2012 Fiat 500: A Better Mini?

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I did not expect to like the Fiat 500.

But I quickly fell in love with it.

It may be my favorite new car. I’d consider buying one myself – and that is an eruption of affection from me, a guy who reviews new cars but mostly owns and drives old (and ancient) stuff.

There are just two reasons I could come up with to not buy this car (if you’re in the market for a new subcompact runabout and don’t want to spend more than about $17k or so).

I’ll get to that shortly.

WHAT IT IS

The Fiat 500 three-door hatchback coupe/convertible is one of the new (to us) export market micro-cars, commonly available – and hugely popular – in places such as Europe and Japan but only just now making their way to the United States.

It is considerably smaller than a U.S.-market standard “compact” – or even a current-year subcompact such as a Toyota Yaris. In fact, it’s almost a foot shorter, end to end, than a ’90s-era Geo Metro.

How’s that for small?

Prices for the hardtop start at $15,500 for the base Pop coupe with manual transmission and top out at $19,500 for a top-of-the-line Lounge with an automatic. A Sport version of the hardtop with firmer suspension calibrations and other upgrades is also available; this version of the 500 has a base MSRP of $17,500.

A convertible version of the 500 starts at $19,500.

The 500′s target competition includes the BMW Mini Cooper (base price $19,500) and other compact/subcompact runabouts like the Toyota Yaris (base price $14,115), among others.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2012

The 500 is the first new Fiat to be sold in the United States since 1983. The Italian automaker now has a controlling stake in Chrysler Corp. and the 500 will be marketed and sold through the existing Chrysler dealer network (a big part of the buy-out agreement) as well as through Fiat “Studios” that will operate independently of Chrysler stores.

WHAT’S GOOD

Big fun, small car.

Still a real car (unlike the Smart car).

A much nicer car than existing econo-subcompacts like the Yaris.

A much more affordable car than a Mini Cooper ($4,000 less to start).

Excellent gas mileage (30 city/38 highway) with standard manual transmission.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Not so great gas mileage (27 city/34 highway) with optional automatic.

Micro-sized car in a world full of super-sized SmooVees – and sail fawn-addled SmooVee drivers.

Fiat dealers (“Studios”) are few – and far between.

Fiat’s long-term future in the United States remains a question mark.

UNDER THE HOOD

All versions of the 500 are powered by a 1.4 liter four-cylinder equipped with what Fiat calls MultiAir technology. The intake valves are operated hydraulically (no camshaft) and are fully variable while the exhaust valves are opened and closed via a conventional camshaft. Fiat says this set-up allows the 1.4 liter engine to produce 10 percent more power (and use 10 percent less fuel) than an otherwise equivalent engine with conventional intake and exhaust cams operating the valvetrain.

The 1.4 liter engine, like the car it’s in, is one of the smallest things going right now (even the also-tiny Mini Cooper has a larger 1.6 liter engine).

It produces 101 hp, which makes it one of the least powerful engines going right now, too (the Mini’s 1.6 liter engine makes 121 hp; the Yaris’ 1.5 liter engine squeaks out 106 hp). However, the 500 is also the lightest thing going right now – with a curb weight of just over 2,300 lbs. (a Mini Cooper weighs 2,535 lbs. – and a 2012 VW Beetle weighs about 2,900 lbs.) so the little 1.4 liter engine is still a decent performer, capable of getting the 500 coupe to 60 MPH in about 10.5 seconds with the standard five-speed manual transmission.

A six-speed automatic is optional, but it imposes a significant fuel economy penalty of about 3-4 MPG. Manual equipped 500s rate 30 city, 38 highway (dead even with the Yaris and slightly better than the Mini’s 29 city, 37 highway)  but if you order the automatic, the 500′s EPA rated mileage drops to 27 city, 34 highway.

This is a head-scratcher because usually (these days) a given vehicle will be as or even slightly more fuel-efficient when ordered with an automatic vs. the same car with a manual – because modern automatics are (usually)  more efficient than manuals, in part because they’re programmed to shift at exactly the right moment for any given circumstance whereas human drivers often  shift too early (or too late) and keep the transmission in the wrong gear for optimum mileage.

ON THE ROAD

What a great little car! No, wait. What a great car – period.

Yes, it’s tiny, but unlike the absurd SmartCar, you can go anywhere in the 500 – even if anywhere is on the highway and several hundred miles away.

The 500 will do almost 100 MPH in third gear. It has no trouble comfortably maintaining a cruising speed of 70-75 MPH.

A Geo Metro, this ain’t.

It’s also stable at high speed – something I didn’t expect given the super short (90.6 inch) wheelbase (that’s seven inches less than the Mini’s wheelbase of 97.1 inches) and “tall box” layout. I thought for sure it would require a death grip on the wheels just to keep it in its lane, but absolutely not. At the speeds it is likely to experience on American roads and in the hands of American drivers, it is as stable as a Swiss Franc. And even at European road speeds – which can be in the triple digits – the Fiat is fine. (Try a Smart car sometime; it’s not fine.)

I live up in the hills – literally. You have to climb a 9 percent grade from the valley to get to the top of the ridgeline near where we live. The 500 requires you to work the transmission, but does not lack for power. In fact, you’ll enjoy working the transmission – and the engine – which (like the Mini) has a nice angry sound to it when you’re up in the powerband (7,000 RPM redline) and seems – like so many European-bred cars – to enjoy a good workout, too.

It also handles like the proverbial slot car. My tester was a Sport model and so came equipped with larger (16 inch) wheels and more aggressive tires (P195-45-16 Pirelli Cinturatos)  plus a firmer-calibrated suspension, and was as or even more enjoyable to flick around as the Mini Cooper – but with a price tag of $17,500 you’ve got two grand left in your pocket to spend on gas for the next year. The base model 500 is $4,000 less than the base model Mini – and as cute and fun to drive as the Mini is, that $4k price difference is sure to make a lot of potential buyers’ heads turn in the direction of a Fiat Studio.

If they can find a Fiat Studio, that is (more below).

AT THE CURB

The 500 makes even the Mini seem not very mini. It (the 500) is only 139.6 inches or just under 12 feet from bumper to bumper – vs. 146.6 inches for the 2012 Mini Cooper and (for perspective) 149.4 inches for the ’90s-era Geo Metro. Even the little Yaris comes off as not so little when parked next to a 500. It is 153.5 inches from stem to stern – more than a foot longer, overall. 

Yet it has virtually the same front seat head and legroom (38.9 and 40.7 inches, respectively, vs. 38.8 and 41.4 inches) and slightly more backseat legroom (31.7 inches vs. 29.9 for the Mini) though headroom for backseat occupants is tight (and about an inch-and-a-half less than in the Mini Cooper.

With the back seats folded down, the 500 has 30.1 cubic feet of cargo space – exceptional for a car with such a small footprint and about 6 cubic feet more than you’d have available in the physically larger-on-the-outside Mini Cooper (24 cubic feet max capacity).

Like the Mini, the Fiat has an interior with a lot of pizazz – as well as room for its size.
There’s a large, centrally mounted “ring within rings” speedometer/tachometer combination, with an LCD info center built into that and which you can toggle through multiple menus. A console mounted shifter frees up console space (where there’s a modular two-piece cupholder and 12V powerpoint) and the controls for the AC and heat are simple, effective large dials instead of too many small buttons as in a lot of current cars.

Interior trim panels can be ordered painted in the same color as the exterior and there is a whole panoply of paint/decal/accent stripe combos available, as well as a roster of dealer-installed options such as a roof-mounted bike rack, ski or snowboard racks and “Thule” roof-mounted cargo storage bag.

Nothing about the car says Blue Light Special. In this respect it is night and day different from the subcompact economy cars of the past, like the Geo Metro – and also, the subcompact economy cars of today, like the Yaris. The little Toyota is a fine A to B appliance, but other than its low price and great gas mileage, there’s not much else about it that will make you smile. And you certainly can;t order a Yaris with equipment such as heated seats, leather trim and red powder-coated high-performance brakes, either. The Mini’s similarly snarky – but that $4k price gap is hard to put out of your mind.

THE REST

Only two things would give me pause about buying this car – and one has nothing to do with the car itself.

Rather, it has to do with other cars – and the half-asleep/gadget fiddling people driving them.

Though the 500 posted excellent crash test scores, bear in mind that those scores are relative to other cars in its class – not relative to other cars, period.

What that means is that while a 500 would do better than most if it got into a wreck with another car roughly the same size and weight, it would be ugly if it got hit by a car two or three times its size.

Which in America, means almost any car (or truck/SUV) you’re likely to end up being hit by.

In Europe, small cars are the norm – and big trucks and SUVs almost nonexistent. So the Fiat is playing on a more level field. But here in the U.S., the Fiat is pretty much the tiniest, lightest car on the road, a minnow among sharks – or whales.

If I bought a 500, I’d drive it like I ride my motorcycles – with extreme paranoia, always assuming the worst of other drivers and with both eyes wide open, all the time.

The other thing that would make me think a little before buying a 500 is Fiat itself. Not the tired old saw about the reliability of Fiat cars; that hasn’t been an issue for years – no, decades. The company is a major player in Europe and its cars have a good record over there.

Rather, my concern would be about Fiat’s future here. It is no easy thing to get traction in the U.S. car market under the best of circumstances and as everyone knows, these are not the best of circumstances. The economy is terrible, and, frankly, so is Fiat’s current distribution/service network. Even though (ostensibly, reportedly) Fiat cars were going to be sold through Chrysler’s existing network, at the time of this review, there was only one authorized Fiat “Studio” in the whole state of Virginia. In my area, the closest Fiat store (oops, Studio)is more than two hours away in North Carolina. If I bought a 500 today  and needed the dealer to deal with something, it’d be an all-day deal just to get the car to the shop – and then, how do I get home again?

If the Fiat-Chrysler venture doesn’t work out – either because of the crappy economy or because of the spotty dealer coverage – and Fiat has to leave this market (again) that could also leave owners owning orphaned cars with no dealer support network and possibly, major hassles getting parts and service, period.

THE BOTTOM LINE

That stuff in mind, the 500 has got the market potentially cornered. It kills the Mini on snazzy-for-your-dollar, matches basic econoboxes like the Yaris on everyday economy (and nearly matches it on price, too) while also offering upscale amenities (including Bluetooth wireless, a panorama sunroof and heated seats) along with and almost endless customization options while almost fitting in your back pocket, too.

Throw it in the Woods?

 

 

 

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  42 comments for “2012 Fiat 500: A Better Mini?

  1. Doug
    October 20, 2011 at 12:48 am

    Your statement about the reliability of Fiat cars not being an issue for years can pretty-much be applied to any car today. It’s the quality I would be concerned about. I have seen rust showing through the paint on fairly recent models of Fiats and their interiors also seem to wear out quickly. I’m certainly no expert and I have never read a survey regarding Fiat owners and reasons for their purchases but the car guys I associate with are pretty much in agreement: people purchase Fiats because of their price. I know of a couple of owners who have traded in old Fiats for new ones because, in order to get into a new car, the Handler was the only place they could unload their vehicle without taking a huge loss.
    I’m a VAG guy so my opion is slanted but I would rather pay the $4000 or less up front for a Mini or Audi A1 than a 500 which will most likely look and drive a lot worse after equally driven distances.

    • October 20, 2011 at 10:17 am

      Hi Doug,

      I assume you’re in Europe or someplace outside the US? The reason I ask is because Fiat hasn’t sold new cars here since the early ’80s, so it’s hard for me (or anyone else here) to have a good idea how the current stuff holds up to rust. Even so, I doubt they rust before they’re at least 10 years old or older because nothing modern rusts before then, unless the paint/underlay has been exposed as a result of a fender bender or some such. The factory anti-corrosion processes (including panel fitment) today are light-years ahead of what they were 25 years ago, when the last Fiat was sold new here.

      I love the Mini, but as you know, it has had some quality/reliability issues – though these have reportedly been addressed.

      I think Fiat’s being smart in offering a car that’s very competitive with it (the Mini) but significantly less expensive. It also appeals to people in the “economy” category, who now have access to a car that’s much more appealing than a basic transportation unit for about the same (or not much more) money.

      PS: Welcome to the site!

    • James Dunlap
      October 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm

      I spent a year in Italy and Sicily in the Navy back in the 1970s. When I came home I bought a Fiat 850 sedan. The crook of a Fiat dealer had put on a new set of tires and given it a new white paint job. It turned out to be a rust bucket and the very worst car, mechanically, that I ever owned. I loved it, nonetheless, especially after upgrading to Koni adjustable shocks and 3/4 inch front and rear anti-roll bars. My Navy buddies, all Italy/Sicily veterans, came to my rescue. One helped me fabricate a new passenger side floor pan out of sheet metal and Bondo. Another sold me his 850 that had a rebuilt engine. We swapped motors in the back yard. We all loved the “cinquecento.” It is great to see the Fiat 500 back in production and in the U.S.
      Ciao,
      JD

  2. dennis gwynn
    October 20, 2011 at 5:45 am

    My old Toyota got 44 mpg on non ethanol gas. Now it gets about 40 on 10% ethanol gasoline.
    Still, the fiat appeals because I had a Fiat 127 for a year in Europe and loved it. Its excellent handling made it fun and it was roomy on the inside yet small on the outside [ just opposite USA cars in those days. It got poor fuel mileage and had little power but it still was fun.

    • dennis gwynn
      October 20, 2011 at 5:45 am

      it was an Echo

  3. Michael
    October 20, 2011 at 11:51 am

    The $19,500 top of the line car you quote is a ridiculous $30,990 in Australia (31,625 USD), a 62% increase. The nice looking zippy turbo model tuned by Abarth is an even greater premium.

    This mainly due to the draconian restrictions and licensing that outlaws private importation of new cars from left hand drive markets like UK and Japan, importers require a long licensing process which is yet another monopoly created by government.

    Works out well for multi millionaire Fiat and Alfa Romeo importer Neville Crichton who owns 3 of the worlds most advanced racing yachts (Alfa Romeo I, II and III) but not so well for the rest of us.

    By the way I found your site through lewrockwell.com. Nice to see some frank reviews.

    • October 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      Hi Mike,

      WOW. That is insane. That amounts to a doubling of the car’s price; equivalent to what a decently optioned V-8 Mustang GT costs here and not far off what you’d pay to get into a Lexus ES350 or BMW 1.

      I had no idea things were that bad down under. Makes the USSA seem perhaps not so bad!

      • Juliano
        October 31, 2011 at 6:59 pm

        You haven’t seen anything! Where I live (Brazil), just to give you an example, you won’t get a Civic for less than $40k, by current exchange rates.

        • October 31, 2011 at 7:29 pm

          Crazy!

          Are new cars selling?

          • Juliano
            November 1, 2011 at 10:34 pm

            Amazingly, yes. I can only imagine this country would be incredibly wealthy if not for a parasitical government.

        • dom
          October 31, 2011 at 7:35 pm

          I have a buddy, Henrique, I went to university with that is from Brazil (lives there now too). He has always told me prices down there are completely insane. He also tells me the women are insanely hot too! Sounds like a fair trade to me! j/k

          • BrentP
            November 1, 2011 at 12:19 am

            Seeing this I wanted to find out what the price of a turbocharged 6 cylinder Ford Falcon is these days… The Ford Australia web site is giving me some bizarre BS:

            “The estimated drive away price is based on a vehicle being garaged in the postcode listed and on the owner being a ‘rating one’ driver aged 40 with a good driving record. The estimated drive away price includes 12 months registration, 12 months compulsory third party insurance (CTP), an estimated Dealer delivery charge, stamp duty and other applicable statutory charges. Your actual drive away price may differ depending on your individual circumstances or choice of insurer. Statutory charges are current as at May 2011. Please consult your preferred Ford Dealer to confirm a price that is specific to you. ”

            W-T-F? What kind of even more horrid nanny state crap has been going on there when I wasn’t looking? Last time I looked it was empowering clovers to have cars taken away from anyone they didn’t like under the ‘hoon’ laws but I could still get an MSRP price on Falcon.

            As to Brazil, the Maverick is the top of heap in classic Ford pony cars there… so there’s that for me at least. (they were equipped a bit better too)

          • November 1, 2011 at 10:08 am

            I used to think that perhaps Down Under could be a viable place to flee to, to escape what is developing here…. no more. It’s worse there than here. You can’t even own a pistol there, at least, not unless you’re among the anointed – and even then, it is damn near impossible, usually illegal. The Clovers have won.

            Thankfully, I don’t think that’s gonna happen here – not, at least, before there’s a literal declaration of martial law, the imposition of an overt police state – and as a result of that, a bloodbath. I hope it never comes to that – and that the elites realize it’s not in their interests, ultimately, either.

          • Gil
            November 1, 2011 at 10:51 am

            According to pro-active or ex-pat Libertarians, Chile is one of the best places to go to.

    • James Dunlap
      October 21, 2011 at 7:50 pm

      I saw the Fiat Abarth 131′s running in the Rally of Sicily in 1977. They went on to win the World Rally Championship that year, beating out the phenomenal, exotic Lancia Stratos.
      JD

      • October 21, 2011 at 8:00 pm

        Fiat will supposedly be selling the Abarth version here next year; I hope so. But the standard model is pretty much ideal for its intended purpose as a fun, low-cost/high-mileage city/commuter car that can, if need be, also venture onto the highway. The (stupid) Smart car can’t go on the highway (or shouldn’t be taken there, for your own safety as well as the consideration of your fellow motorists) and it only carries two – and has little cargo capacity – so it’s almost useless even in the city.

        • Doug
          October 21, 2011 at 11:52 pm

          Wait a minute! I purchased a Smart in 2007 (the second generation 451) and it suits my Wife and I just fine. Since, like most vehicles, the car is used mainly in the city and is occupied by one or two people, it made no sense to buy something bigger. Granted, the transmission sucks and it would be more economical if a Diesel option were available but compared to the other “commuter cars” such as the Chevy, Ford KA or Pontiac Hyundai (now labeled as a Chevrolet) which have questionable quality and no ABS or Airbags, I had no other choice. Besides, the car was developed by Mercedes and they get the money so I don’t feel like a traitor.
          I opted for the Pulse model (not available in the States) which has wider wheels and tires. I increased the track by 20mm and added Bilstein coilovers so the car handles reasonable well. On a recent trip from Guadaljara to Manzanillo, I ran at the governed speed of 145Km/h on the flat, slowed going up the hills and touched an indicated 160 going down. The car used a little over 6 Liters/100 Km which is a whole lot better than the Chevy my Wife used to own.
          Would I buy another? Well, the car only has a little over 13000Km so I won’t need to replace it for years but if the VW UP! is offered here, I may consider it. It does have a back seat and a real transmission.

          • October 22, 2011 at 12:09 am

            Hi Doug,

            Welcome to our little group!

            On the Smart car:

            I’m glad you’ve been pleased with yours, but given you can get a Fiat 500 – a real car (no offense) with four seats and a decent trunk vs. no trunk and real highway capability vs. marginal-at-best highway capability and about the same gas mileage – for only slightly more money (a base Smart stickers for about $12.5 k vs. a base Fiat 500 for $15.5km which means maybe an extra $50 a month if you finance) or – hell – a new Nissan Versa sedan for $10k… well, I just don’t get it…

            My Honda Silverwing motorcycle gets better gas mileage, carries just as many people – and can carry more cargo – than a Smart car. About the only advantage to the Smart I can see is that it is enclosed and so you don’t get wet if it rains. But other than that…..

  4. Don
    October 20, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Having previously owned a Geo Metro 3-cylinder hatchback for ten years, and loved it, I will certainly consider a used 500 for a future vehicle purchase. Right now I’m only 4 years and 44,000 miles into my Yaris hatchback – so barring any unforseen accidents, I’ve got a long way to go before I need my next car.

  5. RebelKnightCSA
    October 22, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    FIAT – Fix It Again, Tony.

    Fiat has a pretty crappy image here in the States. It will have to live that down before I even *think* about one of these.

    • October 22, 2011 at 10:15 pm

      Well, yeah – but that’s not unlike equating what GM or Ford is selling today with what they were selling back in 1983, the last time new Fiats were sold here. From everything I’ve heard/read, the current Fiat stuff is at least par with other cars in the Euro market, which probably tolerates crap less than we do here.

      Just sayin’..

      My main concern is the spotty dealer coverage. As I mentioned in the review, there isn’t a single “Studio” in the entire state of Virginia and the nearest one (to me) is appx. 3 hours away in Raleigh, NC.

  6. jay
    October 22, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    I’ve got to admit, unlike the ‘please punch me’ look of the Smart, and the toy gimicky nature of the Nissan and Toyota offerings, this somehow has real character. It seems to know what it wants and have the confidence to get it.

    • jay
      October 22, 2011 at 11:29 pm

      Now, if there were to be a retro 2CV, then things would really get interestng…..

      • mithrandir
        October 22, 2011 at 11:48 pm

        Those (2CV) were interesting cars. I remember my cousin using duct tape to keep the car going during a 4 day trip. It would be difficult for me to drive since the seats are not adjustable.

        I was amazed that that 0.6L engine was able to go 75mph. The engine howled in protest. At 50-60 mph the engine was happier.

        • October 23, 2011 at 10:19 am

          If you can keep the weight around 1,500 pounds, 40 hp or so is enough to get the job done. You won’t be quick or fast, but you’ll have enough motive force to deal with everyday commuting and even short highway trips.

          I once owned a car like this – a ’73 Beetle. I think the 0-60 time was around 19 seconds and top speed about 85 MPH. But I drove that little bastard into DC and back everyday from Northern Virginia – a brutal commute – for several years in the early 1990s. I know it can be done because I did it.

          Now, update that concept a bit. Take a modern platform, keep the weight about the same, install a 1 liter diesel – and there you are: a 60 MPG commuter, no hybrid BS needed.

          • mithrandir
            January 9, 2012 at 2:09 am

            That would be great. Even a gas engine would get in the mid-40s if the weight was limited to about 1500 lbs.

    • dom
      October 22, 2011 at 11:37 pm

      “please punch me look” Ha, that is funny.

      I am kind of kicking myself for not holding out for the Fiat, but I needed transpo, so I got a 2010 Yaris. My only complaint about my jankz is the suspension is a little loose and the engine is to damn quiet and smooth. I stall often!

      • October 23, 2011 at 10:22 am

        Well, the one fly in the pie with the Fiat that you won’t have to deal with is the lack of dealer support. There are Toyota stores on every block almost. But – at least last time I checked about a week ago – there is not a single Fiat store in all of Virginia! I’d have to drive to NC (three hours away) to get the dealer to deal with a warranty issue, or to get Fiat-authorized service.

        F that.

        It’s the one reason that would keep me from buying one.

    • October 23, 2011 at 10:28 am

      My thoughts, too.

      The Smart car seems to be cringing, like it expects to get kicked in the balls (not that it has any) at any moment.

      But on a serious note: The little bastard has no room for anything – literally, there’s no trunk at all – and only seats two. It is both underpowered and much too top-heavy, light and short-wheebased to venture onto a highway with. I have driven almost every car ever built (everything from Model Ts and early LaFrance fire engines to a Ferrari Testarossa) and this little bastard scared me. The slipstream of a semi blowing past it at 80 will toss it into the ditch if you don’t have a death grip on the wheel – and even then, it still might.

      Other than being enclosed, I see no advantage to Smart car ownership over owning a decent touring motorcycle – which costs less, gets better mileage, can go on the highway and can carry more stuff, too!

      • Doug
        October 23, 2011 at 11:49 pm

        What you have to realize is the Smart was designed as a supplemental, commuter/city vehicle – not something to replace your real car. Since nearly all autos are driven most of the time with one or two people, it makes no sense to drive something bigger. People in the US don’t understand because gas is cheap, cities and highways have been designed to accomodate F150′s and a car is generally taxed on its price – not weight or displacement. This has helped convinced North Americans they need a big car with a lot of horsepower even though they hardly ever use either.
        Granted, a more practical overall vehicle is an Audi A1 which burns only a half Liter more (on the EC Test Cycle) than the Smart but it is more money and bigger. One can only appreciate the Smart’s size when parking in places other cars cannot – including 500′s. If it were a Diesel, it would be better but Americans (North, Middle and South) have a different idea about Diesels than Europeans.
        I’m not sure how the highways are on the Right Coast but I have never had a problem with handling or tracking here nor have I ever felt uneasy about sharing the road with bigger cars. In Mexico, unless there is a Federali present, Speed Limits are pretty much a suggestion and I have passed and been passed by SUV’s and Big Rigs with no problem – even before I changed the suspension. Sure the car is slow uphill but I have never gone below 80Km/h and I pass most other cars going downhill. I have driven to Pto. Vallarta in less time than my Sister-In-Law in her Chevrolet while burning much less fuel and because we stayed in a hotel and my Wife and I each had only one suitcase, luggage space was no problem.
        I would not, however, own a Smart if it were my only vehicle.

        • October 24, 2011 at 10:24 am

          Oh, I get that. But why buy a supplemental car when you can buy one car that covers all your needs? The Fiat 500, for instance/ Or – for even less coin – a Nissan Versa (decent sized sedan that can absolutely serve as a primary family car).

          PS: Gas is no longer cheap here!

          • Doug
            October 25, 2011 at 1:38 am

            I don”t want to beat a dead dick here Eric but I HAVE real cars but I can’t drive or park them as easily or economically in town as I can the Smart. Two other reasons I bought the Smart are because it is a sub-brand of Mercedes (an auto company which actively supports and is part of the German way of driving) and, here in Mexico, the Smart is a full-on European model (rear fog, adjustable headlights, convex/aspherical mirrors, etc.) so I didn’t have to upgrade anything.
            The reason I have used the Smart for trips out of town is because the only other car I have here is too loud, hot and has even less luggage room. Plus my Wife hates it. Next year, I plan to buy an Audi A1 (a car your Government won”t allow you to have) which will be used as our Trip Car. Until then, I’ll continue to do what two of my neighbors in Germany do with their V12 AMG and RS 6″s, drive my Smart and save the other car for pleasure.

            No offence but when gasoline costs less than bottled water or a Starbucks coffee, that is cheap. Gas is an incredible bargain given what is involved in getting it to market. In Germany, I pay roughly $8 a US Gallon. Granted most of this are taxes but Germany is an oil importing Country – like the United States. Mexico’s fuel prices (an exporting nation) are cheaper than the States but compared to the average wage here, gas is also expensive. If the US paid fuel prices in line with other oil importing nations, there would be more Fiat 500′s you love and Smarts you hate on the roads. Also, if people paid more, perhaps they would begin complaining about their Government’s lack of traffic control knowledge and insurance companies accessing their driving records. And there would certainly be less of those gigantic, stupid freekin’ trucks on the road.

          • October 25, 2011 at 10:18 am

            I hear you, Doug – but, seriously, a car like the Fiat 500 is only slightly larger overall and isn’t exactly a hard car to find a parking spot for in an urban environment. Sure, the Smart can squeeze into spots that even a Fiat can’t – but we’re not talking about a Cadillac Escalade vs. a subcompact. We’re talking two extremely subcompact cars, one being just a bit more subcompact than the other.

            Gas mileage-wise, it’s almost a dead heat. The Smart is rated 33/41, the 500 30/38. Hardly noticeable and I bet the Smart would use more gas on the highway, in real world use, because it would have to work harder to maintain its speed. But even if not, a 3 MPG difference either way isn’t much of a difference, even at $5 or $6 a gallon. But if you have to buy (and feed and insure) a second car because the Smart car can’t carry more than one passenger, etc. then how much money have you saved? That $12k you just spent on the Smart (plus the insurance plus the additional related costs) could pay for a lot of gas…

            Again, if the car works for you, that’s great!

            But I can’t see any reason to recommend it to my readers, which is why I haven’t.

  7. 3Deuce27
    October 24, 2011 at 5:23 am

    Having owned several new Fiats _850 Coupe(Abarth) and convertible_ and an X1-9, I loved the quirky little road demons.

    I was, however, a bit disappointed when I test drove the new ’500′, but will probably buy the Cabrio or Abarth when they are available.

    They sure seem popular, with many now on the roads in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, in just a few months of availability.

    Regarding ‘Smart’ car… small target for big vehicles. I have been driving small cars all my driving days, and a Miata since new in 93′, I also ride Bikes and Scoots(Motorcycles), so yes, you do have to drive defensively because people just don’t see them. I can’t tell you the number of times I have nearly gotten it in the Miata. The saving grace for these vehicles is, quick handling and braking, and rapid acceleration for the scoots. Bicycles… you better just pay attention and don’t do anything real stupid.

    Kool site Eric and a very good write-up on the Fiat.

    • October 24, 2011 at 10:14 am

      Thanks, Deuce – good to have you with our little group!

  8. October 28, 2011 at 3:03 am

    I think Fiat/ Chrysler is here to stay. Fiat was able to acquire a controlling stake in Chrysler for basically nothing, and access to a very large market; and they have a lot to offer, I think: that combination of original design, affordability and driving fun, for which Fiat is famous, at least in Europe, and South America, (where they enjoy a good market share). They can also take what’s best among American cars and offer it to Europe, as a common platform, (for example, Fiat just launched the Chrysler 300 in Europe, under the Lancia luxury brand). In other words, they’re not shy to mix the dna’s
    of the companies, like, for example Daimler was, (which didn’t want to damage the pedigree of Mercedes, by sharing components with Chrysler). I read an interview with Marchionne, (Italo-Canadian CEO of Fiat-Chrysler) in which he was talking about a Maserati powered Jeep. I think the future of Chrysler is interesting. If you read the Italian papers, everybody is afraid Fiat will leave Italy, (where now they produce less than they do in Poland and Brasil); but I think Fiat presence in the U.S. is now more secure than it ever was.
    Good site Mr. Peters.
    L. Pavese

    • October 28, 2011 at 10:14 am

      Hi LP!

      I hope Fiat makes it, too. That 500 is – my opinion – the best car available of its type (and at its price point) on the market right now. Only a bit more than a no-personality econo-box; much less than something similarly fun like a Mini Cooper. I couldn’t find anything not to like about it – except that the nearest dealer is two hours away in NC!

  9. Roanokejoe
    November 30, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    OK, here’s my thinking. Is it wise to buy the first product year of ANY car? All we have to go on is reputation withe Fiat, and that reputation ain’t good. Sure, it may drive like a dream now, but will it be a hunk of junk that falls apart in two years? This is scary stuff, man.

    • November 30, 2011 at 4:13 pm

      Generally, I agree. But in this case, the 500 is only “new” to this market; they’ve been selling the same car in Europe for some time and it appears to be ok.

      • Roanokejoe
        November 30, 2011 at 4:38 pm

        Not to be too much of a smarty britches, but what sources are you citing about quality ratings in the European models? Where can I go to read about this?

        • November 30, 2011 at 6:00 pm

          I didn’t cite any quality ratings! I just said that Fiat sells well in Europe and that implies they’re probably ok since I doubt the Europeans are more tolerant of poor quality cars than we are. But, I don’t know. I’m not familiar with what the various European governments do as far as reporting defects or ordering recalls, but probably the info is available if you wanted to find out….

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