a Fiat 500e in his garage. The rest of us will have to watch from afar.

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Fiat 500XL Forgot Its Epi-Pen http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/fiat-500xl-forgot-its-epi-pen/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/fiat-500xl-forgot-its-epi-pen/#comments Fri, 26 Apr 2013 15:51:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=486294

The next example of the Fiat 500 range, the rather literally named Fiat 500XL, has revealed itself via a leaked photo. It looks a bit like a Fiat 500L that’s all swollen via anaphylaxis. The 500XL may not even make it to North America, but that’s ok. We’ll take the Panda instead. Apparently, the 500XL will have a third row of seats and grow to nearly 170 inches long, making it just barely acceptable for North American tastes. No doubt it will do well in Europe, which is currently in the throes of crossover fever.

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Marchionne Claims $10,000 Loss On Each Fiat 500e http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/marchionne-claims-10000-loss-on-each-fiat-500e/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/marchionne-claims-10000-loss-on-each-fiat-500e/#comments Mon, 22 Apr 2013 16:54:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=485889

Despite overwhelmingly positive press for the Fiat 500e, the electric Fiat is known to be a bete-noir for Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne. Speaking at the SAE Congress last week, Marchionne claimed that Fiat loses $10,000 on each 500e, describing it as “masochism”.

Marchionne has repeatedly stated that Fiat is only building the car to comply with California regulations that mandate the sale of zero-emissions vehicles. But despite rave reviews and an aggressive lease program, Marchionne has repeatedly made negative statements about the car. The Detroit Free Press quotes Marchionne on the nature of the money losing EV

“For every 500 electric that we produce even after all the subsidies we will lose about $10,000 bucks a car,” Marchionne said. “Doing that on a large scale would be masochism to the extreme.”

Machionne also urged governments to stay “neutral” on what technologies it decides to subsidize, citing the current trendiness of EVs versus the widespread enthusiasm for hydrogen a decade ago.

“A number of governments around the world including the U.S. have provided incentives for consumers to purchase plug-in electric vehicles and have provided direct incentives to manufacturers…my fear is that regulators are rushing precipitously into embracing electric vehicles as the only technological solution.”

 

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Fiat Pushing $199 Lease For 500e http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/fiat-pushing-199-lease-for-500e/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/fiat-pushing-199-lease-for-500e/#comments Wed, 17 Apr 2013 12:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=485168

California consumers interested in a Fiat 500e will be getting a sweetheart deal from Fiat; a $199 lease for 36 months with a $999 down payment.

At retail, the car will cost $32,500 plus a $7,500 tax credit. But as the Los Angeles Times reports, customers who lease won’t be able to collect the tax credit.

Those leasing the car can also get a special $2,500 rebate that California offers for electric cars, which will cover the down payment and about six lease payments.

Fiat’s move is an agressive one. Nissan recently cut the base price of the Leaf  to$28,800, or $6,400 less than it was in 2012. Nissan also offers 36-month lease deal of $199 a month and a $1,999 down payment. But the Leaf is sold nationwide, unlike the 500e, which is limited to California only. The reason for this is economic. Fiat stands to lose money on every single 500e, and is only selling the car to comply with California emissions standards. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has gone on record with his displeasure over the 500e’s money-losing nature, telling Automotive News

“I will try to sell the required numbers for me to optimize compliance with the emission standards and not one more.”

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Fiat Panda To Join The Crossover Party, New Product Lines Due In 2015 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/fiat-panda-to-join-the-crossover-party-new-product-lines-due-in-2015/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/fiat-panda-to-join-the-crossover-party-new-product-lines-due-in-2015/#comments Fri, 08 Mar 2013 09:00:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=480504

The latest member of the fast-growing “European small crossover club” will likely be the Fiat Panda, which will get a model that will grow in size, to compete against C-Segment SUVs.

The Panda crossover would fight a battle on two fronts, taking on the wildly popular Nissan Qashqai and the Skoda Yeti in the mainstream arena while also going after premium models like the Audi X1 and Audi Q3. The current Panda range, which includes an all-wheel drive version with faux-rugged cladding and a higher ride height, has won critical acclaim from European motoring journalists. The previous generation Panda 100 hot hatchback has been praised as one of the most fun drives at any price, and a new version will also join the range to enhance the range’s sporting credentials.

But the larger, crossover-style Panda will play an important role for ailing Fiat, along with the 500X crossover, which is somewhat larger than the standard 500. The 500 and the Panda will be the focal point of Fiat’s branding, as the Panda and 500 are judged to have the deepest emotional attachment with consumers. But contrary to popular reports, other model lines like the Punto, Bravo and Freemont aren’t going anywhere. All new versions are set to debut in 2015 to complement the 500 and Panda.

 

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Fiat 500 Moving To Poland, Chrysler Heads South http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/fiat-500-moving-to-poland-chrysler-heads-south/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/fiat-500-moving-to-poland-chrysler-heads-south/#comments Tue, 12 Feb 2013 16:39:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=477307

The next generation Fiat 500 will no longer be hecho en Mexico for the North American market. Faced with a modern plant and unused capacity, Fiat will consolidate all of its 500 production to its site in Tychy, Poland, in 2015. So what does this mean for Mexico?

The move may have as much to do with Fiat’s underutilized capacity as it does with Chrysler’s current capacity crunch. Pentastar plants are running at full steam, and the facility in Toluca, Mexico will likely be converted into a plant to build Chrysler products for the North American market. Toluca currently builds the 500 and the Dodge Journey crossover. Interestingly, Marchionne has claimed in the past that unused European capacity could be used to meet North American demand for Chrysler products. If the idea of a Mexican made car scares you, just wait until you get your hands on a Caravan made in the same factory as an Alfa Romeo…

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Chicago Auto Show: 2014 Fiat 500L http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/chicago-auto-show-2014-fiat-500l/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/chicago-auto-show-2014-fiat-500l/#comments Thu, 07 Feb 2013 23:21:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=476829

What happens when foreigners have been in America for a few years? They start getting fat like Americans. And so it is with the 2014 Fat 500L which has gained mass, two doors and a plumper overall visage. We found a red model strutting its chunky stuff at the back of the Chicago Auto Show For some reason we weren’t allowed inside, but we were able to caress it through the open windows.


Fiat kept referring to the 500L as some sort of MINI Clubman competitor, but I tend to think only shoppers of the Countryman CUV will be looking at the larger Fiat. On the outside the 500L looks slightly overinflated with suspicious looking bulges everywhere. The inside is a different story however with interior bits that put MINI to shame. Not that they are overly luxurious but MINI’s parts bin is a hard plastic wonderland.

Fiat says the 500L will be front wheel drive only for the moment, although the rumor mill indicates the platform has been designed with AWD in mind. The same 1.4L turbo engine from the 500 Abarth is found under the hood giving the baby crossover 160HP and 184lb-ft of twist. Also on board is a 6-speed manual or Fiat’s dual dry clutch transmission. Infotainment options are also taking a step in the right direction bringing Chrysler’s slick uConnect system to an optional 6.5-inch touch scree in the dash. I spent some time playing with the display system and it looks to be better in my opinion than MINI’s rendition of iDrive and light-years ahead of what’s in the current 500. So far, nobody is talking pricing.

2014 Fiat 500L 2014 Fiat 500L-1 2014 Fiat 500L-2 2014 Fiat 500L-3 2014 Fiat 500L-4 2014 Fiat 500L-5 2014 Fiat 500L-6 2014 Fiat 500L-7 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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500C+(2)500L = $$$: 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/500c2500l-2012-los-angeles-auto-show/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/500c2500l-2012-los-angeles-auto-show/#comments Wed, 28 Nov 2012 15:31:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=468274

Fiat dropped a product onslaught at the LA show, revealing two variants of the 500L, and an Abarth version of the 500C, so I can better sunburn my enormous bald spot.

But since you already know what the 500C looks like, let’s focus on the Fiat 500L. All three cars share the Abarth’s 160 horsepower 1.4L turbo engine. The 500L will be available in standard trim or as a pseudo-crossover known as the “Trekking” (shown above). Despite sounding horribly lame, the Trekking isn’t that distinguishable from the standard 500, and the visual changes are minimal. The 500L will launch in mid-2013, with pricing announced closer to launch.

Now, make plans to bring over the Panda!

2014-fiat-500l-trekking-1 2013 Fiat 500c Abarth 2014 Fiat 500L Lounge 2014 Fiat 500L Lounge ]]>
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Generation Why: My Gen Y COTY http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/generation-why-gen-y-coty/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/generation-why-gen-y-coty/#comments Tue, 20 Nov 2012 20:54:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=467559

With the TWATs under way and awards season about to gear up, I would like to take a moment to highlight the one car I’ve found that ticks all the boxes for me personally. It’s the Fiat 500 Abarth.

The base 500 might as well be the template for the “premium city car” segment that’s slowly cropping up (the 500, Opel Adam and even the Ford Fiesta and Smart ForTwo can be included). It’s stylish, economical and carries a small footprint which makes it easier to park and maneuver. It’s also bog slow and dull to drive.

The Abarth fixes all that. 160 horsepower won’t light anyone’s hair on fire, but its quick enough by anyone’s standards, with serious punch above 3000 RPM that’s great for merging and passing big rigs on the highway. In the base car, those are white-knuckle feats of derring-do. In the Abarth, you want to do it again and again. The power comes in handy in city traffic too. There’s very little lag, and you can take nearly anything from a stoplight. A stopped taxi or dawdling driver blocking your lane can easily be evaded without downshifting – wait for even the tiniest gap, punch the throttle and you’re gone.

It sounds like a tuner car, and tries to look like a serious performance machine but doesn’t have any of the “I work at McDonalds” vibe that a tuner car (factory or aftermarket hackjob) carries. Girls think its cute, seniors take a real shine to it and you’d never be embarassed to take a client or your boss out to lunch in it. That wonderful exhaust note that everyone goes on about? It never drones or buzzes like an aftermarket unit does. But it sounds wonderful with the windows down, when you can hear the turbo spooling, the wastegate exhaling and the unburnt fuel crackling and popping.

Some of the cars flaws, like the high seating position, are actually a boon to city driving. Visibility is excellent and you quickly adapt to it. Others, like the excessive body roll and darty steering at high speeds make it less than ideal for serious performance driving. This isn’t something you’d take to the track. But for the kind of road courses you tackle on a daily basis, it’s superb. I even fit a Cotsco-sized grocery shop in the trunk without folding the seats down. In a pinch, I took a couple friends across town to go for lunch. Even though I drove the car vigorously all week, I had no trouble matching the 28 mpg the EPA claims for this car.

The Abarth is definitely a niche product, and a lot of people will be more comfortable with something else, whether that’s a Mini, a Mazdaspeed 3 or even an FR-S. But if you are that mythical Millenial; downtown-living, employed in the creative field, the kind of person that GM and Ford are trying so hard to cultivate, then this is your car. I love it for more tangible reasons; it can fit in nearly any parking space, easy on gas and has just the right amount of performance. Do I love it enough to take on a car note? No. But of all the cars I’ve driven this year, this is the one that I’d buy. Maybe in a few years, when things are a little more stable and I’m firmly entrenched here at TTAC, I’ll take the plunge. Right now, the world doesn’t seem to be getting any more stable economically, and that means even a $22,000 new car is something to be second guessed.

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Fiat 500e Breaks Cover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/fiat-500e-breaks-cover/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/fiat-500e-breaks-cover/#comments Fri, 16 Nov 2012 15:41:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=467149

All you J.Lo fans hankering for the chance to get behind the wheel of an emissions-free Fiat 500, the wait is (almost) over.

Visually, the Fiat 500e (for electric, natch) has only a few subtle changes, presumably to make it more aerodynamic. The 500e has been said to be a “compliance car” to appease California regulators who demand a certain number of EVs per year. The 500e is also expected to be a serious money-loser for Chrysler, to the tune of $10,000 per car.

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Fiat 500 Finally Gets The 40 MPG Brass Ring http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/fiat-500-finally-gets-the-40-mpg-brass-ring/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/fiat-500-finally-gets-the-40-mpg-brass-ring/#comments Mon, 10 Sep 2012 13:00:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=459594

A couple tweaks have finally pushed the Fiat 500 to the magical 40 MPG mark – but only on manual-equipped version.

While automatic transmission 500s stay rated at 27/34 mpg city/highway, the manual versions get a bump to 31/40 mpg, up from 30/38 mpg. According to Fiat, the new rating comes from a taller final drive ratio and some undisclosed aerodynamic tweaks.

With 40 mpg becoming the de facto “round-number-fuel-economy-rating-that-sounds-good-in-ad-copy”, it was essential that Fiat avoid the embarrassment of being 2 mpg short. Oh well, at least it’s not 40 mpg CAFE…

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2013 Fiat 500 Turbo Revealed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/2013-fiat-500-turbo-revealed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/2013-fiat-500-turbo-revealed/#comments Fri, 17 Aug 2012 15:42:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=457231

Here it is, the Fiat 500 Turbo that’s long been rumored. The Turbo uses a detuned version of the Abarth motor, good for 135 horsepower and 150 lb-ft. The sole transmission is a 5-speed manual, and there’s a tweaked chassis to go along with it. The Turbo also gets the same front end as the Abarth, but the more mild visual treatments of the standard car – all for $19, 500 (plus $700 destination).

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Fiat Feeling GILTy, Offers $5,000 Off A 500C Or Abarth http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/fiat-feeling-gilty-offers-5000-off-a-500c-or-abarth/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/fiat-feeling-gilty-offers-5000-off-a-500c-or-abarth/#comments Tue, 24 Jul 2012 16:32:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454041

Gilt, a subscription-based fashion deal website, was offering an incredible deal on two hot Fiat products. $5,000 off a Fiat 500C or Fiat 500 Abarth.

No more information is available at the Gilt website, but TTAC reader Robstar said that the deal involved

“$5k deposit, refunded at purchase of a fiat 500 cabrio for $9,999

$5k deposit, refunded at purchase of a fiat 500 abarth for $15,999″

A package deal for a Gucci Edition 500 and a trip to Italy is still available for $27, 750, not including a $5,000 deposit. Purchases must buy the vehicle from a local Fiat retailer, at which point Gilt will refund the $5,000 deposit. Not that Fiat has had trouble moving the Abarth

 

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Review: 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth – Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2012-fiat-500-abarth-take-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2012-fiat-500-abarth-take-two/#comments Fri, 20 Jul 2012 14:23:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451893  

Abarth was founded in 1952 as a “one-stop-shop” for Fiat performance gear. What does that have to do with the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth? Nothing. Seriously. In 1971 Abarth was purchased by Fiat, by the 1990s the “brand” had deteriorated to a trim level on questionable hatchbacks and by 2000 it was “dead trim walking.” In 2007 Fiat decided they needed a performance brand once again and resurrected Abarth with the inexplicably named “Fiat Grande Punto Abarth” and (more importantly) a complete line of clothing and accessories. Despite the apparent soft start for the brand in the Euro-zone, Fiat tells us they held nothing back for the launch of Abarth in North America. Our own tame racing driver Jack took the Abarth for a spin on the track back in March but this time we’re pitting Italy’s hot hatch against a bigger challenge: the daily commute.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Unlike the Mercedes takeover merger with Chrysler last century, the Fiat/Chrysler tie-up seems to be bearing some interesting fruit. No, I’m not talking about Chrysler’s use of MultiAir in the Dart, or the cozy relationship with ZF Friedrichshafen AG (ZF transmissions), I’m talking about Fiat getting Chrysler’s engineers involved in Fiat designs. Say what? You heard that right, the North American Abarth is not the same car as the Euro model and we can thank Chrysler. Because Fiat knew there had to be some changes for North American consumption, they told the SRT group to think outside the “Americanization” box. The result is an Abarth that borrows heavily from the Euro model but has some significant improvements. Yes, improvements.

Exterior

With just over 40,000 Fiat 500s of any description driving around on our shores, the design is unique enough to cause traffic to slow and heads to turn. As you would expect, there are plenty of go-fast tweaks on the outside of the small Italian. Out back we get a larger spoiler, ginormous dual-exhaust tips, rear diffuser and a different bumper cover. Up front the changes are more pronounced. In order to make the engine and intercoolers fit, Fiat stretched the nose of the 500 by 2.7 inches. The result of the rhinoplasty is a peculiar “trouty mouth” side profile caused by the hood stamping remaining the same. Despite this faux pas fopah (I kid, I kid), the rest of the 500′s sheetmetal is cohesive and attractive, in a way the MINI Coupé can only dream of. Rounding out the sport treatment is a 15mm reduced ride height with unique 16-inch wheels standard, and optional 17-inch wheels (the 17s are wrapped in low-profile performance rubber.)

Interior

Fiat and the SRT team tweaked the interior for Abarth duty, but the basics of the base 500′s $15,500 interior are still here. That being said, all the touch surfaces in the Abarth are close to haptic perfection with one of the best steering wheels and shift knobs available in a vehicle under $40,000. I should point out that the Abarth’s most logical competition comes from MINI, a brand known for blending expensive switchgear and steering wheels with cheesy headliners and carpet. With the Abarth’s interior bits only a notch below MINI, the decidedly lower sticker price forgives just about everything in my mind. When it comes to hauling luggage, the 500 somehow trumps the MINI Cooper with 9.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats in place and 26.8 with them folded (vs 5.7 / 24 cubic feet in the Cooper.)

Not all is perfect inside. The American Abarth gets unique front seats that are (oddly enough) more heavily bolstered than the standard Euro seats, but the distinct lack of lumbar support made them uncomfortable for my average sized 6-foot 180lb frame. While the Euro Abarth has optional Recaro-themed sport seats and plenty of after market alternatives, American buyers have somewhat limited options if they choose to replace the seats. This is important if you intend to track you Abarth and need to install a 5-point harness. Still, I keep returning to price. Mini’s JCW seats aren’t more comfortable, and since the Abarth is considerably cheaper, you can more easily afford to fix this deficiency. Like the regular 500, the rear seats are small, but thanks to the 500′s roof profile and the shape of the rear “foot-wells”, it is entirely possible to fit four 6-foot tall adults in the 500.

Infotainment

Like base 500 models, all Abarths are equipped with “Blue & Me.” This system combines Bluetooth integration and rudimentary voice commands. If you were expecting SYNC-like iDevice or USB control, you’ll be disappointed with the 2007-era interface. It’s too complicated to explain in print, so if you’d like to know more, check out our TTAC Quick Clips video of the base 500C. Also standard on the Abarth is Fiat’s seven speaker Bose audio system which uses a compact subwoofer under the passenger seat. Sound quality is excellent, not just for the price class the Abarth plays in, but for vehicles twice the Abarth’s $22,000 base price ($25,000 as equipped.) While the audio system’s balance is very good, with such a small driver in the sub, if you are into big bass, install your own beatbox.

Because 6 years is an eternity in the electronics world, you can’t get a fancy integrated navigation system like MINI (and just about everyone else) offers. Fiat’s solution to this problem is an oddly integrated TomTom navigation unit. I say oddly integrated both in terms of the look of the odd dashboard “docking connector” (checkout the video above for more information) as well as the unique way it integrates with the vehicle. Yep, that’s right it integrates with the car in a way your Garmin won’t. Once you pair the TomTom (with the custom Blue & Me software installed) to the 500 you can use the steering wheel buttons to command the TomTom. In addition to remote controls the TomTom will also display trip computer and media player information. While this approach is novel, it is also seriously kludgy.

Drivetrain

As with the rest of the 500, the engine isn’t an Italian transplant. Say what? The 1.4L four-clinder turbo engine is built in Michigan. Building a new assembly line in Michigan afforded Fiat the opportunity to make some improvements under the hood. While the basics remain the same with twin intercoolers and MultiAir VVT on tap, the IHI turbo has been swapped for a larger Garrett GT1446 that bumps performance in an important way. Power increases to 160HP from 158 and peaks at a lower 5,500RPM instead of 5,750. The big deal is the torque curve which drops from a sharpish peak at 3,000RPM to a 170lb-ft plateau that stretches from 2,500-4,000RPM (150lb-ft when not in “sport” mode). Thanks to the MultiAir system, the turbo’s 18psi (maximum) of boost can still be enjoyed with 87 octane gasoline (although Fiat is quick to remind us that 91 is recommended if you plan on tracking your Abarth or running in hot climates.) In an interesting nod to performance junkies (as well as those that want their turbo to last a lifetime) Fiat incorporates an “after run” electric water pump to cool the turbo after the car is shut off. Sadly Fiat missed the opportunity to add an extra cog to the 500′s transmission, instead using a heavy-duty version of the same 5-speed manual as the regular 500. Unlike the Euro Abarth models, there is no “automated” version available so working knowledge of a clutch pedal is required.

Drive

The Abarth is a flat-out blast to drive. This is not only thanks to the 60% increase in power and 70% increase in torque, but also to the low-profile tires, 40% stiffer springs, and lowered chassis.The Abarth may look like a tall vehicle, but with a curb weight of only 2,512lbs “chuckable” is the best way to describe the handling. As you would expect, Fiat tossed in a quicker 15.1:1 steering ratio and tweaked the power assist for a sportier feel. While the ratio is “no big deal” to me, the tweaked electric power steering is more important. It is still numb, but hints of feedback can now be felt through the tiller. Despite having a less fancy “elegant” suspension setup than the MINI, the little Italian is remarkably planted on poorly paved mountain roads inspiring an unexpected level of confidence.

While all these changes make the Abarth an absolute blast in the corners, they take a serious toll on ride quality for your daily commute. Unless you live in some hitherto-unknown pavement-nirvana, potholes and broken pavement are a way of life in the “land of the free.” After a week with the Abarth, I may still have had a smile on my face, but my back and kidneys had a different opinion. That being said, the Abarth is no harsher than the MINI JCW models and actually handles broken pavement with more finesse.

I’ve saved the final change made for our market for last: the exhaust note. This is perhaps the most controversial facet of the Abarth, since Fiat tuned the system to be louder than the Euro hatch. I found the drone on a long highway commute to be annoying, but passengers and our Facebook fans thought it was pure sex. Go figure.

Much like the MINI competition, straight-line performance isn’t what the Abarth is about. As you would expect with 0nly 160 horses under the hood, the Abarth scooted to 60 in just over 7 seconds. With the right driver I have little doubt a further two tenths could be cut from the time, but managing front wheel spin and traction would be essential to reducing your time. To deal with the increased weight of the North American Abarth, the SRT team cranked up the front camber to a -1.5 degrees up front. Thankfully for those interested in tire life beyond 5,000 miles Fiat has an alignment spec which allows for a decent amount of personal preference.

The Abarth is destined to make Fiat fans very happy. It’s also destined to give MINI shoppers that are willing to look at another brand a serious dilemma: is a comparable MINI worth an $8,000-$10,000 premium? Being the cheap bastard that I am, my answer is no. Consider that the MINI Cooper S scoots to 60 in 6.6 but doesn’t handle quite as well, and the MINI JCW models may get to 60 faster and handle as well as the Abarth, but they cost nearly 50% more. While I find the Abarth just a bit to extreme for my soft-suspension-loving backside, the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth is one hot little hatch. Fiat: you have my number, call me when you stuff this engine into the 500c with some softer springs.

 

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Fiat provided the vehicle, one tank of gas, and insurance for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.63 Seconds

0-60: 7.05 Seconds (6.8 sounds plausible with a professional driver)

1/4 Mile: 15.3 Seconds @ 91 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 26.71  MPG over 541 miles

 

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior 3/4, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior side, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior side, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior front side, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior rear 3/4, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior rear, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior front, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior front, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior wheel, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior grille, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, gauges, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, dashboard, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, shifter and HVAC, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, shifter and HVAC, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, shifter, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, steering wheel, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, steering wheel, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, driver's side dashboard, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, dashboard, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, rear seats, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, rear seats, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, cargo area, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, cargo area, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, cargo area, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth MultiAir Turbo engine, photo courtesy of Chrysler North America 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth MultiAir Turbo engine, photo courtesy of Chrysler North America 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth TomTom Nav unit, photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Generation Why: Fast Fashion Comes To The Car World http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/generation-why-fast-fashion-comes-to-the-car-world/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/generation-why-fast-fashion-comes-to-the-car-world/#comments Tue, 17 Jul 2012 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453001

Sometime toward the end of my high school years, “fast fashion” shops like Zara and H&M set up shop in at the local malls, and became the place to shop. The clothing there wasn’t any better than the Gap or the Ralph Lauren remainders at Marshall’s, but if you paid for your own clothes, you would have been silly to shop anywhere else.

Shopping at those stores went beyond mere fashion considerations. If you spilled beer all over your shirt at a party, it wasn’t even worth sending it to the dry cleaners. Just throw it in the washing machine and hope it comes out. If that fails, pay $9.99 for another one. Eventually, people got wise to the fact that after three washes, the clothes tended to fall apart, but we willingly ignored the cheapness because we could look cool on a tight budget. Which is exactly why the Fiat 500 exists.

Just as H&M and Zara exploded in popularity in Canada, so has Fiat. American sales for the little Mexitalian minicar have been slow to ramp up in the United States. Not so here. In May of this year, Fiat outsold Buick, Volvo, Infiniti, Mini, Cadillac, Lincoln, Suzuki and Scion, and Canada is already confirmed for a third model line – likely the widely acclaimed Panda. And yet, up until now, I hadn’t driven one. All I had to go by were mixed reviews. One Mini-owning friend disparaged it as “a Neon in a cool wrapper”, while TTAC’s own Andrew Bell felt that there was a quality gap between our North American-spec model, and the examples he saw during his multi-year stint in Denmark.

The first thing I noticed upon climbing inside is that you sit really high up, or at least have the illusion of doing so. Imagine getting into a life-sized Kinder Surprise egg, and then plopping your rear down on a bar stool, and you have a good approximation of the Fiat’s driving position. The interior is dominated by a big panel of body-colored plastic, while the window switches and stereo knobs are all easy to reach for and can be operated without taking your eyes off the road. The steering wheel has controls for the Bluetooth system, but strangely no audio controls are visible – until you discover that they’re situated on the back of the wheel, like paddle-shifters for your music – well-intentioned, if not cleverly executed idea.

In the same way that the “top-stitching” on my Roberto Cavalli for H&M suit coat betrays a fused canvas, a closer look at the details shows that the 500 was built to a price, down to the last penny. For an outside opinion, I called in TTAC’s interior materials specialist, Berthold Schmaus, who is able to get down into the nooks and crannies that us humans can’t quite see.

Herr Schmaus’ first observation was that the headliner wasn’t just “mouse fur”, but it was his own fur. No, really. It may be difficult to see it in the photos, but Fiat and Herr Schamus must have some kind of common ancestor that supplies them both with their downy coverings. Herr Schmaus was also unimpressed with the naked metal seat rails, not so much for their utilitarian nature, but on account of the sharp metal edges that left him unable to scamper underneath to confirm reports of exposed electrical connectors and tasty wiring (yum!).

The 1.4L Multiair engine is, to put it mildly, gutless. Going up moderate grades in third gear necessitated a downshift to second. The “Sport Mode” is required for anyone who gives a whit about driving. The rumored 500T cannot come soon enough. On the plus side, the chassis isn’t bad, nor is the gearchange feel, and the diminutive footprint is perfect for bobbing and weaving in and out of Toronto’s traffic jams, which are longer than the lines on Yonge St for a Justin Beiber autograph session. You could almost lane-split in this car. Almost.

If you look around, it’s possible to get a base model Pop for $199 a month lease deal around these parts, or $13,999 in cash. A well-equipped Lounge, like my tester, is going for $18,600 at dealers – though every community newspaper in town is being supported by Toronto area Fiat dealers advertising steep discounts on their copious Fiat inventories. For the price, the 500 isn’t a terrible proposition. While a cheap shirt can be worn out and thrown away after a few months, a cheap car can be worn out, but leave you stuck with a note for 5 or more years.

If I were to go for a “fast fashion” car (i.e. something with less functionality but more cred than say, a perfectly good Kia Rio), I’d step up to the “Zara” level of quality and get a Mini Cooper. There weren’t any pressers available for me to drive, but my Zipcar membership gives me access to a fleet of some of the hardest-worn Mini Coopers in town.

 

 

Herr Schmauss and I went over the Mini quite carefully, and came away impressed. The interior is busier than the Fiat, to the point of being incoherent, but the quality of the materials is a noticeable cut above. Rather than being deathtrap-slow, the Cooper is Miata-slow; pokey, but enjoyable. It’s still small enough to be city-friendly, but not enough to be lost in the blind spots of SUVs. The driving experience is a whole other order of fun, with weighty, direct steering, a communicative chassis and the feeling that you’re driving a real car and not an espresso cup with a motor. Of course, Mini’s reliability record ranges from “not great” to “abysmal”, depending on who you ask ($8000 CVT replacements, anyone?)

Thousands of Canadians are seemingly happy with their Fiats, and for good reason; it does exactly what they want it to do; look chic and stylish, not sip too much gas and fit into small parking spaces. Long-term reliability and the driving experience don’t factor in too highly for them, even if those factors give me pause when it comes to recommending either of them outright.

Personally, I’ve had a change in perception, and have begun shopping with classic looks and quality in mind. Sometimes, it means going to a second-hand store for gently used but well made clothing. The good news is that it’s easy to find, the *ahem* designer labels that are really cool…

 

 

 

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QOTD: Did Fiat Just Inadvertently Reveal The 500T? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/qotd-did-fiat-just-inadvertently-reveal-the-500t/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/qotd-did-fiat-just-inadvertently-reveal-the-500t/#comments Mon, 16 Jul 2012 14:34:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452926 Click here to view the embedded video.

While sitting through the new Pitbull-scored Fiat 500 ad, a model at :49 seconds in caught my eye – it looks a lot like the leaked photos of the 500T, which supposedly carries a version of the Abarth’s 1.4L turbo engine.

I’ll let you be the judge and tell me if I’m wrong, but the resemblance is uncanny. The Abarth-style bumper is clearly visible in the shot. So did Fiat goof, or was this intentional?

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Oh Look, It’s The Fiat 500X http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/oh-look-its-the-fiat-500x/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/oh-look-its-the-fiat-500x/#comments Thu, 05 Jul 2012 15:26:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451417 Click here to view the embedded video.

Slow sales of the Fiat 500 in America have Marchionne & Co. pinning their hopes on a small crossover, dubbed the 500X, to boost sales. Our first look comes via this video. It’s a bit of a tease, isn’t it?

Looking like a cross between the Fiat 500L and the standard car, the 500X will likely use the same 1.4L MultiAir engines as its siblings, along with a rudimentary all-wheel drive system. Prepare for cries of “ruining brand values” in 5,4,3,2…

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TrueDelta and J.D. Power IQS updates: how bad are the FIAT 500 and VW Passat? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/truedelta-and-j-d-power-iqs-updates-how-bad-are-the-fiat-500-and-vw-passat/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/truedelta-and-j-d-power-iqs-updates-how-bad-are-the-fiat-500-and-vw-passat/#comments Thu, 21 Jun 2012 15:28:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=449698

Last March I shared some preliminary car reliability stats for the FIAT 500 and new Volkswagen Passat. The 500 looked very good at the time. The Passat was at the other extreme. Another three months have passed, and TrueDelta’s car reliability stats have been updated to include owner experiences through the end of March 2012. In these updated stats, the FIAT remains excellent while the Passat has improved. But in J.D. Power’s annual Initial Quality Survey (IQS), released yesterday, they’re both awful. What gives?

The 2012 VW Passat isn’t a puzzle. At 73 repair trips per 100 cars per year in TrueDelta’s stats, it’s faring much better lately, but remains about 50 percent worse than the average. We consider this (barely) “yellow” rather than “red” because the average is quite low. J.D. Power isn’t so kind, as its ratings are based on percentiles. If a model is in the bottom 30 percent, it gets the lowest score, two stars. (There is no “one star” score.) The absolute difference between a car’s problem rate and the average problem rate is not a factor. If models are tightly bunched around the average this absolute difference could be quite small even for a “two star” model. We have no way of knowing because numerical stats are not released to the general public.

One other factor: when problems occur. Judging from responses to TrueDelta’s survey, problems with the 2012 Passat seem most prevalent during the first few months of ownership. Now that many owners have had their cars for more than three months, the average repair frequency has improved. But J.D. Power only asks about the first 90 days of ownership. The firm also defines “quality” very broadly, though perhaps not so broadly that a dime store clock counts as a problem.

At 8 repair trips per 100 cars per year, the FIAT 500s in TrueDelta’s survey remain nearly repair-free. J.D. Power, on the other hand, not only gives the 500 two stars, but the FIAT brand (with the 500 its only model so far) tied smart for last:

How might this huge disparity be explained? I checked an active forum for the 500 to see if owners were reporting many problems. Active forums tend to make cars seem more troublesome than they actually are, as people with car problems tend to be vocal while those without them keep quiet. My search found two possibly common problems and one inherent design flaw: a gearshift knob that can break off, a creaky driver’s seat, and an “A/C on” light too dim to see in daylight. The first two were reported by only a few owners on a forum with over 2,000 members. The last was reported by more members, no surprise as it affects every single car. Could this dim light be responsible for the 500’s poor IQS score? Unfortunately, J.D. Power doesn’t publicly divulge the specific problems behind its ratings. Until there’s a fix, this particular problem won’t show up in TrueDelta’s stats. A creaky seat also wouldn’t show up until the owner has it fixed. It’s a minor issue so many might wait until the car needs to go to the dealer for something else. With J.D. Power’s survey, owners can report anything they don’t like about the car, even if they have no plans to have it fixed. Notably, none of these problems suggest that the 500 is a lemon that should be avoided.

A year ago I called Ford out for trying to preempt an upcoming bad IQS ranking by blaming their buggy MyFord Touch (MFT) system. TrueDelta’s survey responses suggested that their cars suffered from additional problems. Well, this year they trotted out the MFT excuse again. The story is a little different this time: the system has been fixed, just too late to help their IQS scores. While MFT is no doubt a major factor behind Ford’s IQS showing, it’s again not the only factor. For example, the Ford Explorer very commonly has problems with rattling A-pillar trim and mirror turn signal condensation. These aren’t major problems, but they have persisted into the car’s second model year. Ford seems to be finding and fixing such problems much more slowly than, say, VW (which aggressively investigated and resolved initial problems with the Passat). More evidence that MFT isn’t solely responsible for Ford’s poor IQS showing: the new Focus scores well in both surveys.

Any survey takes a snapshot at a point in time. Will the VW Passat continue to improve? Might FIAT 500 owners start reporting some truly serious problems? Will Ford start tackling common problems that have nothing to do with MFT now that they’ve (allegedly) fixed the system? TrueDelta will update its car reliability stats again in August. The more people participate, the more models we can cover and the more precise these stats will be.

To view TrueDelta’s updated repair trips per year stats:

Car Reliability Survey results

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability information.

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