Kennedy: Fiat 500 Cabrio corners market on 'cute'

Kennedy: Fiat 500 Cabrio corners market on 'cute'

June 17th, 2017 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The Fiat 500 Pop Cabrio has a cloth top and 15-inch wheels.

Photo by Mark Kennedy /Times Free Press.

The retro interior of the Fiat 500 includes panels that match the exterior color.

The retro interior of the Fiat 500 includes...

Photo by Mark Kennedy /Times Free Press.

Fast Facts

- Model: 2017 Fiat 500 Pop Cabrio

- Exterior color: Light Gray

- Interior color: Black

- Engine: 1.4-liter, four-cylinder

- Horsepower: 101

- Transmission: Six-speed automatic

- Fuel economy: 33 mpg highway, 27 mpg city

- Local Dealer: Crown Fiat of Chattanooga

- Price (as tested): $20,365

Let's stipulate that the 2017 Fiat 500 Pop Cabrio is cute.

In fact if "cute" is your yardstick for a new-car purchase, save yourself a lot of shopping time and just go buy the Fiat 500 Pop Cabrio immediately.

And if you buy it this weekend, you might also want to check out "Cars 3." "Luigi," a character from the film, is modeled after a vintage Fiat 500.

We recently spent a week in the 2017 Fiat 500 Pop Cabrio, which is often called a "city" car. This generally means a car that's so small that it would fit in the back of a Chevy Suburban. On a practical level, a "city car" is a vehicle that is easy to parallel park and has at least enough cargo space for a yoga mat and a couple of bags of groceries from Whole Foods.

The Fiat 500 has been back on American shores for about five years now, and is available in a variety of shapes and styles. Our tester, a light gray Fiat 500 Pop Cabrio, is an entry-level model with a base price of just $16,490. With automatic transmission, destination charge and a host of popular options, the tester has a bottom line price of $20,365.

It also happened to be the smallest and least powerful in the Fiat 500 line-up. If you are a mountain-dweller, we would recommend you consider the more powerful, turbocharged, Fiat 500 Abarth model.

STYLING AND FEATURES

The egg-shaped Fiat 500 Pop has expressive headlights and an understated grille that — thanks to Luigi — will always bring to mind a thin, chrome mustache.

The dimensions are stark. About 11 feet long and 5 feet tall, the Fiat 500 weighs a mere 2,366 pounds. This was a lifesaver when I accidentally backed onto my briefcase. I had to pry it out from under the front tire, but my laptop computer was — amazingly — undamaged.

The light gray exterior paint is a nice, retro color. Like a VW Beetle, the exterior color is also used on interior dash panels, giving the Fiat 500 Pop a distinct 1960s feel. Of course, there are nods to modern design, such as the piano black dome around the shifter and a compact and padded steering wheel.

Circle patterns abound in the gauges and instruments, and a 5-inch touchscreen display featuring the Fiat/Chrysler Uconnect telematics system proves that you are not driving a 20th century automobile.

Millennials and other first-time purchasers may enjoy the minimalist vibe. A retractable cloth roof lets the sun shine in, adding a feeling of spaciousness to the small cabin. The back seats are tight, and the trunk is tiny. But that's just the nature of the beast in a subcompact car.

Standard equipment on our tester included remote keyless entry, Bluetooth, memory seats, aluminum wheels and a chrome exhaust tip.

Options include climate control ($495), automatic transmission ($995), and a Beats premium audio system ($695).

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The Fiat 500 Pop comes equipped with a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 101-horsepower. A mid-line turbo trim level with 135-horsepower has been discontinued for 2017. Move up to the 160-horsepower Abarth for more responsiveness. Opting for a manual transmission enhances the driving experience.

Flat-road driving was not a problem, and Fiat 500's handling is quite nimble. Parking, as you might imagine, is a breeze. The government estimates the Fiat 500 Pop will get 33 miles per gallon highway and 27 miles per gallon city.

BOTTOM LINE

If you are looking for a small, light-duty runabout for urban driving and value styling over performance, give the Fiat 500 Pop Cabrio a test drive. Shoppers in this segment might also check out the Mini Cooper and the Volkswagen Beetle.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

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