Petite, Italian-style Fiat 500 makes a big impression for a small price
Gary Witzenburg - AUTOMEDIA
- April 9, 2011
2012 Fiat 500 Test Drive — In 1957, Italian automaker Fiat introduced a tiny transportation module called Cinquecento (translates to 500). With its little engine tucked between its rear wheels, it was cute, fuel efficient, fairly fun to drive and easy to park, since it was roughly the size of an NBA center’s tennis shoe. You could wedge a family of four into it, if the kids were small, and it would get you from A to B.
Like “peoples’ car” rivals from Germany (VW Beetle), France (Renault Dauphine) and others, it was also affordable for regular folks to purchase and operate. Almost four million copies of that first Fiat 500 were built and sold before it was discontinued in 1975.
Two years later, a more technically sophisticated rival from Great Britain hit the market. Unlike others, it had its engine mounted transversely (sideways) up front, driving its front wheels, for more stable handling and a much more efficient package of interior room in a very small exterior size. Called the Mini, it proved highly popular and was sold all over the world, and that innovative transverse-front-engine package motivates virtually every modern minicar and the vast majority of today’s cars, minivans and crossovers.
After a long absence, that once-legendary Mini was reincarnated (by new owner BMW) for 2002, slightly larger, better and quicker, especially turbocharged Mini Cooper models. And it has earned surprisingly strong sales and a bit of a cult following as a rare exception to the rule that Americans won’t pay much for little cars.
The New 500
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