Fiat Has Big Hopes for its Tiny Car
February 4, 2011
by Sam Smith

To know the Fiat 500 is to know its numbers.

Fifty-four years ago, Italy’s Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino produced a car the size of a large coffee table. It was three meters long, powered by a 479-cc engine and about as quick off the line as a riding lawnmower. It produced 13 horsepower, or roughly as much as a modern portable electric generator. America laughed — you could cram a 500 into the trunk of a ‘57 Cadillac, and crashing one was certain death — but the rest of the world just went ahead and bought the silly thing. Three-and-a-half million times.

Thirty-six years ago, that car was discontinued. Almost three decades ago, Fiat left America because it couldn’t suss what Americans wanted in a car. Six years ago, the firm revived the 500’s name and profile for a new model, a 3.5-meter-long subcompact. And four months ago, Fiat unveiled the U.S. version of that car, the first Fiat to be sold in America in 28 years.

  • The combined tachometer-speedometer instrument cluster is a busy mess, like reading War and Peace painted on the rim of a tea saucer.
  • The back seat, which requires contortions to enter, is cramped unless you’re under 5 feet 10 inches and have no legs.
  • You never forget you’re driving a goofy, 2-meter-tall golf cart, a Smart ForTwo built by people who actually like cars.
WIRED: Updated tech and standard comforts like A/C and cruise control means this ain’t your grandfather’s Fiat. Priced to move. Fuel economy is commendable. Has a unique, old-world charm that’s undeniably chic.

TIRED: Good enough for our market, but could have been — and the European version is — better. Goofy looks are more Benigni than Mastroianni. Taller folks will have to fold like an accordion to climb inside.

Full article at link.