Motoring The Fiat 500 looks cute enough to hug and fits right in with the Bally shoes and the Armani shades

The Fiat 500 has made waves wherever it has gone, and India is next on the list of hearts that will be won over by the Cincquecento. Penned in 1957 by engineer Dante Giacosa — also responsible for our Fiat 1100 or Padmini — the lines of the original Fiat 500 were cute and Mickey Mouse-like. This helped it become a global fashion statement. And Fiat has done a fantastic job staying with the look on this new car. This despite the fact that the original was rear-engined and this new one is based on the Fiat Panda’s front- wheel-drive platform. It is, in all probability, the cutest-looking car in the world.

The retro attack carries on inside. Fiat uses a piece of body-coloured plastic on the inside across the dash to deliver the feel of an old car and cream-coloured plastic bits enhance this. Like the bakelite steering wheels on old Fiats and Mercs, it lends plenty of retro feel, and this is only heightened by the large steering wheel boss and neo-retro instrument cluster, by itself a work of art. Build quality on the insides is very good, with everything having a robust, typically Fiat build.

What is surprisingly good for a tiny car like this one is the front seat comfort; they are surprisingly large and the car feels about as wide as a Hyundai i10 on the inside. However, you are perched high on the seats and getting the right driving position takes some amount of seat adjustment. The rear seats are not full-sized, but they can seat adults — this despite the tight-fitting, truncated roof. There is sufficient legroom as well once you are seated.

The car we have is a diesel, a 75bhp version of Fiat’s omnipresent 1.3 Multijet, the same as under the bonnet of the Swift and the Palio. As we have seen with this motor, initial throttle response is a little sluggish, which takes some getting used to. Still, it pulls well from 1800rpm onwards; the elasticity and verve experienced after that are very good. Of course the 980kg weight of the 500 plays some part here. Though it has enough power to get the job done and does not feel slow, performance is neither spellbinding nor much better than cars like the Swift. Honourable mention however must be made of the attractive dash-mounted gear lever that works beautifully, its short throws making cog-swapping a breeze.

The 500 also has substantial grip and you can turn hard into corners and the 500 will hold on gamely. The 500’s electric steering can be made lighter for city driving and this nifty little feature alleviates most of the effort of negotiating city traffic. Yes, the Fiat scoots through bylanes and around roundabouts like a frisky puppy, but that essential something is missing. The steering feels lifeless, even in normal mode; the car has no appetite for speed when cornered. And as you go faster, it drives like the over-tyred basic front-wheel-drive car that it is. What might, however, is the thumpy ride and some amount of road noise. On its short wheelbase and massive 16-inch wheels, the 500 has an inherent disadvantage as far as the ride is concerned. To make matters worse, the tyres have a low 45 profile.

Of course the expected price, approximately Rs. 13 lakh, leaves most people scratching their heads — who in their right mind would buy an impractical two-door hatchback for this price if they were looking for just transport? The 500 will be imported into India more as a fashion icon rather than a volume small car, and it is in this role that it is likely to enjoy some degree of success. There’s no denying that this European Car of the Year has massive appeal. It looks cute enough to hug and fits right in with the Bally shoes and the Armani shades. Here’s to Fiat India’s revival, then, beginning with the 500.