Like the Mini Cooper and the Volkswagen New Beetle, the Fiat looks like a modern version of an old design and also like those vehicles, the retro modern styling works. It definitely falls on the cheeky side of the spectrum but -- mostly due to its really cool wheels and bright red brakes -- I think it manages to look sporty enough to be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, the experience behind the wheel does little to support this impression of sportiness, with an anemic engine, lifeless steering, and a sloppy manual shifter. The 500 can still be good fun, though, but only if you're willing to work at it. Especially around town, this means keeping the throttle floored, downshifting every time the brakes are applied, and not upshifting until the tach hits five grand. On the highway, the 500 actually behaves better than I expected for such a small car. Its ride can be a little jarring over large road imperfections but even at high speeds, the 500 feels fairly stable.
The interior -- at least on this test car -- also has a sporty look to it, with perforated leather on the seats and steering wheel, both of which have a suppleness to them that belie this vehicle's price. After looking around a bit, though, it seems that there was no money left to spend on the other interior materials, as hard, cheap-looking plastics dominate the remainder of the cabin. But, it's still a fairly comfortable place to spend time. The seats are nicely bolstered and supportive, the shifter is well placed, and the steering wheel has a satisfyingly thick rim. What's most amazing about the cabin is that, relatively speaking, it doesn't feel cramped. I think the Fiat designers deserve praise for creating a neat, organized, and unobtrusive console that makes the interior feel much larger than it is. This is especially true when you consider that the shifter is taking up valuable real estate on the central console. The gauges are also a study in space efficiency. The tach and speedo are layered, one inside of the other in a tidy, three-quarter circle, in the center of which is a digital display that includes fuel level, engine- and outside temperature, and more. It looks good and it crams a lot of information into a really small area directly in front of the driver. Nicely done.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms