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Fiat 500: It’s a real grinner as it can be that fun to drive

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Fiat 500: It’s a real grinner as it can be that fun to drive

The Fiat 500.

/Photo Contributed


POSTED July 7, 2011 12:55 a.m.

I am not sure if it was the small size of the car or the inherent lovability that caused my driving partner, Mary, and me to react the way we did. There we were in a busy parking garage of a major downtown San Diego hotel sitting in the Fiat 500 screaming without provocation.

Once the initial excitement was done, we smiled at each other, drove the little Fiat up the ramp and onto the busy streets headed for a hundred mile drive through the hills east of San Diego.

The two-door hatchback Fiat is one of those cars I would have to call a “grinner” because it’s so much fun to drive and even ride in that you can’t help but smile. And because we were in one of the first of its kind in San Diego it was a real head-turner on the streets.

As we zipped through traffic headed east on Highway 94, we familiarized ourselves with the controls and operations. Like most of the 150 plus cars I drive a year the Fiat was a quick study with simple controls in a modern interpretation of the original Fiat 500 from the late 60s and 70s.

At 140 inches long and weighing 2,400 pounds, the 500 is about 100-pounds lighter and six-inches shorter than a Mini Cooper. Compared side-by-side the original Fiat 500 and the 2012 model look like a 97-pound weakling next to body builder that’s overdosing on steroids. But the bulk looks good on the new 500…it has an agile, racy look with the wheels pushed out to the corners.

The simplistic interior has a couple of cool touches like the surf-board shaped dash panel in the same color as the exterior paint. The center stack, which contains the climate and audio controls, can also be ordered in an ivory or black color.

The retro inspired interior has plenty of headroom and legroom for average size passengers but the cabin’s width is a little limiting for an Italian, like me, who tends to talk with her hands. Rear seat access is fairly easy with the easy-access front seats that fold and slide forward, but there is very little actual room in back for passengers, so that space is more for an occasional smaller passenger or child seat.

Even though the 500 is an entry level car there are certain available features that give it a premium touch, for example, heated leather seats, a built in Tom Tom® navigation system with Blue&Me™ Hands free Communications and Bose audio system.

The front-wheel drive Fiat is powered by one of the smallest engines used in a car sold in the U.S. market. The 101-hp, 1.4-liter four-cylinder Fiat engine has the first U.S. application of MultiAir® technology which was developed by Fiat.

“The new Fiat 500 enables the individual to be more ecologically responsible with its industry-first MultiAir engine technology and eco:Drive™ Application that will improve driver efficiency,” said Joe Grace, Vehicle Line Executive, Fiat 500. “The new Fiat 500 delivers the complete efficiency package. MultiAir technology offers up to 10 percent greater fuel efficiency and power while decreasing CO2 emissions up to 10 percent compared to engines without the system.”

Fiat’s eco: Drive Application collects data relating to vehicle efficiency and delivers it through the BLUE&ME™ USB port to be saved on any USB memory stick. The driver then plugs the memory stick into his or her personal computer, and the system shows the driver detailed environmental performance, including the CO2 emission level for each trip. In addition, Fiat’s eco:Drive™ Application analyzes the driver’s style and provides recommendations on how to modify his or her driving style to help reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. I’m sure it would have a negative report on my husband’s driving habits.

With such a small efficient engine I thought the 500 might be a little sluggish, but the 500 feels quite spirited. I preferred driving the five-speed manual, but the six-speed automatic is fairly responsive. I haven’t found any reported 0 to 60 mph times, but several magazines have reported an estimated 0 to 60 mph time of about 10 seconds. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway for the manual transmission and 27/34 for the automatic.

The 500 comes in three trim levels with unusual names: Pop, Sport and Lounge. The Pop is priced at $16,000, including the destination charge. It is a well-equipped base model. The Sport, of course, is the sporty model, also with a manual transmission, but with enhanced suspension, exhaust and aerodynamics. It is priced at $18,000. Shoppers with fashion-oriented lifestyles will most likely be attracted to the Lounge, which has all the premium features like the automatic transmission, glass roof and Bose audio. The Lounge has a base price of $20,000. Equipped with all the available options including leather seating, convenience group, moonroof, premium wheels and optional paint color the Lounge can cost as much as $23,150.

RV owners will be happy to hear that the Fiat 500, with a manual transmission, can be towed flat behind a motor home; however the automatic version would need to use a tow dolly.

The Fiat 500 is a fun car and would be perfect for someone living in a city. The small size would be easier to park and it’s very agile moving through traffic. I don’t think I’d want the 500 for long trip, even though it rides quite nicely and is quieter than many other small cars I have driven. I am afraid the small space might feel a little confining after a few hours, however I wouldn’t argue with the fuel economy.

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