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Fiat 500s? It depends (rental based)

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This is 2 reviews in one.  Like the title of the review says, with a Fiat 500, it depends.  Here, I'm not talking about their reliability.  That's a big question mark across the board.  I'm talking about the driving experience in the 500 and how it varies by the model you have.  In this case, a while back, I had 2 back to back Fiats in different places, given to me by the rental car to fulfill the economy car with automatic criteria.

Fiat 500 coupe

This is the reboot of the old school Fiat 500 coupe of yesteryear that people laughed at, stereotyped as the prototypical Italian car, was once truly ubiquitous, and could be picked up and moved by 2 or 3 strong people.  The difference is that the more recent one is bigger, has cleaner sheetmetal, is tech savvy (from digital odometers to check engine systems to connectivity).

While it may be cute, the basic Fiat 500 couperis basic transportation.  And, even though it has a back seat, it's only meant for 2 people (and 2 small people, such as children) at the very most.  This is because of the tight rear leg room and quickly raked roof line of the coupe.  The trunk isn't that roomy, either.

The driving experience is underwhelming.  Power is suitable for most things except tricky passing.  The automatic transmission shifts decently enough though it doesn't approximate the more seamless shifts of smaller VW or Citroen automatic econoboxes.  You will definitely feel what your tires are doing.  Perhaps too much so, as what is transmitted through the steering wheel almost gives you TMI.  The ride is a little busy, but it's certainly better than that of older entry-level Fiats.

The dashboard is simplistic.  Basically, it's one big center oval with all the information arranged in or near it.  With the Fiat 500 being simplistic all the way around, infotainment and climate controls are equally so.  When it comes to the center stack, that's not such a bad thing.  And, if it's a rental, you want to be able to quickly decipher the infotainment and climate control systems and be safely on your way.  The one thing I did not like is that the dashboard has metal that was the same color as the car's exterior.  In this case,  the car was white.  Hence, large expanses of the dashboard were of white sheetmetal with black inserts for the functional areas.

I didn't mind parting with this car after having it for 3 days.  Fortunately, those 3 days were in an area that was not at all demanding in terms of driving requirements.  This Fiat 500 coupe reboot is aimed at the same type of buyer that would buy the VW "Bug" reboot ... and who might even put the flower in the vase on the dashboard (was that a hippie thing?).  While this Fiat is larger than a Smart (for two), in terms of what it can do, it doesn't seem to be able to do much more.

This is the kind of car you buy because you specifically want to ... or want to make some kind of statement by having it as you set of wheels.  There are some smaller Euro and Asian automatic vehicles I have actually come to like.  The basic Fiat 500 coupe is not one of them.


1.  The location was inspiring.  The car was less so.


2.  Its lines are nicer than the original car from the '60s and '70s that it mimics


3.  I forgot - it had a nifty glass roof that was fortunately tinted but required that the A/C be turned on at all times


4.  With the sun setting behind me and not knowing Photoshop - yet, I couldn't get my shadow out of the passenger door


5.  It's pretty much all here in that one pod.  Thank goodness for a decent looking leather stitched wheel and steering wheel remote audio controls.


6.  I will have to hand it to them for including a temperature gauge, which has always been important to me.  Also, at 3,747 km, this is a young car - that's about 2,400 miles in U.S. terms


7.  Kudos for a simple infotainment center and easy to use climate control.  A big thumbs down for the white sheetmetal on the dashboard.

End of Fiat 500 coupe section.

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Fiat 500 L

The Fiat 500 L would be my rental in the next location I needed a car and it, too, seemed to satisfy the economy car with automatic category for the rental agency.  The difference is that this turned out to be a fairly different driving experience.  This is exactly what I meant by saying "it depends" on which 500 we are talking about.  I don't know if this L version is a wagon, a cross-over, or what.  

The driving experience in the 500 L was quite a bit better ... almost amazingly so.  The car was roomier, its front seats were comfortable, its rear seats were usable, and, to allay my issues with open backs in small wagons, there was a sliding tonneau cover that hid what you had in the "luggage" compartment.  So, both the driving and day in and day out usage experiences were better.

The 500 L sits higher, giving the driver a more in-command feel of the situation.  And, despite that, it's well planted.  While it looks and is small, it feels bigger once inside.  The 500 L held the road well, was more hushed than the coupe, and handled almost deftly even though you would never want to push this car in tight hairpins.   The engine wasn't completely hushed but was more up to the task.  For some reason, its automatic gearbox shifted more seamlessly.  I remember that the fuel economy was good, though net exactly stellar.

The dashboard had more meat on its bones than the base coupe.  It was still minimalist in nature, but had more information and more features, made the car easier to live in, and included more storage.  The finishes on the dash weren't what they could have been, even though the steering wheel featured stitched leather,  but what the dashboard lacked in fit, finish, and content was negated by the 3 main bezel instrument cluster and more.  Lastly, even with the thick rear pillars at its rear corners, visibility was excellent.  These were the salient things I took away from renting this smaller vehicle.

I grew to like this vehicle to some degree.  I certainly liked it more than the 500 coupe I had less than a week before.  I'm glad that I had this Fiat 500 L in more challenging urban and mountainous areas.  I don't know if I'd buy one, but I found the 500 L easy to live with for those three days.


1.  If this place looks familiar to you, that's no surprise.  I'm on the Italian side of it rather than the Swiss side.  I've never been to Swizerland, which is only about 5 to 10 miles from where I was standing.


2.  This is what the vehicle looks like from the rear.  Even with those pillars and black-outs, visibility was to my liking


3. The alloy wheels on this little sled are nice.  


4. This is the expanse of the dashboard which isn't as boring as that in the base coupe but still has the sheetmetal accents I didn't like


5. The dashboard is nicer than in their little 500 coupe  - look at the nicer steering wheel, its inclusion of more remote toggles, 3 bezels in the main instrument cluster, nicer A/C vents, and more


6. There are 3 ( ! ) separate places to put your things - a main glove box below, a small upper glove box, and an intermediate shelf


7. It may not look like an automatic transmission, but it functioned as one.  You could probably shift manually but I thought I'd pass on that. 


8. The rear seat is actually usable and functional.  You can also see that the seats had nicer than usual stitching accents on them.


9.  This is the rear cargo area and it has split folding rear seats


10.  There are even some receptacles built into the sides of the rear cargo area


11. Connectivity is important

End of Fiat 500 L section

Edited by trinacriabob
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