May 24, 2013
Written by Steven Macoy
Thursday, 02 June 2011 11:06
It’s been 27 years since a showroom-fresh Fiat rolled into downtown Ridgefield … and, likely as not, came to an unscheduled stop somewhere short of its driver’s destination. But there they were on a warm evening in late May, five sparkling Fiats, lined up in the parking lot among the Cruise Night classics in front of Tony Di Preta’s Ridgefield Sports Shop on Danbury Road.
And every one of them made the drive from East Hartford without a hitch.
Fiat is back. And America has the recession of 2008-09, the bankruptcy of Chrysler Corp., and the bailout itch that animated the Bush and Obama administrations during those dark days, to thank for it.As part of the deal that saw Fiat save Chrysler by purchasing a controlling interest in the company, the venerable Italian automaker was to reintroduce itself to America’s driving public in the form of a fuel-stingy two-door minicar quite unlike anything else in the Chrysler lineup.
Di Preta arranged with Gengras Fiat of East Hartford to bring the 500s to Ridgefield for his weekly Cruise Night. We were able to take a quick test drive down Farmingville Road and back, but our dark blue (that’s Azzurro to you) Fiat 500c convertible took us back much, much further … to a test drive of a bright yellow Fiat 128 sedan in 1976.
The two Fiats, 35 years apart, made sensational first impressions. The retro-styled, cloth-top 500c handles crisply, with incredibly quick steering response and smooth, enthusiastic acceleration from a 101-horsepower Four that loves high RPMs. The ride is smooth and quiet, for a minicar, and leg room is ample for a 6-footer. It was these qualities that made the sale on the yellow 128.
Alas, the 128 was unreliable and prone to rust. The confidence Fiat has in the 500 — an Americanized version of a minicar that’s wildly popular overseas — is demonstrated by the car’s four-year, 50,0000-mile warranty and three years/36,000 miles of free maintenance.
The Fiat’s targets include the Mini Cooper, smart4two and Scion iQ. Unlike the tiny smart4two, the 500 has a back seat that can accommodate two small- to medium-sized passengers. It’s taller than the Mini, meaning it’s easier to get in and out. We haven’t driven an iQ.
Fuel economy is 27/34 with the 6-speed shiftable automatic and 30/38 with the 5-speed stick shift.
Safety and reliability data are not yet available, but the Fiat does have plenty of air bags and high-strength steel, as well as stability control, antilock brakes and, on convertible models, rear parking assist. Prices range from $15,500 for the base Pop to $23,500 for the Lounge convertible. All are well equipped.
Public response has been cautious. Gengras has sold about two dozen 500s since cars began arriving in April. Certainly, a car with the 500’s style and extravagant sense of fun will do well once the public discovers this is a different sort of Fiat from the one that fled these shores in the mid-1980s.
Price: $15,500 to $23,500
Engine: 1.4-liter inline Four, 101 horsepower, 98 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 5-speed standard or 6-speed automatic
Weight: 2,363 lb.
Body style: 2-door sedan
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
Wheels: 15-inch or 16-inch aluminum alloy
Tires: 185/55R15 all-season (base model)
Seating capacity: 4
Luggage capacity: 9.5 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 30.1 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 10.5 gallons
Fuel economy: 27/34 (automatic); 30/38 (standard)
Fuel type: Premium (recommended)
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