2008 Fiat 500

A tour of Germany wouldn't be complete without test-driving some of Europe's forbidden fruits, now would it? In our case we just couldn't pass on the opportunity to sample Fiat's new retro mobile, the reborn Cinquecento. The Bamberg Fiat dealer was more than willing to let us grab the keys for a trip around the block given that we'd provide a little free publicity. So if you're ever in Germany and hankering for a Fiat, maybe think of Matthias Steinfurth at AutoHaus Wittig GmbH & Co. Let it never be said that we don't whore ourselves out to get behind a fancy steering wheel — we're just not cheap.


Kicking the tires:
First walk around the car is impressive, especially for the high-end models (€14,500). The 500's design is harmonious in every detail. This particular dealer is smart enough to have a vintage 500 right next to the new one; the size difference is astounding. We mistook the old 500 for a roller skate at first glance.

Warming the seats:
We're not ashamed to say that the interior is the best part of the nuova 500. The fit and finish is spectacular. The haptics should make the guys over at Lexus think twice about their quality. We know, we know, it sounds crazy, but it's really that good. One weird aspect is the lack of a traditional glove box. In its place is a Lotus Elise-like shelf. If you have your heart set on a place to store contraband, you can order a cool little storage box that goes under the passenger side seat bottom. Shockingly, if you put two six footers in the car, there's still plenty of legroom in the back. Rear headroom, on the other hand, is a struggle. Hopefully your friends are short or don't mind having their heads bash against the roof.

On the road:
Our tester was equipped with the top shelf petrol engine, a 1.4L 16-valve four pot good for a hundred horsepower and mated to a manual six speed. Even though the engine in the tester has the highest output currently available, (Abarth, you can toss us a tester any time) it's sort of a buzzy, lazy lump. Take off is peppy, but it's a flat experience after first gear. Engine braking is not a possibility as the RPMs just jump up to redline without actually providing any resistance. The car tosses into the corner happily, but the crappy tires on the test car protested loudly. We'd be interested to know how cars equipped with better shoes perform. Amusing for this segment is the "Sport" button. As far as we could tell, the purpose of the button was to light up the "Sport" indicator light, that's it.

Bottom Line:
The 500 is very pretty, very comfortable, a sipper of fuel, and great as a daily driver in the cramped streets of Europe. It will probably do very well considering the low price, handsome styling and three-page long options list. We're definitely smitten with the great interior and we like the packaging better than the Mini. If Fiat ever plans on bringing it over to the US, they'll need to rework that motor to have a chance of competing with the unter-Bimmer, but we see great possibilities in this little car.