That at 6’1 and 200 and something pounds (you’ll never get me to pen that number now (LOL), I’ve got a thing for the new 2012 Fiat 500. And by most accounts you’d actually think I’d hate driving it.
Okay, hate might be a bit extreme, but considering my physical stature, which is more suitable for larger vehicles, you just wouldn’t expect me to dig driving a car as small as the Fiat. Yeah, yeah I know – everywhere you turn it’s “small cars are in.” Still, initially selling anybody over 6 feet on a vehicle as small as this one is tough even if it does save you money on gas.
The idea immediately conjures up images from back in the day of me and three high school football teammates cramming into a friend’s two-door Civic after practice because he was the first one with a car.
Efficient I guess, but after three hours of beating each other up on the field and being crammed in that car, walking or catching the bus home sometimes seemed like a better idea.
Not the case with the new Fiat 500. That’s why after initially requesting one of Chrysler’s new 300 sedans to drive from one of the carmaker’s events in San Diego to Los Angeles, I asked if I could take a Fiat 500 instead after test driving the car.
I’m sure my request even struck some of the event organizers as odd. But there’s just something cool about the Italian carmaker’s new entry into the U.S. car market under its partnership with Chrysler. Maybe it’s the look, which despite some comparisons to the Smart Car or Mini Cooper really has a style all its own.
Inspired by the original Fiat 500 (Cinquecento) dating back more than 50 years, key design elements of the car include the “shell-like” roof, and its signature “whiskers and logo” face with circular projector headlamps and lower park lamps.
The rear of the 500 is stylized with a signature chromed license plate brow, a motif from the original Cinquecento that was inspired by a bicycle saddle, rear taillamps set between the edges of the liftgate, and a rear window that spans the width of the liftgate.
Staying true to the car’s Italian heritage, the new 2012 Fiat 500 is available in 14 colors including Rosso (red), Bianco (white), Azzurro (blue), Grigio (gray), Argento (silver), Giallo (yellow), Mocha Latte, Verde Chiaro (light green), Nero (black), Rame (copper), Espresso, Verde Oliva (olive green), Rosso Brillante (tricoat pearl red) and Bianco Perla (pearl white).
Seeing all the Fiat 500s in different colors lined up is like rolling into a Baskin Robbins. It’s hard to pick which one you like more.
Of course, the true selling point on any small car is how comfortable you feel inside. And although the Fiat 500 (available in three models, Pop, Sport, Lounge) would by no means be my first pick for four full-size adults on a road trip, it’s a lot more comfortable than you’d expect.
Another auto journalist I rode with during my Fiat 500 test drive was actually taller than me and neither one of us really had an issue with space. The interior reflects much of the car’s exterior styling with features like a circular-themed instrument cluster featuring the speedometer, tachometer and trip computer with color-matched exterior accents and vehicle buttons highlighted with chromed circular rings.
In addition to a fairly decent sized luggage compartment, the Fiat 500 also features built-in storage spaces including two in the instrument panel, map pockets in the door panels, another below the center console’s shifter bezel and one below the passenger seat.
Available with either leather or cloth seats, the only major downside of the 500’s interior is that you can’t adjust the height in the front passenger’s seat, which means you have to recline the seat back more than you really want.
It should be a quick and must-do fix for future models in the U.S. market where consumers tend to be bigger than in Europe.
The front-wheel-drive Fiat 500, which is available as either a manual or automatic, is powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that provides 101 horsepower and 98 lb.-ft. of torque, which is hardly thrilling behind the wheel. But it’s not a boring drive either.
Safety features include seven standard air bags and reactive head restraints.
Fiat’s engineers have managed to pull off some cool convenience features in the new 500 with the availability of a TomTom navigation device with hands free communications capabilities that shows pictograms from a central LCD monitor in the instrument cluster and a space-saving Bose premium audio system.
There’s definitely a lot more to this car than you’d expect in a vehicle this size. Okay, it still probably wouldn’t have made those trips home from football practice with my teammates any more bearable. But I’m betting it would’ve made it easier to convince that cheerleader I had a crush on to go out to eat with me after a game.
At least I hope so.
Marcus Amick is a freelance automotive writer and lifestyle analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.