I've been driving a lot of big vehicles lately, so it felt great to get into a small, nimble vehicle that barely weighs more than a ton. Despite the light curb weight, the Fiat 500 is remarkably stable and comfortable on the highway. I don't remember being nearly this comfortable behind the wheel of our Four Seasons Honda Fit, and the Fit certainly wasn't as quiet as the Fiat on the highway.
The interior of the Fiat 500 is quite possibly the most European space in the American automotive landscape. The designers weren't afraid to leave the plastic untextured or some screws and bolts exposed in areas like the seat tracks. It doesn't come off as cheap or unfinished, more like the extra attention was spent tuning the steering and suspension instead of pleasing a focus group that probably wouldn't appreciate a small car anyway. There's a general sense of utility in the cabin that seems practical and logical without being cheap. It's proof that a small car doesn't need luxury touches like leather, heated seats, or a sophisticated navigation system to feel premium.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the 500, although I wonder how tolerant I'd be of the 1.4-liter four-cylinder if I had to live with it every day. Thankfully, Fiat is bringing over an Abarth version with a pretty huge bump in power next year. If you've been waiting this long for a Fiat 500 in the States, what's another year?
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
On my way home from work in the Fiat 500 I stopped off at the grocery store, where I ended up parking just a couple spots away from a Smart ForTwo, which of course invited the inevitable comparison. I'm not a fan of the Smart, because I find it impractical and too cartoonish, but I don't get that vibe from the Fiat. Admittedly, the 500 is somewhat cartoonish with its retro styling and tiny dimensions, but it ends up being more usable than the Smart. For one, it's bigger - a little less than three feet longer than the Smart and about the same width and height. That means there's room for a back seat (not that I'd want to sit back there) and a bit more storage space. For another thing, the drivetrain is better - the Fiat's 1.4-liter four-cylinder produces a respectable 101 hp, and power is delivered through a five-speed manual (or an optional six-speed automatic) that, while not the most refined transmission, is infinitely better than the balky five-speed automated manual in the Smart.
Inside, the Fiat 500 wins, too. The interior isn't as bare-bones as the Smart's, as it features two-tone upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a standard armrest. One thing I'd change, though, is the location of the optional Tom-Tom nav unit. It's mounted high on the dash to the left of the center stack, and it causes a bit of a blind spot.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor