There is no steering feel to speak of -- that wheel could be the least talkative Italian in history -- but the ratio is suitably quick and helps you fling the short-wheelbase Fiat around corners and weave around jaywalkers. New York's old-world roads, pockmarked by potholes that could swallow a moped whole, don't seem to bother the 500. Our Sport test car, with sixteen-inch wheels and a firmer suspension, remains amazingly composed over bumps even at crazed-taxicab speeds. The small amount of noise that does filter into the cabin is easily drowned out by the powerful Bose sound system.
Despite its rame paint (rame is the Italian word for "copper"; back in the day, Fiat might have more appropriately called this color ruggine, or "rust"), our 500 didn't exactly stop traffic. Clearly, it couldn't possibly look any more adorable, so we'll blame Manhattan's typical automotive ambivalence and Mother Nature's frigid temperatures and high winds. Aside from being cold, those New Yorkers who did notice the 500 had a few things in common. Once we filtered through the hundreds of "cutes," we noticed that the most enthusiastic tended to be Italian American. All of them seemed to know that the car wasn't supposed to be out for another few months. Without exception, perhaps out of fear of confusing this little beauty with a bad Ford Taurus, they referred to it as the Cinquecento (chin-kwah-CHEN-toe), not the "five hundred."
In its journey to the Nuovo Mondo (that would be here), the Nuova 500 has stayed remarkably true to its original design. This is especially impressive considering that it was never intended for our market. Our 500 will be produced at Chrysler's plant in Toluca, Mexico, and Fiat's engineers took advantage of the need to create new tooling to make some enhancements to the 500's front and rear suspension. Revised tuning gives our Cinquecento a smootherride, according to Fiat. The front and rear bumpers are new -- the former allowing for additional engine cooling. Significant improvements were made to the 500's crashworthiness, including moving the fuel-filler door forward and fitting seven air bags to the interior. The only remaining visible changes involve adjustments to adhere to U.S. lighting regulations. The weight gain over the European model is a palatable 140 pounds.