The diminutive Fiat 500, a hip, retro, well-received subcompact car in Europe and one often compared in character and style to the Mini Cooper, will be the first of the Italian automaker’s modern offerings to reach the United States. In the wake of Fiat’s becoming a 20 percent owner of the newly reorganized Chrysler, company officials have said to expect the 500 in about 18 months, allowing time for federal emissions and safety certification.
Like the Mini, the 500 is an updated incarnation of an iconic original, but with modern safety and emissions equipment and more of the conveniences buyers expect these days. It borrows retro styling cues from the original, although both have grown considerably since their namesakes made their debuts in the late 1950s. Like the Mini, the 500 offers seating for four, although it is even more compact. Overall length is about seven inches shorter, and it weighs roughly 2200 pounds in European trim--about 500 pounds less than the Mini.
However, unlike the Mini, the 500 is offered only as a two-door hatchback, although a convertible top version was announced earlier this year. And unlike the original 500, the new one has a front engine and front-wheel drive.
The original 500, referred to as the Cinquecento in Italian got its name from the size of its engine, an air-cooled two-cylinder displacing just 479 cubic centimeters, which was fairly common among other cheap urban European runabouts of half a century ago. To put that in perspective, some scooters have engines this size.
While several engines including both diesel and gasoline variants are offered for the 500 in other markets, it is too soon to know what to anticipate for the American market. But it is reasonable to expect a four-cylinder powerplant with sufficient power to merge onto and cruise along our interstate highways.
As far as style is concerned, the 500 is offered elsewhere in twelve different exterior colors, including pastel, metallic, and pearl finishes according to the Fiat Web site. Checkerboard paint schemes are also available, and the interior accommodates four passengers on a variety of seating fabrics and leather.
Perhaps in effort to one-up the Volkswagen New Beetle’s built-in flower vase, or maybe just to freshen the air for a quartet of closely cozied up passengers, the 500 sports a fragrance dispenser.
We look forward to buying and testing a 500, and other new offerings of the new Chrysler Group, as soon as they become available.