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2012 Fiat 500 Review: First Drive

Fiat’s return to America heralded by the iconic Italian car

The road snakes steeply upward as we zip from corner to corner, whipping up gravel on the road’s edge, the local greenery fluttering in the car’s tiny wake as we nearly miss larger chunks of rock jutting out on the tightest of curves. Tuscany comes to mind, but this is not Italy. No, we’re in California.

The car, however, is Italian. A Fiat no less. In fact, we’re one of the lucky few to sample the very modern, yet fabulously nostalgic experience of piloting the first Fiat to be sold on these shores in 27 years.

A sign of the changing times, the Fiat 500, or the more fun to say ‘cinquecento’, might be evidence of America’s changing perceptions of small cars. More practically, however, it has come to market as the result of Chrysler’s savior Fiat, which took over the American auto giant and ensured its bankruptcy did not end in liquidation.

Gathered together at the Culy Warehouse in downtown San Diego to introduce the 500, the folks at Fiat North America are seemingly unaware of the brutal irony that this place could be mistaken for a mechanic’s garage.

Along with the usual breakdown of specifications, it’s surprising to learn just who Fiat intends to target with this new model. On the one hand, there’s the obvious lifestyle competitor, the MINI Cooper. On the other hand, there are cars like the Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris.

Spending a day behind the wheel reveals that while pricing is a factor, with the 500 bridging the gap between these two disparate types of small cars, there are numerous other ways the 500 delivers a compelling halfway point between the transportation you need and the fun car you really want.
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