Exclusive: First Impression

Exclusive: First Impression

If you’re lucky enough to live near one of the dealers with test drive cars, you can take a Fiat 500 out for a test drive right now, even though they don’t go on sale until March. This weekend I did just that! The only Fiat 500 available at Fiat of Austin is one of the pre-production marketing units. This means that a few of the features didn’t work (like the back seat folding down), but at least it was a Sport model, in black.

Fiat 500 Interior

View from the backseat.

My first impression was: “wow, this is small”! Even coming from my two door Volkswagen GTI, the 500 felt small by comparison, both inside and out. Surprisingly though, it did not feel cramped inside. As the driver, I felt a little higher up than normal, but overall it felt very comfortable inside. I especially liked the location of the stick shift, which is up high and close by. At first I used the armrest but eventually I folded it up to give me more room to make my shifts.

Fiat 500 Tachometer

Fiat 500 Tachometer

Overall the interior is very nice and didn’t lack for quality, even compared to my GTI. For the price, I’d be very happy with what you get in the Fiat 500 Sport. I struggled at first to find the window controls, which are on the center console. Everything else seems to be in a very logical location. My absolute favorite feature has to be the tachometer though, which is huge! Unlike the Mini though, it is front and center. The whole dash features three concentric rings, with the largest one being the speedometer on the outside, the tachometer inside, and an electronic screen at the center with your gas, temperature, and time information.

The clutch, brake, and gas pedals are hilariously tiny. The sun visor seemed barely larger than my hand. Everything feels slightly miniaturized, which they obviously had to do to fit everything into that small package. Personally I found it all very fun, and endearing, but the wife felt less than safe. Unfortunately the relative size of your neighbors on the road (especially in Texas), definitely enforces just how tiny you are by comparison.

The little 1.4 liter Multair engine revved pleasantly (which happened over and over again until I figured out the clutch), but acceleration did feel… well, delayed. In normal driving mode, the car didn’t feel like it really responded until the engine moved above 4,000 RPM. Fortunately there is a big button just to the right of the steering wheel, labeled “Sport”. When pushed, you can almost feel the little Fiat tighten it’s muscles. Suddenly the car is much more responsive to your movements on the gas pedal, either revving quicker or somehow getting torque earlier in the tachometer.

In either mode, the suspension did feel very loose. This was probably my biggest disappointment in the Fiat 500. Even during normal driving, the steering felt slightly disconnected from the wheels and overall was kind of “sloshy” (this is a technical term, btw). I almost thought there might be something wrong, since it was only a pre-production model, but the representative at the dealership didn’t say anything when I mentioned this. I’m looking forward to trying a finished version of the car, ideally on some twisty roads, later in the year.

Driving the US spec Fiat 500 really has me salivating over the potential of the Abarth version. The representative I talked to said it won’t be coming until early next year, which is later than most reports, but wouldn’t surprise me.