My Cardboard Box

It Ain’t Green, But It’s a Fiat

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Earlier this month, I found I had to make a run down to San Diego. A one-day trip.  I could’ve taken the Blue Swede, but it tends not to like running in hot weather for too long. Besides, at twenty years and 400,000 miles, it expects to be treated with some dignity and not have to contend with the speeding, lane-swapping idiots on Interstate 15.  So I made a reservation at one of the two rental agencies here in the Basin for a mid-size.

Long story short: a pick-up time postponed twice by work,  half of the First Marine Division ahead of me, and an arrival at the rental office near closing time left me with a choice between a Chevy Aveo or a Fiat 500.  I went with the latter. It was an exercise in curiosity.  I wrote earlier this year that my first car had been a Fiat nicknamed the “Green Dragon”,  an avocado-green  128.  I wanted to see what the Feeble Italian Attempt at Transportation outfit had come up with twenty years after my last experience with the brand.

Well, it’s small, to be  kind. Okay, it’s freaking tiny. One wag at work asked me if it was the “spare I kept in the Volvo’s trunk”.

But there’s a surprisingly large amount of room in it. Admittedly there’s no real trunk space, maybe enough for a couple of grocery bags.  I had to put the rear seats down in order to put  some boxes in. But there’s more space than there is in a co-worker’s Cooper Mini.  And it doesn’t look squashed, like the Smart car.

I apologize for not having interior photos, but Fiat went the ’60’s retro’ route with it. They did a good job. The PT Cruiser interior it ain’t.  It’s really ergonomic once you figure out the few minor idiosyncrasies.  Visibility was excellent. The seats are decent, but if I had the spare cash (or spent a year of weekends picking up cans along I-10), I’d spring for something from Recaro. Then again, this was a slightly upgraded base model; the pricier ones might be different.

The drive to San Diego was fine.  It was a rental, and had some heavy miles on it and a tiny squeak somewhere near the rear seats, but it was better than the brand new Ford Focus I drove a couple months earlier (can you say ‘self-folding rear seat’?)  and way above any of the Chevy compacts. It’s a solid, relatively quiet, but very light car. Aside from getting really buffeted by winds in Beaumont Pass, the car handled well and the sport shift was a blast on the grades.  Gas mileage, as to expected, was good, though probably not enough fuel in it to make it to Phoenix on one tank.

As expected, the general reaction, especially female, was “it’s cute”.    The one side benefit: no one asked me to drive when we went to lunch.

In short, it’s nothing like my old ‘Green Dragon’. In my neck o’ the woods in Joshua Tree,  it’s driven by the arts-and-crafts set. Down below, in the Palm Springs area, well, it’s another demographic. Fiat has made a nice, boutique-class Europhile car.   It’s  fun to drive and I wouldn’t mind having one, but I don’t know if I’d pay the boutique-car price for it.



Written by PappyBro

August 25, 2012 at 13:20

Posted in Musings

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