The Fiat 500 is finally on sale in the United States, and it is a big deal. Conveniently for the Chrysler Group, the car's arrival is coinciding with a huge jump in fuel prices. Even though the 500 doesn't get fantastic mileage, it's EPA-rated at 30/38 mpg city/highway, which is more economical than most. The 500 starts at a friendly $16,000 and offers tons of style and lots of opportunity for additional personalization. The low price, however, shows through in the interior materials and assembly quality, which are both average at best. Still, the interior is very functional and would be easy to live with.
I'm a big fan of good thigh support in car seats, but these bulging leather front seats push that concept to the limit, so I'd encourage any potential 500 buyers to take a nice long test drive to make sure they're comfortable in these chairs. The rear seats are moderately comfortable for this five-foot-six reviewer, but getting back there requires agility. Four six-footers aren't going to comfortably fit inside this small Fiat.
The "sport" button definitely makes a difference in steering feel, firming it up, but even with that mode engaged, the steering is a bit too light for my liking during spirited cornering. Few will mistake the cornering abilities of the Fiat 500 for those of a Mini Cooper, but the 500 is amusing and fun at the very least, as long as you don't expect too much. And the 500 rides more comfortably than any Mini I've driven.
The direct-injected 1.4-liter four-cylinder is fun to exercise via the slick (yet loose) five-speed manual, and overall the 500 doesn't feel as slow as you might expect from a car with such a small engine. (Granted, I had just driven a slow-as-plate-tectonics Smart ForTwo Electric Drive the previous day.) I did miss the wave of torque that I experienced driving a turbo-diesel Fiat 500 convertible last summer in the United Kingdom. As Phil noted, the upcoming Abarth edition will be a welcome addition to the 500 lineup.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor