Every year at the New York International Auto Show, the Saratoga Automobile Museum sets up a display of some of the finest classic cars. This year, the theme was “Italian” – and while there was no Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale do drool over, the collection did not disappoint.
When Fiat returned to North America in 2012 after a thirty year absence, Italian car enthusiasts rejoiced. What we got was the 500, a (very) small hatchback with a very big personality most cars in its class lack. Which was perfectly acceptable, but the problem was, unlike in Europe, most North Americans really had very little emotional attachment to the 500. On these shores, our fondest memories of Fiats past were the angular X1/9 Targa and the 124 Spider. In fact, during its run from 1966 to 1982, more 124 Spiders were sold in North America than in Europe. After a two year run being sold as a Pinninfarina, the car was gone, for what we assumed was forever.
Come the 21st century, Mazda teamed up with Alfa Romeo to share the costs of developing a replacement for the MX-5, and giving Alfa Romeo its own two seater, rear wheel drive sports car. However, it was later decided that Alfa Romeos should only be built in Italy. Yet with Fiat, this already wasn’t an issue, and the brand seriously needed a halo car. Thus, the 124 Spider was to be reborn, but this time built in Japan, on an MX-5 platform. What could we expect?
Some people jokingly call the Spider a ‘Fiata’, but the truth is, the Spider has a unique look all its own. At the time I had the test car, I actually owned a 1981 Fiat Spider. Parked side by side, it became instantly clear that Fiat designers took many cues from the original. The double hood bulge, ‘scalloped’ headlights, and the upkick just behind the doors are all classic elements. Yet this is by no means an exercise in retro design. The 124 Spider looks thoroughly modern. Most importantly to Fiat fans, although based on Japanese underpinnings, the Spider looks distinctly Italian.
Stepping inside, it becomes immediately clear you are sitting in a close relative of the MX-5. One glance and it is plain to see the gauge cluster is straight from Mazda. The same goes for the infotainment system and display, which is unfortunate, as the rest of the Fiat family uses the superior system sourced from Chrysler. Unique to the Spider is its own steering wheel, which is a delight to hold. Although the cars share seat frames, the Fiat has different padding, which was comfortable and did a fine job holding me in place. As in any two seat roadster, the cabin is snug, and larger driver’s might not find it ideal. There’s no glove box, the ‘cupholder’ is a joke, and unlike my old Spider, there’s no parcel shelf behind the seats to conveniently toss a bag. Finally, if you are hoping to keep the Italian vibe going, skip the black pictured above. Fiat offers a saddle interior, and the color chosen would compare to what you would find in a 1960’s Ferrari. With the contrasting black dash top and stainless trim, it shouts Italian style.
An important feature that distinguishes the 124 from the MX-5 is that Fiat brings its own engine to the party. In this case, it is a turbocharged 1.4L four, lifted from the 500 Abarth, rated at 160hp. Buyers can choose between a six speed manual or automatic. You want the manual. Although it is not the latest MX-5 box (it couldn’t handle the torque from the turbo), it is an absolute joy to snick through the gears. While the Spider is a perfectly livable car doing the daily commute and cruising along the shore, the car truly does not come unto its own until you find a country road. With the top down, I headed to the northeast corner of Connecticut, carving my way through roads in the woods dotted by roadside lakes, gleefully pushing it into corners. Now, the Spider was in its element. Impeccable handling, confidence inspiring brakes and telekinetic steering all combine for a sublime driving experience. Allegedly tuned slightly softer than the MX-5, the upside is after a day of spirited driving and making the trip back home, I arrived feeling perfectly refreshed.
The 124 Spider can be had in three flavors-the spartan Classica, the luxe Lusso, and the more aggressively tuned Abarth. Our test car was the Lusso. With option packages including the Convenience Group (auto dimming rearview and exterior mirrors, heated exterior mirrors, rear park assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, alarm, universal garage door opener), Visibility Group (auto levelling LED headlights, headlight washers), and Sound and Navigation Group (GPS nav, nine speaker Bose audio and XM satellite radio). Including destination, our 124 Spider has an MSRP of $32,375USD.
Being built on an MX-5 chassis, there was never really a question of whether the 124 Spider would be a fun car to drive. For enthusiasts, particularly this one who owned an original 124 Spider, was if the new, Japanese built car carried on the spirit. In sum, this new Spider very much does carry on the spirit of the original in a modern package with the available technology and safety features that were once unimaginable. And of course, the inevitable comparison of the Spider and the MX-5 upon which it is based The Garage has not driven the new MX-5, but with the Spider being slightly heavier and more softly sprung, the Spider is considered a more relaxed car, especially over long distances, with the MX-5 favored if going on the track or regular, intense canyon carving is your forte. Regardless, we should all consider ourselves lucky that whichever your preference for a two seat sports car, you can choose what suits your needs.
The subject seldom is raised here, but when we’re not test driving new cars, what exactly do we here at The Garage actually drive? Well, for me, the latest addition is the 1981 Fiat 124 Spider seen above. Ok, you might be thinking that’s a slightly unusual choice, how did I come to arrive at this decision? Have I yearned for one for years? Did I spend months researching and shopping until I found the right one? No, of course not. This is a journey that started 25 years ago.
Yes readers, that is me at age 18 with my 1986 Alfa Romeo Spyder. Ah, to be young and own a car like that! I loved that car, and I have many memories I still cherish today. Then one cruel winter in Lancaster, Pennsylvania while I was in college we were hit with a terrible blizzard. When I was finally able to get to my car, I started her up, and within a couple minutes the parking lot was filled with smoke. It had gotten so cold the engine block cracked, and that was the end of my time with my beloved Alfa Romeo.
A few years had passed. I graduated, got a job, bought a house, got married. I had some extra money, and I wanted to buy a classic sports car. My first thought was a Fiat X1/9. Designed by Bertone, the X1/9 was a wedge-shaped, mid engine, targa topped sports car, and it was affordable. When I was a kid, my cousin had one, and I thought it was one cool ride. My wife shot that idea down, and we ended up getting an MG Midget. Still a fun car, but my appetite for an Italian sports car had not been quenched.
Time continued marching on. After a few years, the MG was sold to make room for another dream car of mine, a Porsche 911 (still have it!). We had a child, and sadly, a divorce. After the dust had settled, I had a realization. There’s no one to tell me I can’t buy a car if I want it! (This is either very good or potentially very bad, depending how you look at it).
I was looking for inexpensive transportation, but it had to be something interesting and a little quirky. Did I want another Saab? Something luxurious like a Volvo S80? Could I find an Audi Coupe GT? Another Alfa Romeo? On the other side of town at a shop that mostly works on Saabs and Volvos sat this little Fiat. I had stopped to look at it awhile ago just to eyeball it.
After Christmas, I decided I owed myself a nice present, so I returned to have another look, drove her, and bought her on the spot. Yes, I finally got my wish of once again owning a little Italian sports car, but I tend to get emotional about certain cars, and I couldn’t stand the thought of this pretty car languishing on a lot somewhere. She needed to be rescued, and after seeing her sit, it became clear that person was going to be me.
So, what’s s the story of the Fiat 124 Spider? Introduced at the 1966 Turin Auto Show, the Spider followed the recipe of most affordable sports cars of its day-take the chassis and running gear of your low cost volume car (in this case the Fiat 124 sedan) and bolt on an attractive body and off you go. MG and Triumph had been doing this for years, and while they looked dainty and oh so British, well, Fiat did it their way, because, well, they’re Italian. Famed design house Pininfarina was hired to not only design the car’s gorgeous lines, but also to build the car as well. If the 124 Spider looks like a miniature Ferrari 275 GTS, well, the resemblance is intentional. However, this car was more than just a pretty face. With four wheel disc brakes, a five-speed manual and an aluminum twin cam engine designed by ex-Ferrari engineer Aurelio Lampredi. Nothing exotic about that today, but in 1966, that was exceptional. The British roadsters the Fiat would compete against packed all the innovation of a farm tractor in comparison.
The 124 Spider would go on to live a long, successful run. Fiat even took the Spider rallying, and was pretty successful at it. Like its competition though, once it came out, the car more or less ran the course of its life unchanged. The only noticeable changes were to keep up with tightening US safety and emission regulations. We all know how this story ends. Fed up with rust issues and temperamental electronics, American buyers revolted, and Fiat threw up their arms and left in 1982. But, since Pininfarina was building the car, they took over sales, support and marketing in America until 1985. Why did they stop? Well, they needed to retool the factory for the next car they were contracted to build called the Cadillac Allante.
After such a long production run with few changes, there are still two camps of what the ‘preferred’ Spider is. One prefers the earlier cars, with no smog equipment and thin, elegant bumpers. Few will argue the post-1975 cars, with its larger bumpers and increased ride height was an improvement, the other camp will contest the ’81-’82 cars offer the best drivability thanks to Bosch electronic fuel injection.
Which brings me back to my ’81 Spider. Yes, she’s a little rough around the edges. Yes, there is rust (in 1979, Fiat switched to cheaper Soviet steel which did not help). The all original interior is pretty tired. The fuel pump quit days after I bought her, and after being replaced, was sent back to the shop due to a bad ground in the fuel tank. And even with a new wiper motor, it continues to be a struggle to have cooperating windshield wipers. The ergonomics are a complete joke, and at night the headlights have all the luminescence of your grandmother’s 40 year old Radio Shack flashlight.
But that’s life with a 35 year old Italian sports car. And last week, Connecticut’s weather finally decided to embrace spring. Down went the top in one fell swoop. The Spider is actually a roomy, comfortable car to ride in as long as you’re ok with the classic Italian arms out, knees up driving position. The 5-speed is a joy to shift. The revvy twin cam happily pulls right up to redline, and oh, only the Italians can make an engine sound that good. Cruising the back roads in an old Fiat Spider is good enough to forgive a multitude of sins.
It was that moment, with a grin that could not be wiped off my face, that I fully appreciated my twenty two year drought without an Italian sports car was over. It is an experience that is difficult to summarize; it must be experienced to be appreciated. This journey is just beginning, and the work that needs to be done to bring her back to glory will go slowly, but for now, my intent is to simply enjoy her, which was the Spider’s original purpose since 1966.
Most any Italian car fan in North America had to be excited about the return of Fiat to these shores, and here at The Garage we could hardly contain our excitement. The Fiat 500 adds Italian style and flair in our subcompact car market that’s been missing for some time. However, the car’s tiny footprint meant limited interior and cargo space. With the Fiat 500L, those concerns are addressed while still maintaining the spirit off the 500. This is a formula that has worked for decades with Fiat, and with the added versatility of an extra two doors and added space, Fiat should certainly be in a position to broaden their appeal here in North America.
The 2014 Fiat 500L will go on sale in the US in June, 2013, with a starting price of $19,100USD. All 500L’s share the same drivetrain, a 1.4L four cylinder turbo rated at 160hp. Buyers can choose from a six-speed manual or six-speed dual clutch transmission. All 500Ls are front-wheel drive only; all-wheel drive is not an option at this time. The 500L is offered in four trim levels, detailed below. Prices do not include $800 destination charges.
Fiat 500L Pop: $19,100
The entry level 500L Pop offers standard equipment we’ve come to expect from most cars, namely air conditioning, power windows and locks, and cruise control. Add to that list a six speaker stereo, trip computer, Bluetooth, and a 5″ touchscreen with UConnect.
Fiat 500L Easy: $20,195
Adds 16″ alloy wheels, deep-tint rear glass, leather steering wheel and shift knob, body color mirror caps, center console with armrest and premium audio. With a buyer-friendly price and equipment most buyers desire, I expect the 500L Easy to account for the majority of sales.
Fiat 500L Trekking: $21,195
The 500L Trekking (pictured below) doesn’t provide any additional creature comforts over the 500L Easy, as the changes here are mostly cosmetic. Featuring 17″ alloys, foglights, two-piece front and rear fascias and a lot of grey trim, the 500L Trekking ‘s mission seems to hope to appeal to outdoorsy, active lifestyle types, even if it doesn’t offer any additional utility from any other 500L.
Fiat 500L Lounge: $24,195
The 500L Lounge (pictured at top) picks up where the Easy left off, adding upscale touches like chrome trim, leather seats, heated power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, and an auto dimming rear view mirror. Step up to the Lounge though, and the six-speed manual is not available.
But wait, there’s more. In an interesting marketing/sales twist, Fiat is offering all 500Ls in Easy, Trekking and Lounge trims with the $1,700 Premier Package at no charge for the first year of production. Included are a larger 6.5″ touchscreen, ParkSense rear parking assist, back-up camera, and navigation. Stay tuned to The Garage for a review of the 500L as soon as one becomes available to us!
Ah, come on, we all saw this coming, didn’t we? In an article from Wards, the good word is there will be an automatic offered in the Abarth. In an interview with Fiat North America president Tim Kuniskis, the company didn’t perceive any demand for an automatic Abarth, but that has not been the case. The vast majority of Abarth sales are to males, but with the upcoming drop top 500C Abarth, it is expected the car will win over more interest from women buyers, most of whom may not be interested in shifting for themselves.
That may be true, but the reality is fewer and fewer drivers know, or are interested in rowing through the gears. At a racetrack gathering of the automotive press, I saw a young man gaze longingly at the row of cars Honda and Acura brought along. He sighed, and said to his companion: “This stinks, all the cars they brought are manuals. And this is from a car journalist! If an automatic keeps the already strong selling Abarth going, then who can complain. After all, no one threatened to riot when the MINI Cooper S had an automatic offered all along.
With the lovable MINI Cooper, parent company BMW has shown that you can effectively market and sell a small, fun to drive, retro chic car in North America and find a captive, loyal audience. “Hold on”, you may be thinking, “isn’t this about a Fiat?” Of course it is. My point here is that Fiat is borrowing heavily from MINI’s marketing playbook. And how can you blame them? It worked. MINI showed that you can build a brand around one iconic car reborn as a modern conveyance, yet still full of character. Fiat started with the standard 500, then added the 500C with its clever peel back canvas roof. The third member of the Fiat 500 family is the Abarth, and trust me, if you have an enthusiast bent, this is the one you want.
When the Fiat 500 arrived here in 2011 as a 2012 model, hopes were high-50,000 cars sold in the US high. It didn’t happen. At the end of 2011, just under 20,000 500’s found homes in America. What happened? Well, blame history. See, the Mini Cooper was officially imported for a small period of time in North America, and poof, it was gone. Just a memory of an endearing car. And MINI returned to North America with parent BMW, so confidence was high. Fiat left North America in disgrace in 1980 with a horrible reputation for rust and reliability issues. In other words, the buying public just wasn’t sure what to expect-so they hesitated.
So along comes the Abarth-the high performance, and costliest Fiat 500 available. With a reality check from last year sales, Fiat went ultra-conservative on sales predictions, with maybe 1,000 takers for the year. When Fiat started taking orders in April, boom-1,000 orders. Fiat tripled to max capacity of the Abarth at its Mexico plant to 3,000 cars. And after a mere two months on the market, Fiat announced the 500 Abarth was sold out for 2012.
So, you may ask, what is the attraction? To the casual passer-by, you might not be able to distinguish the Abarth from lesser 500’s. The Abarth sits lower, and features its own unique front fascia (to make room for the intercoolers). Every inch a 500, Fiat has still managed to take out the cute chic retro car features. Note the lack of chrome, and ultra cool mod paint colors to choose from. The chrome is more subtle, and colors are restricted to white, grey, black or red. Our test car’s black 17″ alloys, offset by red brake calipers looked most proper here, and leaves no mistake this is not the cutesy Fiat 500 for twentysomething fashionistas.
Inside, the 500 Abarth appears similar to other 500’s, but closer inspection reveals some subtle, but noteworthy differences. The Abarth leather steering wheel is a joy to hold, and the red stitching on the wheel, shifter, e-brake handle and dash cap add a sporty and luxurious touch to the cabin of what started life as an economy car. In addition to the turbo boost gauge, you will also notice Fiat has ditched the retro font for the center gauge cluster in exchange for a more modern look. The gorgeous and supportive sport seats on our test car was icing on the cake. But as in all 500’s, you do have a high seating position, and sit fairly upright. I had no problem getting comfortable at the helm, however.
So we’ve confirmed the Abarth looks the part inside and out, but that’s nothing if the performance isn’t there to back up the promise the package offers. The Abarth is powered by a 1.4L MultiAir turbocharged four, rated at 160hp. A five-speed manual is the only available transmission, so if you can’t work three pedals, you don’t get to play. At 160hp, that may not sound like much, as cars like the MINI Cooper S and VW GTI easily surpassing that figure. Keep in mind the Abarth is smaller and lighter, and that makes up for a lack of horsepower. Fuel economy figures of 28/34 MPG city/highway are impressive for a hot hatch.
But talking about the numbers here misses the point completely. I make a terrific alfredo sauce, and I could show you the recipe. You would see the ingredients and measurements, yet never know how it tastes. And so it is with the Abarth. Turn the key and the car emits a glorious bark, settling into a tense idle. It is perhaps the greatest sounding four cylinder engine I have ever heard. In the Abarth, it is nearly impossible to resist blipping the throttle, downshifting when you don’t really need to, just to hear that exhaust note. Yes, the Abarth is quick off the line, offers plenty of grip and a firm, but hardly bone-jarring ride. Sure, the GTI will likely run circles around the Abarth, but in comparison, the execution is so clinical. The Abarth is not perfect, but is so full of soul and character it is impossible to resist its charm, and that seductive siren of an exhaust note.
So, what is the price of admission for this mini Italian hot hatch? A very reasonable $22,000USD, and well-equipped. Our test car added Performance Leather seats, the Safety & Convenience Package (auto climate control, XM satellite radio, alarm), red mirror caps, TomTom GPS navigation (skip this) and 17″ painted alloys. Including delivery, our Fiat 500 Abarth rang in at $26,200. If we’re comparing, a GTI and MINI Cooper S start at a good $2,000 more than the Abarth’s base price.
I feel the success of the Abarth in North America is a well-deserved boost of confidence to Fiat as it still is finding its way on the other side of the Atlantic. I understand this is the car the real Italian car fans were holding out for, us ex Fiat and Alfa Romeo drivers who appreciated that Italian driving goodness could be attained in an affordable package. Fiat was smart to recognize the Abarth name would only resonate with car geeks like myself in America, so why not hire bad-ass Charlie Sheen and Romanian supermodel Catrinel Menghia to promote their hottest ride? And, it worked. The 2013 Abarths will soon be available. My advice? Take your place in line, and you will thank me the moment you turn the key. It’s that good.
Instead of a convention center at an international auto show, Fiat chose Concorso Italiano, a huge Italian car show in gorgeous Monterey, California during the week of the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’elegance to take the wraps off of the newest member of the 500 family, the Fiat 500 Turbo. The 500 Turbo essentially bridges the gap between the 500 Sport and the more intense 500 Abarth.
The heart of the 500 Turbo is in the engine bay, of course, where you will find a 1.4L turbocharged, intercooled four cylinder rated at 135hp, paired to a five-speed manual. Despite the extra oomph, Fiat predicts 34MPG on the highway. Visually, the 500 Turbo makes itself known with a unique front fascia, side skirts, blacked out headlight and parking light bezels, spoiler and rear diffuser. A sport tuned exhaust and beefed up suspension round out the package. The 2013 Fiat 500 Turbo goes on sale this Fall with a starting price of $19,500USD.
When Fiat brought their retro-chic 500 to America in 2011, their goals were highly optimistic with projected sales at 50,000 cars. Fiat left America in the early 1980’s with a poor reputation of unreliability and cars easily susceptible to rust. As an untried brand in the US for decades and with a dealer network still in development Fiat fell far short of that lofty figure. When Fiat unveiled the 500 Abarth, just the opposite happened.
According to The Detroit News, Fiat is unable to accept anymore orders for the Abarth for 2012. You can still order one, but it will be a 2013 model, which won’t be available until Fall. With the Abarth, Fiat went very conservative with its sales projections. When the car went on sale in late April, there were already over 1,000 orders for the car, which is what Fiat thought they would sell for the entire 2012 model year. Based on the enthusiastic response to the Abarth, Fiat tripled production to 3,000 cars, but claims that was as many as they could build.
Powered by a 1.4L turbocharged four cylinder producing 160hp, paired to a five-speed manual with subtle bodywork and sport tuned suspension and steering, the Fiat 500 Abarth makes an interesting alternative to the MINI Cooper. The base price of $22,000USD certainly helped, and any Italian car fan worth his salt would be drawn to the Abarth mystique. So, if you want one, get in line.
What a ride it’s been at Chrysler these past few years. Neglected by parent Daimler and subsequent owner Cerberus, Chrysler was on the brink of collapse and on their knees in front of the US Congress begging for a bailout. Ironically, Fiat, a company who fled the US in the early 1980’s turned out to be Chrysler’s savior. And so far, the results have been encouraging. The bottom-feeder Dodge Avenger has been enormously improved. SRT is reviving the almighty Viper. The highly anticipated Dodge Dart with full Alfa Romeo DNA intact will be hitting showrooms soon.
There is no question that Chrysler had a myriad of problems, and it appears that Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is still at work at revamping the beleaguered company. According to a post from Autoblog, Marchionne confirmed the Jeep Compass will be killed off in 2014. In spite of its 2011 redesign which modeled itself after the Grand Cherokee, Jeep’s attempt at targeting young urban types-especially females appears to have fizzled. The more successful Patriot, which shares the same mechanicals to the Compass has sold far better, with more traditional Jeep styling, but it is unclear what the future of the Patriot is. Still, these cars are dinosaurs, based on the now extinct Dodge Caliber which was mercifully let go in favor of the upcoming Dart.
The next casualty is the Chrysler Town & Country minivan. The Dodge Grand Caravan remains, which makes sense since the Caravan was the first minivan. Ever. Kudos to Sergio Marchionne for telling Chrysler it makes no sense selling the exact same car under two brands. Brand engineering is what nearly ruined the American auto industry, so killing off the Town & Country makes perfect sense to me.
In other related news, it appears there will be an SRT high performance version of the Dodge Dart that will sit above the Dart R/T. No word yet on what will sit under the hood. In sum, I find the news from Chrysler encouraging as failing and redundant cars are cut off, and under the control of Fiat they definitely appear to be a more focused company. The future looks bright.
It is no secret that The Garage is excited about the return of Fiat to North America. While we have already spent valuable seat time and reviewed the 500C (C for Cabrio), we were still interested in spending a week with the stronger-selling standard 500 hatchback-especially a Sport model with a manual transmission. While it is true that Fiat 500 sales have not quite met company expectations, but from my perspective, it is not because of anything to do with the car itself. Instead, the slow build-up of exclusive Fiat Studios (do not call them dealers) and a wait-and-see approach by wary American car buyers are more to blame.
Business aside, the Fiat 500 looks fantastic, especially in Sport guise. To be sure, it is one of the smallest cars sold in the US, but at first glance it is easy to see the 500 is a far more practical choice than the Smart ForTwo or Scion iQ. As petite and cute the 500 may be, as a guy I never felt silly or self-conscious of myself driving or arriving anywhere in it. Quite the contrary. The 500 Sport features serious-looking 16″ alloys, red brake calipers, chrome exhaust tip and a rear spoiler to set it apart from plainer 500’s. While I have never cared for the color olive on any car, our 500 Sport finished in Verde Oliva (Olive Green) simply captivated me. While I joked that against the red brake calipers and center wheel trim the car recalled a rolling martini olive, the truth was I was in love with the looks of the 500. The mix of Italian retro with just the right amount of sport added, wrapped up in a color that was all about 1960’s mod and attitude pushed all the right buttons with me.
Opening the door to our 500 Sport test car, the Mod theme was still in full swing. With a huge swatch of the dash in olive green contrasted to gray and tobacco brown sport seats, the amount of style and swagger packed into such a tiny space impressed me to no end. If the cast of Mad Men needed an urban runabout, they would all buy Fiat 500 Sports that looked just like our test car. You feel just a little cooler than you really are just by being inside the 500.
The 500’s gauge cluster features one binnacle with a tachometer being the largest, with a smaller speedometer inside that, with an LCD display at the center. It’s a little unconventional, but fairly easy to get used to. I was disappointed that on the Sport, Fiat chose a rather plain, nondescript font for the numbers on the dials instead of the cool retro font I saw on our 500C. In the 500, the driver sits up high, sort of like in the original Saab 900. The Sport seats were comfortable and well-bolstered. The small, one-line LCD stereo display is only capable of displaying a limited amount of info, especially when you are tuned to SiriusXM satellite radio. Without a proper center armrest/console, the 500 lacks any option to conceal any belongings except for the glovebox. To make matters worse, the glovebox of our test car was already half full with an optional TomTom GPS navigation unit that pops into a port on top of the dash. It is easily the worst GPS unit I have ever come upon, and was essentially useless.
The 500 Sport is powered by a 1.4L four cylinder rated at 101hp. So no, you’re not going to impress the guys at Muscle Car night. But the 500 fires up with a hint of attitude, and equipped with our car’s standard 5-speed manual transmission, the car was a pleasure to scoot around town in, with just enough torque off the line and pep to enjoy yourself. On the highway you have to work the engine a bit, but it never complains, and the five-speed manual was a pleasure to shift. While I enjoyed our automatic-equipped 500C Lounge, the 500 Sport is easily my favorite, with quicker steering, firmed up suspension and the manual tranny making for a very rewarding experience at the wheel. And while I complained the 500C’s gas mileage was pretty unremarkable, our 500 Sport offered far more impressive EPA mileage figures of 30/38 MPG city/highway.
While the base Fiat 500 Pop starts at $15,500USD, the mid-range Sport with its appearance and handling enhancements start at $17,500. Standard equipment includes remote entry, cruise control, Bose stereo, Blue&Me hands-free communication, steering wheel audio controls, and trip computer. Our test car was optioned with the Safety & Convenience Package (auto climate control, alarm), Safety & Sound Package (SiriusXM satellite radio, and the gorgeous gray/brown interior), and the awful TomTom navigation. For the $400 Fiat is charging you for the nav, do yourself a favor and buy an iPhone. As equipped, and including destination charges, our Fiat 500 Sport cost a total of $19,000.
For buyers seeking a low-cost, frugal sub-compact car, the choices seem to be multiplying year by year, while in the past North American buyers seeking such a car were met with very limited choices, and not particularly great choices at that. But with the Fiat 500, we have a very good, and quite interesting choice. For sure, you can make your case that the Honda Fit or Nissan Versa offers far more practicality, and I would agree with you. For a subcompact driver’s car, the Mazda2 is a compelling, and cheaper alternative. Yet none of these cars come close to the charisma and character the 500 Sport has on tap. And compared to the equally charismatic MINI Cooper, the 500 is an absolute steal. In sum, you would be hard-pressed to find a car packing so much fun and personality at this price than the Fiat 500.
Sure, first year sales fell far short of Fiat’s expectations. But as any Italian will tell you, the perfect tomato sauce takes time, and being a newcomer in North America, the recipe for success is right, it will just take time.