Spoiler alert: In case you couldn't guess by the headline, I'm giving the Fiat 500 a perfect 10 on the Chicago-worthy scale. Finally, a car that makes absolute perfect sense in an urban environment.
And it's cute to boot.
Fiat is an old new entry in the US. It left back in the '80s because it just wasn't relevant (or well made). But this new 500 is making a big splash on the scene with kitschy color combos, attractive interiors and fuel economy that makes $4/gallon gas prices bearable.
Several of my twitter buddies asked me how it compared to the Mini Cooper, and I have to say … I'm liking the 500 better. Sure, the Mini has 20 more horsepower than the 500, and sure the Mini gets better city/highway fuel economy with the automatic transmission (29/37 vs 27/34), but there's just something about the 500 that reels me in.
I'm thinking it has something to do with the $15,500 base price. The 500 comes in 3 trim levels, the Pop, the Sport ($17,500) and the Lounge ($19,500). The test car was a Lounge model that was tricked out with the luxury interior package, TomTom navigation and sunroof for an as-tested price of about $23K. That's still not bad for a well-stocked city car.
If I had my choice, though, I'd probably opt for the sport model with a manual transmission (which by the way gets 30/38 mpg) and the safety and convenience package (which brings me heated front seats -- though not leather surfaces). The MSRP would ring in at $18,150.
I should point out, this exactly fulfills my stipulations for a car I would buy while living in Chicago: Under $20K, manual transmission, heated front seats. I don't ask for much, but you'd be surprised how few cars this turns up.
Other city selling points include the compact size, tight turning radius and peppy acceleration.
Now, that's not to say the 500 doesn't have a couple of downsides. First, I wasn't a fan of the automatic transmission. It was a little too herky-jerky for my taste. Though, I have much higher hopes for the manual transmission. I get that in a couple of weeks so stay tuned.
The other downside: This isn't a good 4-passenger car. You could probably fit 4 people in there who are my size, but when you start talking about average-sized adults, you'll be lucky if you can get 3. Plus, keeping with the compact size, you have compact storage. The trunk will be fine for groceries, but if you have your heart set on a trip to Ikea, well, think rental.
But I should point out that I did a healthy bout of shopping in the 500 which included a new duvet cover and sheets, a king-sized duvet, 2 new pillows and new towels. Most of it fit in the trunk, though there was some spillover into the backseat.
Overall, I thought this car was a blast to drive. It was easy to maneuver and park, it had all the right acceleration at all the right points, and for my more aggressive maneuvers, I shifted into manual mode. I also liked the flashy exterior color options and graphic customizations that were available.
No, it's not as luxurious or customizable as a Mini, but it costs $5K less, too. So, if you're looking for a unique compact car that won't break the bank, Fiat 500 is a must test.
Chicago-worthy rating: 10. I know, that's a shocker. Finally a 10. The compact size, peppy acceleration and easy maneuverability make this a clear winner in the urban category. But the slick interior, flashy exterior colors and fresh new design set the 500 apart from it's other ho-hum compact competitors.