One of the happy consequences of Chrysler landing in the arms of the Fiat group -- aside from the American company's continued existence -- is that the Fiat 500 is coming to the United States. Since its debut as a concept at the 2004 Geneva auto show, the wee Fiat has been a sensation in Europe. The design, by Fiat & Abarth style director Roberto Giolito, obviously is inspired by the classic Cinquecento that was first introduced in 1957. It packs more style into a smaller package than perhaps any other car on the market and thus lives at the polar opposite of Chrysler's current domestic small cars.
The 500 will come here in three versions: Pop, Sport, and Lounge. All will have a four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and four years of roadside assistance. The Pop is the least expensive, starting at $15,500. Standard equipment includes A/C, cruise control, and power windows/locks/mirrors; Bluetooth/USB/iPod connectivity is optional, as are a six-speed automatic transmission and a sunroof. The Sport and the Lounge are both a step above. The Sport, at $17,500, includes the connectivity package as well as different seats, a restyled fascia, a sport suspension, and sixteen-inch wheels. The $19,500 Lounge comes with the automatic, auto A/C, and a glass roof; heated leather seats and rear park assist are optional. A dockable TomTom nav unit is optional on Sport and Lounge. The 500's pricing puts it above a Ford Fiesta, but below a Mini Cooper.
Cute, and retro
The latter is of particular interest because there are several parallels between the Fiat and the Mini. Both are spot-on interpretations of a beloved icon. Both are brands that are essentially starting from scratch in the United States. Both try to make an emotional appeal rather than simply selling on a small car's traditional virtues.
But beyond that, the two cars diverge. The Fiat is smaller, for instance. Its wheelbase is half a foot shorter and it's seven inches shorter in length, although it's four inches taller. While the Mini, like the Honda Fit and the new Ford Fiesta, is a B-segment car, the 500 falls into the A-segment, where its only companion in the U.S. market is the toy-like Smart ForTwo. Unlike the two-seat Smart, the 500 is an actual four-seater, although anyone who tries to squeeze in back better be less than six feet tall and preferably will be sitting behind front-seat riders who are under six feet as well. Up front, the 500 does a good job of not feeling tiny, thanks to the chair-high seats, fairly big windows, and low dash.