2008 Fiat 500
Fiat introduced the latest interpretation of its iconic 500 minicar (say "Cinquecento") yesterday to customers in Italy, exactly 50 years to the day after the first one was released to the buying public. Sales in the rest of Europe will follow, but for the time being, Italy gets to experience the modernized car that helped put the entire nation on wheels designed specifically for congested Italian cities. While the original 500 featured a diminutive 13 horsepower 479cc two-cylinder motor mounted in the rear, the '08 model features a choice of three four-cylinder engines mounted under the front hood and putting power to the front wheels.
Engine choices include 1.2 and 1.4 liter four-cylinder gas engines rated between 68 and 99 horsepower and a 1.3 liter, 74 horsepower diesel. While these power outputs certainly seem low, the little 500 could fit between the wheels of Ford F-250 SuperDuty SuperCrew. The 500 is more about style than performance and it is being launched with a large line of personalization options never dreamed about in the old car. A wide range of interior colors and wheel options will be available, as well as a Mini Cooper-esque accessory catalog. Comparisons to the Mini are inevitable since the Fiat is, for all practical reasons, the same size.
The 500's wheelbase is 7" shorter and the overall length is about 2" shorter. And the 500 is expected to mimic the Mini by offering a convertible later in its model run. The four-seat 500's accessory catalog will include a wide variety of wheels and tires, as well as some retro touches, like chrome bumper overriders, The 500 does feature a unique Microsoft-developed Bluetooth-based in-car entertainment system. The Blue&Me system, which combines Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone use, voice recognition, a USB port, an MP3 player and an SMS text message interpreter, can be augmented by the Blue&Me Nav system, which also includes navigation system that can be programmed before departure via a USB memory stick.
The 500 is available with a portable navigation device that integrates directly into the car's audio system and can play music from the USB memory stick. U.S. sales are unlikely to be in the picture any time soon, according to Fiat boss Sergio Macchione. The Fiat Group is most focused on strengthening its high-end Maserati sales in order to facilitate easy entry for Alfa Romeo in '09. It doesn't look like the Fiat brand is anywhere in the parent company's U.S. portfolio any time soon. Still, the 500 is expected to eventually go on sale in Mexico later this year. Fiat says that 30,000 orders have already been placed for the 500. Production is scheduled for between 50 and 70,000 cars. Fiat is hoping that the retro nostalgia style of the car will be a hit in Italy - and it seems to be. In Italy, the cars are priced from 10,500 euros.