The very first Fiat 500s arrive in the US this week in the form of a special "Prima Edizione" model. This is the first new Fiat to be sold in America since 1984.
I spent a considerable amount of time sitting in this car during the Chicago Auto Show, and though I haven't driven it yet, I think it's Mini's first true competitor to hit our shores. It's a nice-looking compact car with an even more attractive entry price point of $15,500. Mini starts at about $23K.
Since I do think it'll will be a great city car, I was surprised to learn that the first Fiat dealer in the Chicago area will be all the way out in the burbs: Fields Fiat of Highland Park (250 Skokie Valley Rd).
Though I haven't had the chance to get behind the wheel, I'll whet your appetite with some fast facts and photos that I got during a recent media briefing in Chicago. Then, I'll say: To be continued ...
So, what exactly should you know about Fiat:
- There will be 3 trim levels: Pop ($15,500), Sport ($17,500) and Lounge ($19,500)
- Fuel economy ratings for city/highway are 30/38 mpg for manual transmission and 27/34 mpg for automatic
- Premium fuel is recommended but not required. You'll get 1 to 2 percent less horsepower with regular fuel -- but no less fuel economy.
- Bluetooth is standard on even the base Pop model.
- If you buy a Fiat, at this point in time, it has be be serviced at a Fiat dealer. You cannot take it to Chrysler.
- Looking forward, after launch of 500 coupe, Cabrio arrives this spring, then you'll see the Fiat Abarth and a BEV model in 2012.
- Safety abounds in 500 with these standard features: 7 airbags (including knee airbags), electronic stability control, antilock brakes, brake override, hill start assist, side guard door beams ... and much more.
All told, I think the new 500 will initially be a kitschy niche car -- something you can have that not many others will. Kind of like the Smart car. But the key difference is that it can actually fit 4 passengers and some stuff. Not to mention the fact that I think it will actually feel stable at highway speeds.
For Chicagoans especially, I think the Fiat 500 has some serious potential. I'd consider it myself if they had a model with heated seats and a manual transmission. As it is, the Sport model has a manual but no heated seats, and the Lounge model has heated seats, but no manual transmission is offered.
Sigh. I guess my quest for a car under $20K with heated seats and stick shift sallies forth ...