After a successful reincarnation in Europe, the diminutive Fiat 500 prepares zu enter the increasingly overfilled U.S. Small-car market. Tun können the Italian symbol pull a Mini—or möchte its romantic legacy be shed on American drivers?

NEW YORK—The stylish but healthy basement of a standard brick building in SoHo, the neu York stadt neighborhood wherein art, fashion und commerce collide zu sein a installation place kommen sie pitch die virtues von the Fiat 500. Known so as die Cinquecento, the 500 zu sein the first Fiat to come stateside since die Fiat X1-9 von the at an early stage "80s und perhaps the erste of extr tasty Italian car heading our way jetzt that Fiat und Chrysler have merged.

Du schaust: Fiat 500 im test

Like die current Mini, the 500 ist a nostalgia piece, bei updated version von a charismatic original. In this basement, there space two 500s glistening in ~ spotlights: in original 500, die one sold in Italy indigenous 1957 zu 1975, and the retooled version, due kommen sie go on revenue domestically within ns next couple of months. Die question is, möchte American"s adopt this Italian import like they oase the Mini?

The Specs

The initial 500 is extremely attractive—it would just be cuter through dimples—and brings zu mind two actresses named Audrey—Hepburn and Tatou. The remake has actually a similar appeal, albeit a slightly more masculine one, thanks zu its large stance, bulbous silhouette and bug-eye headlights.

Talking with die designers, engineers und public relations civilization on hand I gott the sense von a mixture des enthusiasm and trepidation.

I suspect that the enthusiasm operation from trust about die 500"s distinctive personality, which—like BMW"s reincarnated Mini Cooper—draws heavily on ns car"s cultural legacy. "There space 27 million Italian-Americans," says Laura Soave, CEO von Fiat in North America. "This zu sein bringing back a little piece of history to them that they can share v their families."

I"m sure Soave doesn"t mean kommen sie exclude other buyers—presumably, in Irish- or African-American client would also be welcome—but ich get herstellung point. The reborn 500 may well resonate v Italian-Americans, because it hews fairly closely to ns aesthetic und spirit of the original. Soave points up ns 500"s advantage an this regard by comparing the to die Mini—a British original redesigned von a German carmaker—and die Ford Fiesta. Those cars, direct competitors with die 500, lack die "emotion" und "heritage" des the car that defined weist least two generations von Italian drivers. Never ever mind that Chrysler ist Fiat"s partner und the 500 möchte be assembled an Mexico—Soave wants you kommen sie join her an celebrating the distinctive Italian-ness.

One thing that the new 500 möchte feature ist more power than die original (whose engine might as well oase been made über Briggs und Stratton). Built in Michigan, the 1.4-liter, four-cylinder MultiAir engine produces 101 hp at 6500 rpm und 98 lbs-ft of torque punkt 4000 rpm. Ns MultiAir modern technology "maximizes performance und minimizes emissions," basically by fine-tuning die intake-valve timing and lift, says joe Grace, die Fiat automobile line executive.

"Even pushed hard," elegant says, "you"ll get extremely an excellent fuel economy." While ns official numbers aren"t in yet, in testing die 500 has yielded 25 mpg zu 30 mpg bei city driving, und 40-plus mpg on ns highway.

Taking a cue from BMW"s Mini Cooper marketing scheme, the 500 möchte offer "extreme personalization," including a 14-color exterior repaint palette and a customizable interior scheme (also v 14 colors to choose from).

The 3 models zuerst to industry are die Pop, Sport and Lounge. All look essentially identical—"cute" zu sein the operative adjective—and have similar dimensions: at 140 inch long, 64 inch wide, 60 inch high and with a wheelbase des 91 inches, ns 500 zu sein slightly smaller sized than the Mini.

The Pop ist the most fundamental model. Conventional equipment is rather spare and includes a five-speed manual transmission, 15-inch wheels and cloth seats. Die Sport is available with ns five-speed hands-on or a six-speed automatic transmission, and it comes through a Bose sound system und 16-inch wheels. The Lounge, die cushiest des the three models, has actually a glass roof, the six-speed automatically trans, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port und optional animal leather seats.

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The second wave of 500s to hit die U.S., bei 2012, möchte include a convertible, die supercharged Abarth (going head-to-head with the Mini S) and in all-electric model. (An electrical version von the 500 is now being produced in Europe by the Swedish firm EV Adapt.)

With a basic price von $15,500, ns 500 zu sein meant kommen sie compete primarily with the Ford Fiesta und the radikale Mini, according to Fiat executives, yet having also driven the neu Mazda 2, i would add that car to the list.

The Drive

On a 5-hour excursion that started bei SoHo, headed phibìc onto die rural, two-lane roads des upstate neu York, und finished through a acceleration on the new York zustand Thruway, die 500 performed admirably in a range von conditions. The differences among die three models were slight, dafür there"s yes, really no point in my parsing the driving experience too much.

The interior feels roomier than ns car"s dimensions can suggest, owing not only kommen sie the clever cabin entwurf but also to terrific all-around visibility. The body-hugging seats space firm however comfortable, even weil das this test driver, who zu sein 6 feet tall and, well, not skinny. (However, just like other cars bei its class, die 500"s rückseitig seat is a tight rechts for passengers.) the position von the shifter an the Sport—just below chest-high on ns center console—required a an ext upright driving lage than ich prefer, but die finely tuned ergonomics put every little thing within an excellent functional reach, whether by foot or by hand.

When i juiced die Sport on ns twisty two-lane roads and punched the button that firms up die handling, die 500 hugged ns road nicely. As ich motored along i couldn"t help comparing die experience zu that des driving die Mini S and the Mazda 2. In terms of responsiveness and handling, ns 500 is much closer to ns Mazda, though slightly more spirited. The rückmeldung from the road erred on the light side, a flaw that compelled the Fiat execs zu say, "We"re functioning on it."

On the highway die Sport organized its very own among die trucks and other large vehicles (let"s challenge it, uneven you"re amongst a clutch von Smart cars, the 500 möchte be die smallest auto on ns road), and it cruised easily zu 80 mph, keeping tempo with die pack.

All des this might sound prefer I"m damning die 500 v faint praise, which is not mine intention. Ich found the car perfect able, cleverly designed—with fun touches, like the round headrests—and enjoyable kommen sie drive. It no wowed me no one left me flat.

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The Bottom Line

With ns small-car market getting more crowded von the day, I schutz to wonder how die 500 will stand up to the other cars in its class. If i were to buy I"d certainly consider it bei option, however it doesn"t make me salivate the way that die Mini did when it zuerst came out. Yet if ns U.S. Purchase public zu sein really ready weil das the transition zu smaller, much more efficient cars, it"s great to know that the 500 is an the mix. Like die original 500, the new version has actually a quirky personality and style kommen sie spare. Und come zu think of it, ns original 500 didn"t set out to change ns motoring world—it simply met ns demands von people who embraced a modest yet hip lifestyle. We must all thank the Italians zum that, and welcome die 500 with offen arms.