Jennifer Lopez might be the best thing that ever happens to the new 2012 Fiat 500. Her energizing TV commercial is seemingly popping up everywhere, bringing the Fiat 500 into a lot of living rooms in America.
Unlike the curvaceous J-Lo, not a single person chased after me while driving this subcompact car. Yet the vehicle elicited plenty of positive comments from people who simply loved it. The first comment here verified what was initially felt regarding the Fiat 500 – it’s not a car most men will consider buying thanks to the obvious “cute” factor.
“It’s so cute and adorable, how do you like it?” asked a middle-aged woman who was clearly enamored.
The answer was purposely vague so not to offend, yet there’s no denying that the Fiat 500 has plenty of admirers and will make a lot of money for the Chrysler/Fiat alliance, which took place two years ago.
The physical appearance of this tiny vehicle – it’s smaller than a Mini Cooper – is not its only selling point. The Fiat 500 gets excellent gas mileage (34-38 mpg), is priced right ($15,500 – $23,500), and the five-speed manual transmission version is fun to drive. Note that the 500 also comes with automatic transmission.
People who have been around a while should be able to recall the Fiat 500. There were quite a few of them on U.S. roads from 1958 until 1975 when the Italian automaker stopped production. The current reemergence is Fiat’s first entry back into the North American market.
This two-door subcompact hatchback comes in three trims, two of them with odd names – the base model Pop and the upgraded Lounge. The middle-ground model is the Sport, which features a push-of-a-button that increases the vehicle’s handling and ride quality. The 500 comes in both hardtop and convertible mode.
Don’t expect to zip along in the Fiat 500 because all three trims are identical 1.4-liter, four-cylinders that produce only 101 horsepower, and go from 0-60 mph in a tepid 10.8 seconds.
Due to its diminutive size, the Fiat 500 is bound to get into a comparison war with the Mini Cooper. The British vehicle has 121 horsepower, but weighs 218 pounds more than the Fiat (2,350 pounds). The 500 is 6 inches shorter in length and 2 inches narrower than the Mini Cooper, yet sits higher by 4 inches. The Mini Cooper’s base model is priced higher at $19,400 and its most expensive model ($23,000) is just a bit under the high-end Fiat 500.
In sport mode, the 500 provides solid handling and gives the driver a feeling of confidence. However, what most drivers will quickly notice is a visibility problem over their left shoulder due to the headrest and roof pillar.
The Fiat’s interior has some limitations, especially the back seat, which is only suitable for small children. Up front, the seating is surprisingly good for both head and leg space. The trunk area is about average for a subcompact.
The Fiat 500 should do well in its U.S. comeback, assuming it doesn’t get a reputation for needing frequent repair work, which was a major knock on its predecessor more than three decades ago.
2011 FIAT 500 Sport
Performance: 1.4-liter four-cylinder, 101 horsepower
Mileage estimate: 30-38 mpg
Standard features include: chrome-trimmed wheel covers; tilt steering wheel; six-speaker Bose sound system, CD player, MP3, auxiliary audio jack; roof spoiler; foglamps; daytime running lights; anti skid system; tire pressure monitor; sports suspension; stability and traction control
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