The cars we loved.
The car as celebrity fashion accessory is not a new ideal, but is as old as the automobile itself. Al Capone + Cadillac, James Dean + Porsche Speedster and Steve McQueen with his many exotics, have typecast cars with a type of personal style. The phenomenon started out for the rich and quickly filtered down to the rest of us. The only real difference between then and now is that the fashion aware motorist has many more models to choose from without the hassles of tedious maintainance. No longer is the car used as an identifying tool of fashion for extreme subcultures, but now anyone can have that special ride. A million good ole boys with General Lee Chargers or planet saving hipsters with Priuses is proof of that.
As cutesy cars go, few can top Fiat’s 500. The 500 and later 600 series became popular during their run from 1957 to 1975. Small inexpensive “city cars” were in demand. Crowded cities and narrow streets necessitated the compact dimensions of the 500, but also contributed to its cute and fashionable appearance. In 2008 the 500 returned as a modernized version of the original, wearing Ford Ka underpinnings. When Fiat took a controlling interest in Chrysler in 2009, the doors were open for the Italians to return to the States. Known for making choice accessories for the rich (Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati), who better than the Italians to bring high style to the masses.
Fiat S.p.A. was more than ready for the challenge. Having owned two of Italy’s biggest sports car makers. There was however the baggage of its past in the States. Flush with new management, the company just hoped that Americans had forgotten about its last stint in the States almost 30 years ago that ended with Fiat of America closing shop and running home. With poor quality and a spotty dealer network behind it, Fiat pinned its hopes on Chrysler’s vast distribution network. The first new Fiat to hit our shores would be the diminutive 500.
With its bug like eyes and mustache, the 500 looked like a cute character of a stereotypical Italian waiter. It was an immediate hit and soon there would be multiple models to suit all tastes (and wardrobes). Somewhere in the middle of the standard 500 line is the Sport. With a price starting just under 18K, a loaded Sport would hardly break the 20k barrier. For your money you got a cute four passenger coupe with front wheel drive and as much charm as the larger Mini.
The engine is smaller also, at just 1.4-liters, the Michigan built four cylinder makes 101 hp. Thats just enough to move the 2440 lb 500 Sport to 60 in just over 10 seconds. When equipped with the standard 5-speed manual transmission, the Sports little Multi-Air engine can be very responsive. Despite the light weight and small dimensions of both the engine and its power output, EPA estimates for highway driving is 38 mpg, about what a larger more powerful Ford Focus or Chevy Cruize might be.
Like a go-cart, small size equals the illusion of speed. High speeds though are not the Sports forte, as its short wheel base can make for a squirrely highway ride. What the Sport excels in is being fun in city traffic. The sport tuned suspension combined with the narrow width chassis makes for a nimble parking lot prowler.
The thick Nerf ball-like foam filled seats hint at the simplicity of the Sports interior. The dials are large and centered around one big gauge for speed with a tach built-in. The simple layout of the dash is in with 500s of the past. More importantly the lack of complexity offers a nice backdrop for whatever you might be wearing, like a good gallery’s white walls – you are sure to stand out in your Saturday’s best. So if you are looking for an Italian runway worthy vehicle with all the style of the latest couture garments look no further than the Fiat 500 Sport. If you need a bit more gruff or you see yourself as an off the rack type, there’s likely a 500 Abarth in your size.