The Fiat 500 is the archetypal city car, but can it double as a comfortable highway cruiser? If spaciousness isn't a main concern, the Fiat is actually pretty good after going down an on-ramp.
"The Fiat is far more enjoyable for highway commuting than it is for 'around town' tasks," says Jennifer Misaros, managing editor of digital platforms. "This could be considered sacrilegious when you're talking about a tiny car like the Fiat, which should be in its element darting about on tight streets, but it's true. On the interstate, the 500 is surprisingly composed and has great forward visibility."
Assistant editor David Zenlea agrees: "It's very well mannered on the highway, just where you'd expect it to fall apart dynamically. The suspension travel affords a better ride than you'd get in, say, a Honda Fit, and the engine's relaxed highway hum never makes me reach for the nonexistent sixth gear."
While the 500 can roll along at 85 mph in fourth gear without sounding wheezy or harsh, its engine takes quite a bit of coaxing from your right foot to move the 2363-lb car. With a meager 98 hp from the four-cylinder engine, passing on the highway is difficult. That doesn't mean, though, that the Fiat can't handle a highway commute. The 1.4-liter happily revs once you downshift and pin the throttle to the floor.
Highway winds are another matter. The Fiat feels like it has a sail mounted atop it and is moved from lane to lane by gusts that wouldn't turn a pinwheel.
Let's try to make sense of this: In last month's update, we told you to stand on the brakes of a 500 Sport as you went into a turn, heel-and-toe downshift, get off the clutch and onto the accelerator as you exit the turn, and enjoy driving fast in a slow car. This month, we're telling you to take one of the smallest automobiles being sold onto the highway and go for a lengthy jaunt. But we assure you that, next month, we won't be praising the way this car cruises through downtown.
"Power delivery is all wrong for stoplight-to-stoplight driving," explains associate online editor Jake Holmes. "An engine this size should either offer a bunch of low-end torque for city sprints (e.g. a turbodiesel), or lots of high-rpm zest for enthusiastic drivers (e.g. old Honda VTEC engines). This MultiAir engine, unfortunately, accomplishes neither. It feels flat, dull, and uninspired."
It seems that Fiat/Chrysler has imported a city car that is merely adequate at the task it was designed for but is a joy to drive on back roads and highways. Don't try to make sense of it. We can't.