La Dolce Vita, Fiat Style
The word Fiat evokes images of sun-drenched cobblestone courtyards, Mediterranean air and the pungent smell of espresso. Produced between 1957 and 1975 as an economical post-war city car, the iconic Fiat 500, or Cinquecento as it's known in its native Italy, is still a common sight on roadways all over Europe.
Like the Mini and VW Beetle, the 2012 Fiat 500 is a reinterpretation of a much-loved icon, taking the classic accessibility of a people's car and reworking it as something all new, yet still familiar.
Since Fiat took over the reins at Chrysler, it was a savvy move to introduce a car so unabashedly Italian. After making its debut here at the 2010 Toronto Auto Show, the new Fiat 500 has been a runaway hit with Canadians. Tiny, bug-eyed and boasting plenty of rounded curves inside and out, there's just no getting around it – the Fiat 500 is cute.
Comparisons to the Mini are inevitable, since both capitalize on their popular heritage and serve it up with an extra dose of fun. The Fiat 500 does seem to have the Mini squarely in its crosshairs – and goes it one better by having an entry buy-in of only $15,995, compared to the Mini Cooper's $21,950.
This puts it well within the reach of Yaris and Versa buyers – proving that small and economical cars don't have to feel like a penance. We North Americans are just figuring out what Europeans have known for decades – that when it comes to cars, better doesn't necessarily have to mean bigger.
My premium-level Lounge tester is like a week-long happy pill. I couldn't help but smile every time I drove it, despite the fact that I somehow felt a bit like the clichéd blonde-in-a-chick-car. Yet several of the folks who approached me with questions about the car were men. And yes, they were only interested in the car.
In Pearl White, my 500 presents a neat and tidy package riding on large, multi-spoke wheels. But it's the interior that garners the lion's share of comments. There's nothing linear or minimalist about it – the design is retro, it's bright and it's fun.
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