Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ciao, Aldo: Some Random Thoughts on the 2012 Fiat 500

I am currently sporting around in the 2012 Fiat 500.

It may be the only one currently roaming the streets of Greenville, SC, where I reside.

I sure haven't seen another one.

I Googled Fiat Studios -- yes, Fiat calls its dealerships, studios -- to see where the closest one is. It's 83 miles from me in a little SC border town called Fort Mill. I had never heard of it and had to look it up on a map to find it. It's a spec on I-77 just south of Charlotte, NC. If I was on the market for a 500, I would have to go to Fort Mill or head toward Atlanta on I-85. There is another Fiat Studio in Buford, GA about 103 miles away.

No wonder I haven't seen another 500 in Greenville. That's a haul not just to purchase a 500, but getting it serviced would be a real a pain in the keister.

"Where are you going, Cupcake?"

"To get the 500 serviced."

"Okay, see you tomorrow."

That it's perhaps the only physical incarnation of Fiat's return to the U.S. market my neighbors have seen -- and perhaps will see for some time -- is one of the fun perks of my job. The tiny 500 gathers stares, waves and thumbs up like a blue sport coat gathers dog hair.

It's fire-engine red, which aids in elevating its profile.

The 500 Fiat loaned me for a week's evaluation is in the $17,500 Sport trim. There is the $15,500 Pop anchoring the lineup and then the top-of-the-line $19,500 Lounge. By the time you pay extra for the special paint, six-speed automatic tranny, power sunroof and special materials covering the seats, the final tab on my test 500 is a whopping $21,000.

Fuel economy is pretty decent with an EPA-estimated 27 mpg in city driving and 34 mpg on the highway. The EPA's combined city-highway number is 30 mpg -- 6 mpg less than the Smart fortwo and 1 mpg better than the Honda Civic with the 1.8-liter four.

It's 101-horsepower 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine accelerates just fine in most applications. I'd like a little more punch when merging into 70-mile-per-hour traffic on I-85. But, otherwise, the engine pulls the 500 around just fine.

Although the steering wheel tilts, it doesn't telescope. For me that means that positioning myself best to operate the pedals, leaves my arms locked straight out in the classic Italian race-car driving position. Every trip to the neighborhood grocery store is like clocking miles in the Mille Miglia.

This is the car I will drive to the Atlanta airport next week for a little trip out west. I'll be taking a large suitcase that I will need to check. I opened the rear hatch a day or two ago to do some mental calculations trying to determine if my suitcase will indeed fit in the cargo hold. The last time I took this suitcase on a trip, I had to sit it upright in the passenger seat of the car I was driving that week. I'd say with the 500's split rear seat folded down, it should fit just fine.

Maybe I can have it serviced while I'm in Atlanta.

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