Think deja vu revisited…
It didn’t take a genius to predict that $4 gas was coming again. Hey, I did it. Nor did it require a long memory to think back to 2008 when car dealers were drowning in unsellable, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. The only thing that’s spared us high dollar gas since was a worldwide recession.
And now here we go again…
Americans standing in line to buy Honda Civics and Toyota Prius cars. Hybrids almost impossible to find – thanks to consumer demand and the earthquake in Japan.
Fortunately affordable options like the new Fiat 500 exist.
I took delivery of one last month and with 1,500 miles on it, here’s what I can report.
It’s way more spacious than you might think. That while being 7 inches shorter than a BMW Mini. I’m 6’3” and even with the headroom-robbing sunroof, I’ve got plenty of head space – leg room, too.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much rear seat room there is in the Fiat too – more than in a Mini. And it’s got nearly double the Mini’s trunk space.
Build quality appears first rate. Nothing for Tony to fix here. Not yet anyway.
Everything works and seems solidly made. Including an excellent Bose sound and satelite radio system with very cool, integrated bluetooth steering wheel controls for your cell phone.
And so far, so good on the gas mileage.
The 500 has ranged from 34 to 42 miles-per-gallon in a mix of city and highway. Coming off a 40 mpg-plus Prius, I drive the 500 very carefully. And unlike the Mini, the Fiat runs on regular.
At this point in time, the diminuative 500 is an attention getter.
Usually from younger, hipper types drawn to its shrunken, funky look. And from oldsters and car buffs, startled to see a new Fiat actually roaming the streets after a 28 year hiatus.
Most will find the Fiat 500 more than peppy enough. But if your looking for rapid acceleration, you’d best look elsewhere.
It’s still very fun to drive because the 500 handles like a sportscar. And it delivers a far more liveable ride than a Mini. And you can park it anywhere.
All that said, Car & Driver’s June issue picked the Mini over the 500 in a comparison test. But it was a test weighted on perfromance, with the Mini being faster and thus sportier because of its larger engine. But do real world car buyers care that the Mini tops out at 120 miles per hour versus the 500’s 110?
Of the categories C&D measured, the 500 beat the Mini in just three; rear-seat space, trunk space & price.
But think about it. When it comes to Micro Cars, those three are huge!
Way more seating and storage space for way less money.
More than $5,000 less when you take off the 500’s sunroof that the Mini did not come equipped with for the test.
Here’s what I don’t like about the new Fiat 500.
Italian styling aside, even in my limited edition Prima model, many of the interior plastics seem cheap and souless. They rob the 500 – to my thinking – of its Italian look and heritage. The Fiat 500 is built at the same factory that made PT Cruisers and there’s something about the 500’s interior materials that make it feel a little like a mini PT Cruiser. Rather than a true Italian car.
I’m betting the European models will employ higher grade interior materials once Fiat exports the improvements on our North American 500 to the European 500 sometime in the next year.
You know, Italian cars should feel like Italian cars.
In summary, the new Fiat 500 offers Italian style, very good-but-not-great gas mileage, a comfortable, sporty ride and handling with a quite reasonable amount of room at a quite reasonable price.
The only thing missing for purists and lovers of all things Italian is it’s a little shy on the con brio.