Up: Drives like a go-cart, great gas mileage

Down: Limited space, plastic interior

Neutral: So fun to drive that you won’t notice its downsides

On a gruesomely hot day in June, I pulled into Billion Automotive’s brand new Fiat Studio. Since this was my first “official” test drive with a dealership, I wanted to make a good impression. I met with Bob Shrewsbury and he tossed me the keys to the new 2012 Fiat 500 “Pop” edition and asked me to back it out of the showroom floor. “Easy enough,” I said to myself as I got into the tiny vehicle and turned it on.

The little 1.4 liter engine hummed to life as I went to roll down the window to receive further directions; only there was no window roller or button on the door! I looked all over and finally had to open the door in shame to ask Bob how to roll down the window. “It’s on the dash,” he said nonchalantly as I turned my head and noticed two very noticeable buttons on the dash with the familiar “window” image on them.

After getting the windows down I had to back the Fiat out of the garage. Simple enough. I pushed the clutch in and motioned the shift knob over to the reverse position… but it wouldn’t go in. I tried re-applying the clutch, jiggling the knob, and even brute force, but I couldn’t put the car into gear. With my face starting to get a little red, I look over to Bob and he says, “You have to pull up on the stick to get it in reverse.” I let out a heavy sigh and pulled the lever up and sure enough it slid into reverse.

After I smoothly backed the little 500 out of the showroom, Bob walks around to the passenger door to be let in. I immediately look on my door for the “door unlock” switch and of course, it isn’t there. Remembering my first mix-up, I look right at the dash to look for a button similar to the window buttons. No luck. It turns out, the only way to unlock the Fiat 500 is to reach over and pull the passenger door handle to let him in. It hadn’t even been 5 minutes and one thing was very clear: I was way too American for this car.

The point of that story, even after I had done research before my test drive, was that this car is much more unique than any typical small hatchback. All of the things that I fumbled with are actually really practical adjustments. The window buttons on the dash keep you from averting your eyes from the road, pulling up on the gear lever before shifting into reverse prevents accidental shifting and grinding out gears, and the door handle situation… well that only works because the car is so small and it isn’t that far of a reach to the other side. This car had already impressed me because I believe that any car that takes you out of your comfort zone provides a much more memorable experience.

2012 Fiat 500-6

Once I on the road I could really start to evaluate the Fiat. Although it was equipped with a 1.4 liter engine, it was very responsive when pushing on the throttle – even with the air conditioner going. There were no problems getting up to speed and slowing down was equally as good because all 4 wheels sported disc brakes. I will also note that shifting gears was the smoothest I have ever felt. Each time I popped in the clutch, it felt like a knife sliding into butter with each gear change. As far as a drivers car goes, the Fiat is top notch.

Now there were a couple of low points that may or may not bother some folks. Keep in mind, it is hard to criticize some aspects because it is only a $17,000, very small hatchback. But first thing’s first, the back seat. Now four Chris Berkes could go on a comfortable ride in this car but LeBron isn’t fitting more than one of his team mates into this car. The Fiat has a back seat, but that’s about it. The only other thing worth noting was the ride was slightly bouncy when hitting large bumps, but otherwise a comfortable ride. The only thing I can say about these negatives is that if you want a family sedan, go and buy a family sedan.

The Fiat 500 has a great range of options as well. I drove the “Pop” model, which is a more exciting word for “base model”, and I didn’t feel like I was missing any features whatsoever. For an extra $1000 or so, you can upgrade to the “Sport” version which has sportier looking everything, a stiffer suspension, and more optional equipment. If you really want to show off to your friends you can opt for the “Lounge” model which is the convertible, or, as the Italians would say, the Cabrio. The special thing about this convertible is that the roof slides back across the whole car, while the “walls” on either side stay up. And the final model, which is actually a very hard find in the U.S. (beings Billion Automotive sold their last one to a guy in California) is the Abarth.

The Abarth is the Fiat 500 on steroids. It comes with a 1.4 16v MultiAir Turbo engine and a dual exhaust system. To keep that 160hp on the road, it is equipped with 17″ wheels and a sport tuned suspension. Everything from the appearance to the driveline have been updated to make anyone who thirsts for speed happy. The Abarth, if you can find one, also has an amazing price starting at around $22,000.

All in all the 2012 Fiat 500 is a great car. It drives well, the shifting is buttery smooth, and even the base model is equipped with everything you need. At no point did I feel like I would have been shorted if I had purchased one myself. I recommend the Fiat 500 for anyone who is looking for a fun, fuel efficient car that will most definitely turn heads. So get down to the Billion Fiat Studio, ask for the very helpful Bob Shrewsbury, and test drive a Fiat 500 while there’s still some summer left!

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