Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Is the Fiat 500 the New Volkswagen Bug? Let's Think Small for a Moment

Fiat 500
Photo: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles media website.
Could an automotive writer lose his car-guy card for a headline like that?

Some enthusiasts might think so, but consider this: the Fiat 500 Abarth Edition, which, with the turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine, provides 160 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque (manual transmission) and 157 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque (automatic transmission), earned a spot on the U.S. News & World Report 2018 "fastest small cars for the money" list this year.

The Abarth is just one "flavor" of the Fiat 500 that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is currently marketing on the U.S. Another is a crossover edition, the Fiat 500X. It offers an advanced all-wheel-drive system and two engine options including the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine, or a  2.4L Tigershark MultiAir2 paried with a nine-speed transmission and an all-wheel-drive system with a disconnecting rear axle for improved fuel efficiency.

Granted, the Fiat 500 is too small for the taste of many motorists—mine included. It's a car that first made it onto my radar when it showed up on a State Farm auto insurance commercial, featuring a teal Fiat 500 as a father's gift to a 16-year-old girl who just got her driver's license—not exactly a presentation scenario that's conducive to car-guy cred.

But as I've spotted more Fiat 500s on the road in my area since then, the look has started to grow on me, and that's where the Volkswagen Bug comparison comes in. If you're a young driver looking for something that makes a statement, something that's fun and different, the Fiat 500 just might be worth a look.

Like the original generations of the VW Bug, the Fiat 500 has the virtues of being small and quick, with cool and funky looks that make it stand out. And it can appeal to a variety of Millennial sentiments, ranging from an interest in fuel efficient vehicles to an interest in small cars that deliver performance among those who grew up immersed in import-tuner culture.

Sure, the VW Bug comparison goes a little too far in some ways. Certainly it doesn't hold true in terms of market penetration, for example. But in terms of who the Fiat 500 appeals to and why, there is a good case to be made for the comparison.

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