Of its many competitors, the only car over which the Fiat 500 has a practical advantage is the Smart ForTwo. Unlike the Smart, the Fiat is a real car with a backseat and cargo area; it turns in similar mileage numbers, but looks and feels much better doing it. To choose the 500 over its other competitors, however, is purely a lifestyle choice. Do you want to be first on the block driving one of these funky little cars, or one of the Fiesta-driving masses? The competitors all offer some combination of greater utility, more performance, or better economy, but as good as many of them are, none have this little Fiat's "je ne sais quoi." (Sorry, but the French is better than the Italian).
The 500 is a good-looking little car, but as much as this charcoal 500 Sport tries to look tough with its aggressively handsome rims and spoiler, the overriding reaction is still, "Cute!"
The cabin also puts a priority on style. The seats and steering wheel are among the best-looking and nicest feeling you'll find in a car under $30K. Understandably, with the attention devoted to the seats, sacrifices had to made elsewhere in a car this cheap, but the other details and materials seem no worse than the rest of the pack. The painted dash panel and unorthodox instrumentation is straight from the Beetle/Mini playbook. Stacking the gauges on top of each other looks cool, and the execution is good. This is also the first car with a high, dash-mounted stick shift that wasn't a turn-off for me.
Need more proof this vehicle is all about fashion? Even BMW didn't call Mini showrooms, "studios."
Matt Tierney, Art Director
Around the streets of Ann Arbor, the Fiat 500 doesn't feel as tight and as right to me as it did on the winding canyon and desert roads outside San Diego, where I last drove a 500 back in January during the media preview. I remembered better steering feel and a gearshift that had more precision. Still, this is a car with high style at a low price.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor