Let's Get Small
The 2012 Fiat 500
Better late than never. That about sums up the new Fiat’s arrival in the BNR (Buffalo/Niagara Region—it’s time we shortened it to something more catchy). After a false start from another area dealership group, Northtown has opened up shop in their former Land Rover location on Sheridan Drive in Amherst. Although they hadn’t “officially” opened for business, Tim Metzger of Northtown gave me the use of a new Fiat 500 one recent afternoon, and I have to say right off the bat I was impressed.
The Fiat 500 is a small car. About 13 inches shorter than a Mini Cooper, or a little more than two feet longer than a smart fortwo. I’ve now driven all three and can say that I fit better in them than in some larger cars. But—and this is a big but—if you’re over five feet 10 inches, plan on driving if the car is equipped (as was my test car) with a sunroof. It takes up too much of the headroom. Luckily the driver’s seat has a height adjustment so you can lower yourself enough to not make it an issue. The passenger seat, however, which for part of my test drive was occupied by my 18-year-old son, has no height adjustment. He had to tilt the seatback in order to avoid brushing his head against the ceiling.
But in the driver’s seat, I had a great time. There was plenty of room to get comfortable; I enjoyed a great driving position, and because of the closeness of the interior, had great visibility. The back window may not be huge, but you can rest easy knowing that there’s hardly any car beyond that window, making it a breeze to park. The rear seat folds down to increase the cargo-carrying capacity to just over 27 cubic ft. Anyone who sits back there had better pray for short front-seat occupants, because with the fronts adjusted for someone my size (six feet tall), it’s a bit cramped back there. My guess is that the Fiat will appeal to many as a second car, or a primary vehicle for those who don’t normally need a back seat on a regular basis. That being said, I think I’d still rather have the 500 and never use the back seat rather than a smart fortwo with no back seat. The fortwo might come in handy for tight parking situations, but overall the 500 seems more practical.
The comparisons between the two are inevitable, so we may as well make a few. The base 2011 smart fortwo lists for $12,490 while the least expensive 500 is $15,500. EPA estimates for the smart are 33/41 milesper gallon city/highway while the Fiat is 27/34 for the six-speed automatic and 30/38 for the six-speed manual. Fiat: front wheel-drive; smart: rear wheel-drive. You decide.
Driving the new Fiat, at least for now while it’s the new kid on the block, is not for the introvert. Be prepared to be stared at, smiled at, or laughed at by the guy in the F-150 with the gun rack in the back window. As my wife mentioned on our drive back to Northtown, “It rides well for a small car.” And it does. Handling is tight, and acceleration isn’t bad at all from the 1.4-liter engine. The test car had the optional automatic transmission which shifted smoothly. Styling is of course subjective, but I like it and the way it harkens back to the original Fiat 500 of the 1950s. The interior is also attractive, with it’s body-colored dash inserts.
Overall I imagine the 500 will do well in the marketplace. Will it be just the beginning of a new love affair between Americans and the Italian nameplate? That’s up to the folks at Fiat/Chrysler, who will decide what products to bring to the showroom. It’s a good beginning though.
Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.blog comments powered by Disqus
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