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Sunday, June 24, 2012

We drive the new Fiat 500 at Road Atlanta.

By Miguel Caparros With John Montgomery
  After the buy out of Chrysler by Fiat, it was only a matter of time before we would once again see some mainstream cars from the giant Italian company in the US, besides the Ferrari's. That is correct the Fiat and Ferrari are made by the same company. This is another modern car that takes styling cues from its name from the 1960's Fiat 500.
Just like the new Beatle and the Mini Cooper there is nothing in common with the old and the new except a similar shape and profile. This is a completely modern car in every way and has some very advanced engine management technology directly developed for Ferrari's Formula 1 racing team. Many comparisons are being made with the Mini, although similar in size they are not in the same price category, the Fiat ranges in price from $15,500 for the base model and $19,000 for a fully loaded model like the one we drove. 
This car belongs to John Montgomery President of the Fiat Lancia Unlimited Club FLU, and a big thanks to Cynthia Meitle of CAR PR USA for Introducing me to John. He was on our radio show last week and since he was coming to The Mitty at Road Atlanta where I would be, we got together and he let me drive his car. 
John said it best "if you are a fugitive or in the witness protection program, don't buy this car". Every time we stopped, a crowd would gather around the car. They asked to sit in it and if John would let them drive it. John accommodated just about every one. If he had come to the Mitty with ten new cars to sell, they would have been all gone in the first hour. That is just how positive everyone, including me, feel about this little car. This car is cute, men like it and women adore it. I am not easily impressed but I must admit that the Fiat 500 exceeded my expectations by a very wide margin. At first glance I look at the fit of the panels and the smoothness and shine of the paint, it is better than most, and on par with cars that cost much more, like the MINI and the VW, much more expensive cars. Opening the wide door you are greeted by a very nice bucket seat with height and back adjustments and seat cushions wider than the European version to accommodate our larger butts and shoulders.(copy-write that as a possible brand for something) Once in the seat the room is very ample for my 6 foot 225lbs size 12 shoes. The ample width and height makes the car feel bigger, and that can be attributed to the large airy cabin. Instead of stretching out you sit as in a minivan, seats at a comfortable height like a dining room chair. That height transfers to the rear seat also. I initially sat in the backseat, behind my six foot tall assistant Jenifer, the space was adequate for medium distance for some one my size that says a lot! The truly incredible part is that it also has a usable trunk and when you fold down the rear seats you could carry some serious cargo! 
Getting into the drivers seat. First thing you notice is the complete integration of all the instruments,gauges, and control indicators in to the round digital display in front of the driver the washer wiper stalk on the right side of the column ha a button to page through the menu options from trip meters to fuel mileage monitors. The model we drove also had Cirrus satellite and blue tooth pairing and will completely integrate your phone and call list onto the vehicles hard drive. It is also voice activated and will read your text and email messages for you. All in a very unassuming clean look. The steering wheel is also trick, with controls for radio, climate controls, and phone functions.
So how does it drive. To say I am a believer puts it into perspective. The power with 3 adults and Johns luggage and literature in the trunk was very acceptable. The 1.4 litter engine puts out 101 horsepower and has a pleasing growl and is very smooth. The shifter for the 5 speed feels very, dare I say it, Ferrari like. The spring load on the shift gate was a little stiffer than I like and it may soften up as the car breaks in. Johns car is so fresh that it barely had 300 miles on it. The adjustable suspension has a normal and sport mode, normal is firm and not jarring at all, switch to the sport mode it also changes the engine mapping and firms the suspension up a little bit more, still comfortable. The handling on the roads was really pleasing and very sure footed.
There is so much more and so many details but this is a Digest. I like it, and with a starting price of $15,500 and fuel mileage in the high 30's to low 40's it is an economical drivers car that does not make you feel that you compromised in any way. It even has features such as the hill holder and an optional 6 speed automatic, standard 5 star crash rating with seven air bags. When Fiat gets more cars out we will do a longer term test and take it out and get the performance numbers on the track. Yes an Abarth Performance model is supposed to come in to the market with 170 horsepower. Check back on Teaser Link as I post more of the video we shot while driving John's car. 


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