2012 Fiat 500: Welcome to Glendora Ridge
July 26, 2011
For a couple of reasons, I found myself on Glendora Mountain Road (you know, the famous driving road) and subsequently Glendora Ridge Road on Saturday afternoon... in our long-term 2012 Fiat 500. Part of it was that I wanted to get a sense of the car's handling, part of it was that I'm not right in the head, and part of it was that I was meeting some friends up here and just happened to be driving the the Fiat for the weekend.
In the little car's favor are very good steering feel and surprisingly somewhat sticky 16-inch Continental tires.
There's at least a one-mississippi delay from the time you turn the steering wheel to the time when the car actually turns in, so as we've noted in previous testing, you kind of have to guess at steering input and then trust that the car will be fine with that and that the tires will stick. Understeer is the car's preferred cornering attitude, so this kind of driving really beats up on the front tires -- ours were already showing significant wear even before the drive.
Of course, power is the main limitation on a road like GMR and later Glendora Ridge Road. At our pace, I could keep up through the turns, but the others ('06 MX-5 Miata, '04 WRX, '09 Mazdaspeed 3) of course left me for dead whenever the road straightened out.
On the Ridge Rd., the elevation is pretty constant, so it got tiresome to always be in 2nd gear... the little 1.4-liter MultiAir engine is smooth enough, but it's screaming by 5,500 rpm. So I'd upshift to 3rd and revs would drop back to 3,000ish and then I'd have no power. Uh, so, quickly blip the throttle, back to 2nd. This gap between 2nd and 3rd gears (2.16 vs. 1.35) slowed the car down during acceleration testing, and it's the reason I probably won't come back to GMR in a Fiat 500 until the Abarth model arrives.
That said, no afternoon drive on GMR is really a bad drive, and the steering feel alone makes the little Fiat more enjoyable than most other very small cars. Below I offer you a taste of the experience. First video shows some on-board footage I shot on Glendora Ridge Road (albeit with my camera angled too far to the side). The second video is a compilation shot by Tyler (stovt001) and Stacey Stover, who mounted a couple Flip cameras on their MX-5. It's really a video of the whole afternoon; you can see the Fiat following the Miata starting around the 2-minute mark.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 6,316 miles