La Dolce Vita, Fiat Style
The seats are poppy red leather and ivory and topped with round headrests. The ivory dash is evocative of 50's diner ware – the curved glove box looks like vintage Bakelite. A large circular pod contains all of the instrumentation combined in a single gauge made up of concentric circles. Sounds confusing, but it isn't. Speed, date, time and fuel level are all easily relayed at a glance.
The abundance of ivory, sunroof and generous headroom have the effect of creating an open and airy space in what is essentially a fairly small cabin. Up front, there's enough leg and headroom for two, although you do feel fairly chummy sitting closely side by side.
While the rear seats are little more than parcel shelves with seat belts, we did manage to survive a five-hour road trip with four passengers, and they're all still speaking to me. A few heads turned at our pit stops – astonished at the stream of passengers discharging like the proverbial clown car.
The trunk is rather small, but will accommodate two carry-on suitcases if they're stood upright, and the rear seats fold down, although not perfectly flat.
Under hood is an inline four-cylinder that puts out 101 hp and 98 lb-ft of torque. In keeping with its cheerful demeanour, the 500 is peppy enough when configured with the 5-speed manual transmission, and is quite similar in character to the Mazda2 or Ford Fiesta.
But my Lounge tester is equipped with a 6-speed automatic, and its acceleration can best be described as "leisurely". A red Sport button tightens up the steering (marvellous) and quickens up the shifts (so-so, or Così e così in Italian) but the resultant engine noise made me opt for relaxed mode.
The automatic gearbox also pays a penalty at the pumps: fuel mileage is 7.4 L/100km in the city compared to the 5-speed's 6.7. During my week of mixed highway and city driving, I averaged 7.1 L/100km, which isn't great when compared to the 6.8L I recorded in the much-larger Elantra. Still, the Fiat buyer will probably be happy to sacrifice a few dollars on fuel economy in return for style and fun.
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