Then and Now: Fiat 500

With the recent partnership between Chrysler and Fiat, a quirky little car has been introduced to American soil. You may have seen the commercials for the Fiat 500 or even seen a few on the streets. Chances are, when you saw it you were shocked by its appearance and wondered what it was. Well the recent Fiat 500 is actually a re-inCARnation of a previous version from the Italian carmaker. The design cues are remarkably similar, but the modern version of the 500 is considerably larger, heavier and undoubtedly more comfortable than the old version. While it was reintroduced in 2007 (the 50th anniversary of the original 500) this car was not introduced to Americans until 2010 at the Chicago Auto Show.

Originally produced between 1957 and 1975, the 500 was designed to keep up with the demand for economy cars in post-war Europe. Matching the common demands of the day, it was a small, rear-engine, rear wheel drive car that was lightweight, reliable and good on gas; much like the Volkswagen Beetle. The original was so small in fact (only 10 feet long), that it really defined what a small car should be at the time. It is now remembered as one of the first of the “city cars,” used mainly for short jaunts around town. Even though it was so small, people loved the car and it was one of the most popular small cars in Italy. The original Fiat 500 was powered by a 479 cc (about 0.5 liter), two-cylinder, air cooled engine putting out less than 20 horsepower. Luckily, it only weighed a little over 1,000 lbs!

The new Fiat 500 is a great technological improvement over the post-war 500s. While the styling and look of the newer version are clearly based on the original, it has lots of modern amenities to make sure passengers are comfortable and safe. The North American version of the Fiat 500 comes with a 1.4 liter engine in the more common front-engine, front wheel drive layout of modern cars. While the car has put on a few pounds (now weighing closer to 2,000 lbs) it has also gotten a bit more buff; putting out over 100 hp and 98 lb-ft of torque. Customers can get the Abarth version if that isn’t quite enough power; bumping output to around 160 hp and 170 lb-ft, not too shabby for a little car like the 500. Features for the modern driver include: hardware to reduce noise and vibration; projector headlights; four-wheel disk brakes; comfortable interior seats and technology and a 6-speed auto or 5-speed manual gearbox. If you are interested in learning more about the Fiat 500, check it out online or stop by Cumberland Chrysler Center to see it in person.


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