You’ve either seen the signage or heard the buzz about the 2012 Fiat 500, the quintessential Italian car, which has finally found its way to North America. For those who remember, the original Fiat 500, also known as the Cinquecento, made its mark more than half a century ago in Italy.
The 2012 Fiat 500 embodies the iconic qualities that make Italian design so intoxicating with smart, sophisticated and colorful styling. The tiny four-seater, which Fiat refers to as the automotive equivalent of an iPod, is entering a market that appeals to millennials, baby boomers and seniors.
Laura Soave, head of Fiat Brand North America, is intent on blending European culture with the needs of American consumers. She comes by it naturally. Soave is the daughter of Italian immigrants who spent her childhood summers near Rome; the fluent Italian-speaking Soave also has cousins and uncles who worked at Fiat’s factory in Piedimonte San Germano, Italy.
Soave is invested in creating a small dealer network and positioning the Fiat 500 “Cinquecento” minicar as a trendy brand for the smartphone generation.
In late 2010, Soave delivered half-dozen Cinquecentos to the world-renowned Art Basel show in Miami Beach where a group of Italian artists and University of Miami students decorated the cars. It’s this type of hands on initiative that Soave feels will capture younger consumers.
“It’s important for people to touch and feel,” she said. “TV commercials are great for entertainment purposes, but it doesn’t really get you to experience the brand.
“American consumers want new stuff, and you need to constantly evolve with them.”
In fact, at Milan Fashion Week, Fiat teamed up with Gucci to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, along with Gucci’s 90th anniversary.
The Gucci Fiat is black or white with the designer’s trademark green and red stripes festooning gearshift, floor mats and leather on the seat belts. Both fabric and leather seats will also feature Gucci’s Guccissima print. And, oh yes, the Gucci key chain is the necessary item.
It seems that Soave’s position at Fiat was in the stars. After taking the job at Fiat, Soave’s parents found a photo, taken during a trip to Italy, of 3-year-old Laura sitting on a Cinquecento. “My dad brought it to me and said, `Look at this, it’s destiny,'” she said.
The Fiat 500 embraces the appeal of the reduced footprint with 10 percent greater fuel economy (30/38 mpg manual; 27/34 mpg automatic), as well as decreased CO2 emissions of 10 percent.
The Fiat 500 comes in 14 zesty colors (both new and vintage) that include: rosso (red), giallo (yellow), rame (copper), verde oliva (olive green) and mocha latte (beige). The 500 still retains the Fiat mustache (signature whiskers and logo face) because, as one designer says, “It’s just too perfect.” The look is completed with large wheel arches, touches of tastefully applied chrome and retro-inspired circular headlamps.
In the cabin, the 500 stays true to minimalistic Italian design — simple and functional. The interior is bright with shiny color-coded plastics buttons “to keep the visual going on inside,” highlighted with chromed rings, simple chromed hook door handles that mimic the vintage model and a redesigned center console for beefier drinks. The two-toned seats, a throwback to the 1960s Cinquecento, are designed to accommodate the larger American.
Of course, the new age 500 is equipped with connectivity technology, including Fiat’s BLUE & ME handsfree communication with phone and iPod integration and a diminutive TomTom navigation system.
The car comes in three trims: Pop, Sport and Lounge. The Pop features the manual transmission and 15-inch wheels; the Sport adds red painted brake calipers, chromed exhaust tips, gloss black window trim and a sport-tuned suspension; and the Lounge jazzes it up with more chrome, a fixed glass roof and more luxury elements. Pricing starts at $17,500. — Holly Reich, Motor Matters
Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011