A niche car, like the Fiat 500, doesn't have a lot of candidates for simple and straightforward comparisons. You can stretch to compare it to a car that's a little bigger or more expensive, or you can look at it next to some cars you'd usually skip, such as the Fiat's stable mate, the 500C.
The Fiat is the Euro-cutest micro-car in America.
"All Fiat 500s should be cabriolets," declared senior web editor Phil Floraday. "The 500 is so awkward, with its strange ergonomics and cramped interior, that you might as well peel the roof back, slow down, and enjoy the scenery." Well, unless the scenery is behind you that is, because once the canvas roof slides all the way back the rearview mirror loses all function. That doesn't seem to keep people from buying the open-topped Fiat however. "Over four days in a beachside town, I encountered no less than six 500s, all of which were 500Cs," observed associate web editor Evan McCausland. "I envied their sliding canvas roofs, but I do like the ability to open our car's sunroof and keep its mesh sunshade closed."
Although a convertible would have been nice for a long-term test, our hardtop is adequate. Well, at least we thought it was until a superior subcompact, the Volkswagen Up!, visited our office a few weeks ago. One editor quipped that the Up! definitely out euro-cutes the 500. "The tiny two-door from Wolfsburg sets itself further apart from the 500 with its five-speed manual and 1.0-liter three cylinder," said associate web editor Donny Nordlicht. "The transmission is smooth, forgiving, and fun to row despite longish throws, and the three-banger is peppy and always willing to rev, and feels much more powerful than its meager 75 hp." The fact is, though, that the Up! isn't coming stateside anytime soon, so the Fiat remains the Euro-cutest micro-car in America.
That Euro-cuteness has some of us swooning, particularly associate web editor Jake Holmes. He says the 500 meets his day-to-day needs, and does so quite well. "In fact, I even found myself browsing the online inventory at the nearest dealer." Then again, Holmes is a native Brit and has an innate attraction to Euro-chic. Deputy editor Joe DeMatio -- a farm-raised Midwesterner -- has no biological predilection toward the Fiat but still finds to be quite pleasant. "Dynamically, the car is a huge step above most other small cars, as it should be given the premium you pay for the Fiat brand," he says. "There's no 'penalty box' aspect to the 500 whatsoever." The Fiat 500 can fill the itty-bitty alcove that is its market segment all by itself. Unless Volkswagen decides to send the Up! over here, that is.