Channing Chea / For The Lantern
The 2013 Fiat 500 Sport and Turbo, or “little cars” of the auto industry, usually attract a good amount of attention. They tend to be referred to as “toy cars,” which puts a lot of pressure on the little guys. If it’s going to be a toy, it has to be fun. And that’s a challenge Europeans have taken on.
Here come the Italians stepping up to the plate. Considering their track record, I must have something to look forward to. After all, Italy is the home of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and, apparently, Fiat.
I’ve been meaning to get behind the wheel of a Fiat for a while to see what all the fuss was about, and after the overall disappointment of the Smart Fortwo, I was almost skeptical another little car was going to be much different. Fortunately, I was very wrong.
The first thing I noticed about the Fiat is its style. From the inside out, the car just looked like a piece of artwork – something that’s sadly overlooked by many automakers.
And just to get it out of the way, I’ll tell you about the little quirks most of them have. Sport-mode switcher, Bluetooth, cruise control, and Bose audio are standard. I’m sorry, what’s that you say? The newer models have either Alpine or Beats Audio standard, too? Shut up and take my money.
Now here’s where most people get concerned. Is it spacious and is it safe? I was surprisingly comfortable with the roominess of the driver’s seat. I had plenty of headroom and the backseat could probably transport a girlfriend or two (if that’s how you roll). You heard me correctly: it does have a backseat! Checking it was honestly an afterthought, but taking head space into account, it was more comfortable than a Honda Civic Coupe’s backseat. And to put things in perspective for you, I’m a 6-foot-2, 223-pound gym enthusiast.
As far as safety is concerned, it’s an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2012 Top Safety Pick. The salesman shared a few testimonials with me about getting T-boned by a Lexus and rear-ended by a Ford Ranger, and in both instances the driver walked away unscathed. That automatically puts it light years ahead of any Smart car stories.
Now for the moment of truth. I must say, I feel foolish to doubt the performance of an Italian car.
Driving the 500 Sport 5-speed manual was possibly the most fun I’ve ever had in a test drive. And since my personal favorite car is a competitor to this one, it’s a bit hard for me to admit that.
Considering that the Fiat 500 Abarth is the model that’s actually a performance car, the acceleration, speed, breaking, suspension and overall fun factor get a high rank in my book. Passing people on the highway while staying in fifth gear was easy, and hitting 80 mph in third gear on a back road was … what’s the word? Stimulating, is it?
To say the car stops on a dime would be an understatement. That’s likely because it weighs just more than a ton, but when you’re driving like a Wacky Racer, it’s just another plus.
The higher up in trim and performance you go, the stiffer the steering gets, which makes maneuvering the vehicle pretty easy. As for the turning radius, I was able to make a U-turn in less space than it takes for a drunk to walk a straight line before falling over. For those of you who pretend to not know how much space that is, it’s not very much. Just more than a single traffic lane.
So there you have it: A toy car for the masses. I’d say the FIAT 500 deserves a 9.5/10.