October 4, 2011

Fiat 500

                The 500 has been around in Europe since 2007 and with Fiat’s purchase into Chrysler; they’re back.  The local dealer has an assortment of 500’s just waiting for you.  The “you” in that statement is a narrow window of customers.  Most Americans remember the “Fix It Again, Tony’s” from decades past.  Fiat has rectified the maintenance issues that plagued them in the past.  The new 500’s have a strong reputation for reliability and performance in Europe.

                The interior of the 500 is great for the amount of money spent.  The trim levels are the Pop (economy), Sport, and Lounge (as luxurious you can get in a car smaller than a clown car).  The Lounge only comes with an automatic transmission. 
                The instrument panel was interesting.  When you start the 500, there’s a loud screeching beep.  I have no idea why this happens.  The doors are all closed, the head lamps are off, my seatbelt was on, and I held my tongue in the correct position for starting a car.  But it’s loud and hangs around for a couple of seconds.  It scared the 3 year old the first time it happened.  The tachometer sits inside of the speedometer.  It feels straight out of Need for Speed.  There is a plastic piece that goes the length of the dash that’s color matched to the exterior color.  This could be something that really adds to the car, but for our Espresso (brown) test model, it was a con for the pro/con list.
                The two window switches are located on either side of the gear shift.  They are both auto downs, but not auto up.  The switches are so far apart that to raise them at the same time requires you to us both hands to activate them.  This is my one main objection.  If you are going to separate the switches, then at least have them both be auto up/down.

Orange means the doors are locked.

                Another odd button choice, no door lock/unlock button.  When the doors are closed you push the door handle towards the door until the orange rectangle appears and then the doors are locked.  When you’re ready to get out, just pull on the handle regularly and the door opens.  Pretty nifty, but it took me a full day and a mechanical engineer to figure this out.
                The media center was unfamiliar since I have never been in Fiat.  I was able to navigate radio stations and preset some, change to the satellite radio, and get the iPod plugged in.  The bass was raised on the Bose sound system and faded to the back.  The annoying teenager test was completed (volume up, ear bleed, test complete). There’s a “tuner” button for moving between the different FM and AM station lists.  The “media” button is to move between the CD, radio, satellite, and auxiliary input.  Still haven’t figured out how to shuffle my iPod while plugged into a car.  Give it time, I swear we’re smart guys.
It's short, so headlights are now your enemy!

                The seats were comfortable for the front passengers.  The back seat is there as a place to put extra stuff that wouldn’t fit in the incredibly small trunk.  I did fit both boys’ car seats in the back.  It was not pretty and I drove across town with my knees in the dash.  The transmission has enough gusto to start in second gear, which saved me a gear change.  I know there’s a clown car or Mexican joke here somewhere, but it is eluding me, so please fill in your own (This way the joke will be the right amount of racist for each of you.). 

                The look of the 500 feels like a VW Beetle that had the back end chopped off.  The Romans spent centuries showing us that the arch is an extremely strong shape, but they didn’t show us how fast they could be.  It’s a different look from the boxy Minis that are its main competition.  I swung it past the Mini dealer and they were extremely interested in the car (Could this mean more Mini reviews?  Hopefully…).
We were able to fit 1/2 a Steve in the trunk.
                The wheels on the Sport are standard 16in alloys.  I loved the look except for the red ring in the middle.  The exterior color and the red on the wheels nagged at me.  Italy is known for its fashion.  Why would an Italian car company allow brown and red together?  Too metro?  Got it. 
                The Sport also comes with a rear spoiler and fog lamps standard.  That’s right, less than $20,000 and they throw in the fog lamps.  Are we listening 30 grand sedans? 

                The 500 was fun to drive.  All models come equipped with a Sport button and it should be pressed as soon as you get into the car.  This button tightens the throttle and the steering.  The 101 horsepower 1.4L four cylinder engine was perfect for this little car.  I left every traffic light with the electronic traction control activated, until I turned it off and just spun the tires.  As hard as I drove this car, it averaged 35.4 mpg.  Given that driving side to side in Kansas City will get you some city driving and highway miles, a combined mpg of 35 isn’t bad.  Again, that’s flooring it away from every light and then letting the cruise control do the work once at speed. 
Yes, you’re right, the Prius can average higher mpgs than that, but not when you are gunning it away from every light.  The Prius’ advantage is that the electric motor gets you away from a standstill and hopefully to 25mph or higher before the gas engine has to kick in and help.   If you are roaring away from traffic lights, then the gas engine has to jump in faster and your 50 mpg quickly drops.  Don’t forget that we are talking a difference of price of $6,000.
The Sport has a 5-speed manual that was enjoyable.  The shifts were light and quick.  Even though the 500 doesn’t cost a lot, the car feels like a lot of money was spent designing the components, except for the window switches. 

Check out the "500" in the headlight! Details matter!

Overall, the 500 was a great car for $19,450.  We’re talking Honda Fit money for an Italian car (Pop trim retails around $16,000), which means something to some people.  This is not meant as a family car.  If you’re looking for a hybrid alternative that will still be fun to drive, this is it.  The 500 is a great city car and the comfortable seats make it function as a great road trip car for you and only one other medium-sized person.  Straight out of college, short on cash, dead car, go get a 500.  It will suit you.  Plus for a sporty, fun, little car its got 7 airbags and strong safety ratings.  The sales team at Fiat told me that there aren’t a lot of random walk-ins.  Their customers are familiar with their product and very educated about what they want.  If you’ve never given the 500 a chance, I would definitely give it a shot.  It might surprise you.  There is an Abarth version (Fiat’s tuning company) due to arrive in the spring of 2012.  As soon as they get here, the dealer has assured us we’ll get a shot at it too.

Thank you to Olathe Fiat for blindly trusting that I wouldn't ruin a brand new car.  I really did have a great time watching the mpg's stay above 30, while flooring the car away from every stop light.  Something to think about Prius owners, then again the Prius has a real back seat...

On a side note, Top Gear's Richard Hammond recently published these thoughts about men driving Fiat 500's.  We know our hair isn't as great as his, but we like to throw as many opinions your way as possible.


  1. Great write up. Good to know that there is a fiat dealer in Olathe (assume it sells Chrysler too). I'm also lookin forward to possibly get the smaller Competzione 2c (I think) stateside. It looks absolutely georgious. Could be a new mantra : Fun Italians Awesome Transportation
    Frank Gentile (official Italian 100 proof)

    1. Very good write up. I only disagree with you on the comment about the dash color expresso being a con. I have this color combination and exact car (Sport model) and I LOVE the Expresso brown color.