The Fiat 500 was comfortable. Our five-speed manual gear box shifted easily, cross-gate shifts were effortless and handling was precise. “Move the steering wheel and the front wheels move,” my driving partner commented. The tall-back front seats felt good, they had lumbar support and the head rests were very functional.
The car had an all-in-one instrument readout mounted in front of the driver. The speedometer was the outer ring, the tachometer was the inner ring and the center digitally displayed the clock, fuel gauge, odometer and other readings.
SAN DIEGO – Comfortable, that’s the most appropriate word to use when it comes to the Fiat 500.
From the start of my test drive, the Italian icon proved to be quite up to the task of handling the steep grades east of here, the twisting two lane roads like East Campo, Steele Canyon Road and Tavern Road as well as the autobahn-like speed of the freeways.
But first let’s talk about the icon status of the Fiat 500. It was called the Cinquecento when it first went on sale in 1957.
By 1975, when the car went out of production, Fiat had sold almost 4 million of them. It was re-introduced in 2007, captured the European Car of the Year Award and now Fiat which merged with Chrysler is bringing the 500 to North America.
Let’s see. The Fiat 500 was powered by a 1.4 liter four cylinder engine that made 101 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque.
The car can be equipped with a five speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. The manual has a 30/38 mpg city highway fuel efficiency rating while the automatic gets 27/34.
The brand returns to the U.S. market after 27 years, perhaps at the right time with the right product. Gasoline prices keep going upwards. The Fiat 500 is a very small, fuel efficient sub compact car.
There will be three trim lines and base prices for each: $15,500 for the Pop, $17,500 for the Sport and $19,500 for the Lounge. The Sport is expected to be the volume leader. About the only quibble I had with the Fiat 500 was its cramped backed seat. But frankly I wasn’t surprised because of the car’s small size. Youngsters would be able to ride back there for an extended period of time, but I’m not sure about full size adults. That said; I found the Fiat 500 comfortable on several different fronts. The car has a high seating position; so it never felt undersized among the traffic. The sight lines were great; even the oversized knob of the shifter felt good in the palm of my hand.
The driver’s seat featured an armrest, there was plenty of front seat space for me and my driving partner and the face of the dash was the same color as the exterior.
What’s more, the Fiat 500 has 14 exterior colors as well as 14 interior colors. Add in equipment and aftermarket gear supplied through Chrysler’s Mopar and Fiat says 500,000 combinations of its 500 exist.
Fiat had to adapt the 500 to meet the safety standards of the U.S market. In Europe safety tests are conducted as though all occupants are wearing a seat belt. Tests in the U.S. are conducted as though no occupant is wearing a seat belt.
Thus, the Fiat 500’s body structure has been redesigned to meet North American regulatory requirements for strength, crashworthiness and performance.
Fiat said, “A specially engineered suspension delivers tailored performance for the U.S. market. A redesigned twist-beam rear suspension features retuned bushings with more built-in roll stiffness, delivering ride comfort and handling suited for American drivers.
“Revised front-suspension geometry reduces dive during braking and features an increased front-stabilizer bar rate for reduced body roll and added driver confidence. In addition, retuned twin-tube shock absorbers and springs, all-new structural sub-frame brace, upgraded upper-strut mounts and retuned control-arm bushings make the U.S. market Fiat 500 as nimble as its European cousin while delivering a more comfortable and quiet interior cabin.”
The bottom line is that the Fiat 500 was quiet, handled great, had a smooth ride and now North American consumers will decide whether it hits its sales target of 50,000 units a year.
Frank S. Washington is managing partner/editor of AboutThatCar.com and AboutThatCarBlog.com.