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August 26, 2012

Fiat 500 makes motoring a festival

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Fiat currently sells the 500 in two body styles. The most popular is the hardtop, with a starting list price of just over $16,000. A convertible version, the 500c, lists for $4,000 more than a comparable hardtop. Its thick, flexible fabric roof operates as much like a super sun roof as a conventional convertible top. It spreads over a wide center strip, and rigid side rails above the windows remain in place when the top accordions open and stacks over the trunk lid. Its motor stops in different positions, so the roof can be partially opened. It operates at speeds up to 15 miles per hour. And when you press the trunk release when the top is stacked on the lid, the roof courteously raises about a quarter of the way so you can open the hatch.

Both hard top and convertible versions carry the same gear, including a small four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission on the starter level, called the 500 Pop. Higher levels, like the 500 Lounge, use a six-speed automatic that sacrifices some fuel economy.

The 500 has been one of my favorites since Fiat first re-entered the U.S. auto market and introduced the pint-sized model early in 2011. I’m partial to small cars in general, but I like the 500 in particular for the reason that Sergio Maffeo cites: It’s fun.

Yes, that means fun to drive. The car is so small that it can’t help but move with agility. Fiat built on that natural tendency by specially engineering the 500 for rapid, hairpin maneuvers.

But merely owning a Fiat 500 brings as much delight as its thrilling dynamics. The car is like a roving party room. Its cheerfulness and sassy attitude incite playful behavior. Its approach is so friendly, it exhibits so much disarming charm, that the 500 encourages spontaneous conversations. Little communities rise instantly in its presence, then dissolve when the smiling Fiat departs.

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