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Did you lose track of Fiat? Join the club.

Fiat had a decent U.S. run in the late 1960s and mid-70s. But the Italian automaker disappeared for more than 30 years. Two years ago, Fiat bought Chrysler and the 500 model was picked as the vehicle that would reintroduce the U.S. market to the Fiat brand.

The gas-saving 2013 Fiat 500 is a two-door, subcompact hatchback that is available as a hardtop or convertible. The hatchback is offered in five trim levels of Pop, Sport, Lounge, Turbo and Abarth, while the convertible options are Pop, Lounge and Abarth trims.

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When talk turns to the smallest cars sold in this country, the Fiat 500 is high on the list. Even the popular four-door Mini Cooper is larger than the Fiat, measuring 7 inches more in overall length. The Fiat is 4 inches taller than the Mini Cooper and weighs just over 200 pounds less at 2,350 pounds. The Fiat 500 also owns a small edge in gas mileage.

2013 Fiat 500

  • Performance: 1.4-liter, four-cylinder, 101 horsepower; 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder, 135 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 28-40 mpg
  • Price: $16,100 to $22,000
  • Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles; drivetrain 4 years/50,000 miles; roadside assistance 4 years/unlimited

Note that the Fiat 500 base model costs approximately $16,100 and the Mini Cooper is priced approximately $3,600 higher. Other competitors like the Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, Mazda 2 and Ford Fiesta all provide more room than the Fiat 500 and are priced a bit lower. However, they don’t possess Fiat’s female-approving personality or its 15 color choices.

All 500s, with the exception of the Abarth, share the 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. The Fiat can be a plodder, especially uphill, evidenced by the automatic transmission model’s 12.4 seconds acceleration time going from 0-60 mph. The five-speed manual, which is standard in the Pop and Sport models, goes about 1.5 seconds faster from 0-60 mph.

If getting there in a hurry is a big issue, the new turbocharged Fiat 500 is the obvious choice. It has a 135-horsepower, 150 feet-pound torque engine and possesses a sport-tuned suspension and upgraded brakes. The turbo model goes 0-60 mph in 8.1 seconds, but note that the gas mileage range dips to 28-34 mpg.

Even the pokier Fiat 500 models can be fun to drive. The steering provides a good feel for the road and the Fiat absorbs small bumps fairly well, while larger ones are more problematic. The Sport mode will improve the overall driving experience.

With any small vehicle, interior space is typically a problem. That is definitely true with the Fiat 500, which has a back seat that no one, not even small kids, will want to reside. Up front, the high-mounted seats allow for good leg room and the comfort level is acceptable. Cargo space is lacking in all models.

The unique European styling helps sell Fiats – many women fall in love at first sight. But overall, the Fiat 500 may find it challenging to take on some established rivals in the subcompact class.

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