Fiat fever!

I’m very fortunate to have a good and generous friend in the car business. Thanks to the Rajah, I have been tooling around town this week in the hottest car to hit the streets in a long time — the Fiat 500C. It’s even better than the <a title="I Fiat 500 I drove a while back.

I am in love. The industry’s talking heads have lots of good things to say about this car, namely that “the cutest car just got cuter” with the addition of the fully-automatic canvas soft top. The 500C is super cute, super fun and super chic. I love every single thing about it, which came as a bit of a surprise for this card-carrying member of the “bigger is better” SUV club. Downsizing from a Tahoe loaded with more features that I even know how to use to a Fiat that could practically fit inside the bed of a pickup truck is extreme. And fantastic. And liberating. Oh so very liberating. 

I’ve had so much fun driving this zippy car. I’ll admit, I just wanted to drive it but wasn’t even considering buying it. My Tahoe is cool and comfy and big enough for a family to live in, but after driving the Fiat I realized the Tahoe is not fun. Or zippy. Or chic. It’s nice looking, luxurious, and functional, but not fun. And don’t we all need more fun in our lives?

I’m not a die-hard convertible lover. Trevor has had several convertibles over the last 15 years, and I have to say I’ve never loved any of them. Every once in a while, on a beautiful day, it’s fun to take his car, but I never wanted a convertible.

Until now.

The Fiat’s 3-way power retractable roof changed my opinion about convertibles.

The 2-layer canvas roof is awesome. With the push of a button, you have 3 options for topless excitement: sunroof, in which the top slides back from the windshield; panoramic, in which the top slides back further to open up the roof over the back seat; and the full monty, in which the entire roof folds itself accordian-style into a neat stack above the trunk. This effortless motion is quiet, smooth, and fast. And the best part: you can operate the roof while driving up to 50 mph. If raindrops start falling on your head, no need to pull over to put the top up, just push the button as you keep on truckin’. Multitasking at its finest. The rear window is glass, and it covertly slides out of sight when the roof opens. Another super smart feature is that when the roof is open and you need to access the trunk, the car automatically moves the neatly-folded pile up a bit and out of the way, allowing full access to the trunk. If only everything in life worked that smoothly.

Perhaps the best part of the 500C is that when the top is open, the roof rails stay in place. It’s quiet and you’re less exposed to road noise, allowing for normal conversation and stereo volume with much less wind. It’s having your cake and eating it, too: you still get the convertible experience without the wind-blown hair. 

The divided side-view mirror on the driver’s side is nice too. The smaller pane of glass shows a more remote view of the traffic behind, so changing lanes is safer. The specs are in line with what you’d expect from a small, sporty car. The engine is a 4 cylinder, 84 cubic inches (whatever that means). The 16 valve engine has 101 hp. The 6-speed automatic that I’m driving is plenty zippy in the 40 to 50 mph range, which is the majority of my driving. On the highway, you’re not going to win a drag race with a bigger car with a more muscley engine, but you shouldn’t be drag racing on the highway anyway. The top speed is 110 mph, which is plenty fast even on Houston freeways. This little beauty weighs somewhere around 2,550 pounds and I’m no car expert but am guessing its lithe frame accounts for its zippiness. (I think I just made that word up but am granting Fiat full permission to use it in promotional materials.)

It may be small, but it’s safe. With 7 airbags, I feel very secure, and I like that the 500C earned Best in Class for rear seat leg and shoulder room, as well as Best in Class for interior sound quality. Another safety feature is the Blue&Me, Fiat’s collaboration with Microsoft that provides hands-free mobile access in the car. As long as your phone is in the car, whether on the dashboard or in your purse, you can make and receive calls using the in-vehicle, voice-activated Blue&Me system.

The gas mileage makes me want to dance, then drive around all day. It sips instead of guzzling (hear that, you greedy Tahoe?). The standard transmission gets slightly better gas mileage than the automatic, at 30 mpg city/38 highway, but the automatic is no slouch at 27 mpg city/36 highway. Even with my limited radius of driving, i.e., noncommuter driving, I was filling up my SUV to the tune of $80 to $90 every week or 10 days. The Fiat can go, go, go on its petite 10-gallon tank. I always dreaded filling up my SUV, not only because of the cost but also because it took forever to quench that beast’s thirst. The Fiat fill-ups are quick & easy, just the way I like it. 

I haven’t attempted this pose, because I don’t actually own the car yet, but this chick at the 500C launch party in England makes it look tempting.

Supermodel Elle Macpherson has the exact car I’m driving, except her steering wheel is on the other side. She’s a loyal Fiat owner who’s been quite outspoken in her love for these cars.  “I love the Fiat 500C, it has that sexy, cool, Italian thing going on!” 

With all the color combinations and the retro styling in the interior, it’s as much a fashion accessory as a car. Here’s the inside of Elle’s 500C, which looks just like mine except for the stickshift and the steering wheel on the right sideHere’s mine.The bone-colored leather steering wheel is so fine, and the shiny red accents across the dash are the most stylish thing in the car world. 

George Clooney is a Fiat fan, too. Check this out.

In one article I read about the Fiat 500C, the proclamation was made that “If you like being the center of attention, never has the price of admission been this low.” This car most definitely gets people’s attention. I’ve seen drivers craning their necks to get a better look as we drive; several times I’ve come out of the store to find someone taking a picture of the Fiat in the parking lot. I’ve answered lots of questions (how does it drive? what’s the gas mileage? how much do they cost? what colors are available?) and happily introduced the curious people in my neck of the woods to this cute little car. 

At the New York Auto Show, the 500C was called “relentlessly adorable” and it was said that its “oddball modernism still astonishes.” It’s “super-chic, super-stylish, and effectively retro.” Nice. 

I read another review that had this to say about this little Fiat: “The new 500 is remarkably similar to its predecessor with a flowing and harmonic design which softly mutters – rather than screams – retro. In flowing Italian. The end result of Fiat’s effort is a car that people smile at – on the streets, in parking lots and in traffic jams. Not many cars can be called ‘sweet’, but the Fiat 500 can definitely satisfy any automotive sweet tooth.”

If you need a sweet little Fiat, get with the good people at Fiat of Clear Lake. Tell Joey and Donald that you need a dose of Fiat fun. Ciao!




I <3 Fiat!

This week I’ve had the pleasure of driving a Fiat 500 from Clear Lake Fiat. Oh, how fun!

I love this car.

It’s so cute, so fun, so zippy.

It’s way better than a Smart Car or a Mini Cooper. Much more stylish, and it gets a lot of attention.

I’ve had tons of people ask me this week what kind of car it is. The waiter at my favorite Malaysian restaurant chased my bud Sharon & me outside after lunch because she left her credit card. He took one look at the Fiat, parked right in front, and asked if it was electric. No, not electric but way cool. He expressed in his broken English that he lusted after the Fiat. Big love. I can’t count how many times someone has commented on the Fiat this week.

It’s a teeny little thing. Way smaller than my gas-guzzling SUV. It’s super fun to drive, with its tiny size and rockin’ engine, it feels and sounds like a high-performance sports car. I can’t help making the “nunnn nunnnn” sound when I hear the engine rev; this car is made by the same people who make the Ferrari after all.  I feel like Mario behind the wheel. The other day with Payton in the front seat, we were just like Mario & Luigi.

Lest I sound like a traitor with all the Fiat love, let me state that I do like my SUV. It’s big, it’s comfy, it wraps me in a loving embrace of protection from any unpleasant jarring or ruts in the road. It allows me to tower over other drivers (something I secretly really dig), and I feel safe in it. But this little Fiat is something else. It possesses few attributes of my SUV but is so much fun I don’t even care. It’s zippy and carefree. Doesn’t everyone want to live a zippy, carefree life? (Get a Fiat, and you can!)

It has a super-tight turning radius and I can whip in and out of any parking space, even if I’m going “up the down staircase” as my sweet mama used to say. Sometimes I park my big ol’ Tahoe at the end of the row of parking spaces and trek to the door of the store, just to make sure I can get in and out easily. No such worries with the Fiat. Any parking space, any time, and no adjusting necessary. 

The hatchback is so lightweight I can easily reach it and shut it with one hand, while the other hand is laden with my tennis bag, a cold beverage, bags of groceries, or the ever-present iPhone. My SUV’s hatch is so wide and so heavy it doesn’t even have a strap for shutting but rather a button to push to close it automatically.

This would be a great car for a teenager. I’m no teenager, but I covet it as my wheels when I’m free of kids, carpool, a Costco haul, baseball gear, and all the flotsam & jetsam that weighs down a suburban mom.

Man, even the wheels are cute on this little baby.

There’s not a car on the market that matches the 500 in stylistic expression. This car scores major style points. The interior is decidedly European, with the seat-adjusting controls on the right instead of the left. Never fear, though–the steering wheel is on the left side. You might start speaking with an Italian accent, but that’s up to you.

Everything inside the Fiat is designed to be stylish and fun. Check out the teensy little dashboard, all rounded like a race car. 

The gear shift on this particular Fiat is automatic, with the option to paddle shift, or shift gears without having to clutch. Personally, I like to clutch as it allows one to peel out if one so chooses, but the paddle shift is a nice option if your hands tend to be full while driving, or if you’re on an incline. 

To paddle shift, you push the gearshift straight down, near the “D” and the plus and minus at the bottom, which allow you to shift and downshift. How many times can I use the word shift in my text? Shift, shift, shift. If you don’t want to paddle shift, push the gearshift down and to the right, and the smart little Fiat will shift for you. It’s the best of both worlds, really.

One word of caution about the Fiat 500: the gas tank is small. Like the rest of it. No junk in the trunk here. The tank is 10.5 gallons. I think my SUV uses that much gas just to get out of the neighborhood. Fuel economy is fantastic in the Fiat: upper 20s in town and mid-30s on the highway. 

One of my favorite things about the Fiat is the round headrests in the backseat. How cool are those? Super chic.

Chic, and safe, too. The European version of the Fiat 500 was awarded a 5-star crash rating, and the US version has had several safety-minded upgrades, making it even safer than the 500s across the Pond.

I’m loving the Fiat. I haven’t even thought about driving my SUV for a week, and once I do, I expect to feel like a stranger in a strange land. I’ll be channeling Gulliver and wishing I was Mario instead.