This just in from Rex and Jackie Brown of Oklahoma Modern Blog:
It’s been almost thirty years since Fiat stopped selling cars in the US. Since then the only Italian cars sold in America have been high-end hardware: Ferraris and a handful of Lamborghinis and Maseratis. But this Spring marked the return of one of the world’s largest automakers to the American market, with a retro little coupe called the Fiat 500.
This new car has been a hit in Europe since its introduction in 2007. Its styling is a full-on replay of the iconic 1957 Fiat 500, a car many consider the VW of Italy. The two-cylinder engine displaced 479cc, thus the model’s name: 500, or cinquecento in Italian. The spartan four-seater was powered by an air-cooled engine mounted in the rear- much like a Volkswagen- and was designed as affordable transportation for the masses- like a Volkswagen. Though never sold here in large numbers, the 500 was produced for more than 20 years, and millions were sold worldwide.
If you’re still not convinced of its iconic status, consider this: the character Luigi in the movie Cars was a 1959 Fiat 500. Nuff said.
The return of the Fiat badge to the American market prompted me to wonder how the new 500 would
stack up to our 21st century expectations. My own fond memories of Fiats may differ from those of most Americans. Having owned and restored a number of Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Fiat automobiles over the years I’ve gained a certain, er… understanding of automobili Italiane. The oft-maligned sports cars of the Seventies earned the reputation that FIAT stood for “Fix It Again Tony.” Would the new car dispel this less-than-stellar reputation?
Today’s 500 has won high praise in Europe over the last 3 years. It may look like the original, but
the engine is now up front and a good deal larger. And that bubbly, happy look is the same. Even
the dashboard echoes the body color- a trait of the original (although the new one isn’t made of steel
for safety reasons). Special trim packages even offer bakelite-look interior appointments. Projector
headlamps keep the “eyeballs” small and the “face” friendly. The grille is so close to the original that it’s easy to mistake the new Fiat for a classic 500!
The overall size of the car is smaller than a Mini and larger than a Smart. But inside it’s larger than either, and “feels” bigger than both combined. The tall roof makes the interior feel spacious for such a small car (unless you opt for the sunroof which deducts inches from the headroom). Folding my 6’ 4” frame into the 500 was no problem at all. Jackie and I both found entry and egress easier than cars much larger. Once inside the seats are firm but comfortable- the pilot seat includes a vertical tilt adjustment and a small armrest I initially found amusing. We thought the seating was excellent for a car in this class.
Passengers in the back seat however may not share that opinion. Folding the front seats forward is
accomplished with a convenient handle up high on the seat back. On the driver’s side the mechanism
even has a “mechanical memory” that returns the seat to the same angle and position. While it’s possible to move the front seats forward enough to make room in back, I’m guessing most owners will consider the rear area for groceries only.
Further back- but not much further- is the trunk. The 500 is technically a hatchback and the hatch is huge. The space underneath it though… eh, not so much. Although folding down the back seats expands the cargo capacity quite a bit, they don’t lie completely flat. So if you plan to go to Ikea, we recommend the optional roof rack.
Interested? Go to www.fiatusa.com for your nearest Fiat dealer.
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