Small, fuel-efficient cars can be fun to drive. BMW has shown this with its MINI COOPER. The MINI could have some serious competition both in the fun and coolness department from the Fiat 500. Already wildly popular overseas, Fiat could not only sell the 500 here, but build them here as well. Four dollar a gallon gasoline could help sales. Five dollar a gallon gas could make it a best seller.
The Fiat 500 has been on sale for just under a year with over 112,000 500s sold in 70 countries with another 100,000 to be delivered in next few months. It has a very enthusiastic following with owners who consider it not just a car, but a lifestyle. It was the selected the 2008 European car of the year.
The Fiat 500's styling was directly influenced by the Nuova 500 which was manufactured between 1957 to 1975. It proved to be very popular as a city car and today is considered a cult car with many still in service, or in collectors' garages. The Nuova 500 replaced another automotive icon, the 1935-55 Fiat 500 Topolino, or "Mickey Mouse." The latest 500 debuted on July 4, 2007, exactly 50 years after the Nuova 500's debut.
The new 500 is a three-door, four-seat hatchback that is 139.7 inches long, compared to the 1957 model that was only 116 inches long. Next year a convertible will join the current 3-door hatch offering, and a longer wheelbase model a la the MINI Clubman will follow a year later. The new version is produced at Fiat's plant in Tychy, Poland, not Italy.
Unlike the Nuovo 500 that was powered by rear-mounted, 479 to 594 cc air-cooled, two-cylinder engine that produced from 13 to 23 horsepower, there are three four-cylinder engines choices. The Fire 1.2-liter 8v (8 valve) delivers 69 horsepower to give a top speed of nearly 100 mph and fuel economy of 46 mpg. For greater performance, there's the Fire 1.4-liter 16v (16 valve) engine that produces 100 horsepower, good for 113 mph and 37 mpg. The 1.3-liter 16v Multijet Turbodiesel is rated at 75 horsepower and 56 mpg. The old Nuova 500s were able to eke out 55 mpg without any advanced technology.
Three transmissions are offered - a 5-speed manual for the 1.2 and 1.3, 6-speed manual for the 1.4, and an automated manual Dualogic for the 1.2 and 1.4 models. The Nuovo 500 came with a non-synchronized, four-speed "crash box" transmission.
Fiat plans to offer an Abarth SS badged version as a direct competitor to the BMW Mini. This upscale mini-car will feature a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine tuned to produce as much as 150 horsepower. It will also have wider wheels and a stiffer suspension. During the Nuova 500 years, Carlos Abarth offered the Abarth 595SS and Abarth 695SS models with 594 cc and 695 cc engines, which respectively produced 28 and 38 horsepower, and up to 55 horsepower in racing versions. Rumor has it that the new Abarth SS may be sold in the U.S.
Reportedly, Fiat is looking for North American assembly plant location to produce Alfa Romeos for the North American market. Alfas are scheduled to be on sale here around the end of 2009 and a plant is scheduled to be online by 2010. The same plant could also produce the 500. Sergio Marchionne, Fiat Group CEO, believes the 500 could prove popular in the U.S. market and could be sold as a stand-alone brand like the way that MINI is sold by BMW.