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Something of an Italian answer to the VW Beetle, the original Fiat 500 was produced from 1957 through 1975 and featured a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine of just 500cc (a half-liter) in size. Among the 500's (or Cinquecento's) lovable traits were its diminutive yet space-efficient body that made maneuvering in crowded European cities a snap, an available large fold-back canvas sunroof and a small appetite for fuel.
Some 50 years after the introduction of the original came today's Fiat 500. The contemporary Fiat 500 has cute retro styling along with a surprisingly roomy cabin for its small footprint. Marking Fiat's return to the United States after a 27-year hiatus, the 500 is something of a United Nations approach to car building, as this Italian car is built at a Chrysler (which Fiat recently bought) plant located in Mexico. Though that may put long-term reliability into question, what we do know is that this little car's personality fits its cheeky looks.
Current Fiat 500
Debuting for 2012, the reborn Fiat 500 is available in both coupe and convertible body styles. The latter is actually more like a coupe with a huge, roll-back cloth sunroof.
Though this tiny car is 6 inches shorter in length and 2 inches narrower than its chief rival, the Mini Cooper, the Fiat 500 is substantially taller (by 4 inches). That translates into better outward visibility and respectable leg- and headroom, especially for rear seat passengers. The interior is cheerful looking, especially when optioned with the two-tone coloring, and the controls are easy to operate. Despite the Fiat 500's small size, seating comfort is respectable, though tall drivers may find themselves running out of headroom, particularly if the sunroof is ordered.
The standard 500 comes with a 1.4-liter 101-horsepower four-cylinder matched to either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. As the Fiat 500 weighs just 2,350 pounds -- a few hundred less than a base Cooper -- performance is actually fairly peppy. The 500 is EPA rated at 33 mpg combined for the manual and 30 mpg combined for the automatic. Those looking for a spicier meatball should consider the 500 Abarth. With 160 hp and 170 pound-feet of torque, its turbocharged 1.4-liter four sends the Abarth to 60 mph in a quick 7.1 seconds. The five-speed manual is the sole transmission offering here,
The standard Fiat 500 coupe comes in Pop, Sport and Lounge trim levels, while the convertible comes in the Pop and Lounge variants. Standard feature highlights for the base Pop trim include full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-only steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, a trip computer and a six-speaker sound system. The luxury-themed Lounge adds 15-inch alloy wheels, exterior chrome accents, foglamps, a fixed glass roof (hatchback only), upgraded cloth upholstery, Bluetooth phone connectivity and an iPod/USB audio interface. The driving enthusiast-oriented Sport slots between these two and includes 16-inch alloy wheels, firmer suspension tuning, retuned steering, a roof spoiler, foglamps and sport seats. Option highlights include rear parking sensors, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a sunroof and a navigation system.
In addition to its more powerful engine, the 500 Abarth also sports an electronic limited-slip differential, adjustable stability control, firmer suspension calibration, quicker steering and a tuned exhaust. Exterior and interior tweaks include unique front and rear fascias, aggressively bolstered sport seats, a sport steering wheel and red accent stitching throughout the cockpit. Options essentially mirror those of the Sport.
In road tests we've been impressed by the 500's smooth and willing engine and slick-shifting manual transmission. Though the steering feel is somewhat numb, the 500, especially the Sport version, provides agile handling along with a compliant ride quality, besting the Mini Cooper in the latter respect. The Abarth is a different animal entirely -- a 500 with an attitude by way of its spirited acceleration, snorting exhaust and athletic handling. This little dynamo should have strong appeal to enthusiasts, as it provides massive driving entertainment in a tiny package.
If you are looking for newer years, visit our new FIAT 500 page.