Love Bug

It’s small, it’s expensive and not the ultimate in comfort either. But there’s something about the new Fiat 500 that will make you fall in love.

Vikrant Singh | Print Edition: August 24, 2008

I could tell you that the Fiat 500, or Cinquecento in Italian, uses the same engine as the Maruti Suzuki Swift (in diesel guise); is about the same length as a Maruti 800; costs almost as much as a Skoda Laura (for half the kit); and, therefore, is not really worth your while. But then, I would be missing the point altogether.

The thing is, this reborn legend from the country of pizzas and pastas is more than just about everyday chores, practicality or a VFM (value-for-money) packaging; it is about charisma, about showing off, about telling the world you have taste, and about falling in love. It’s like that dinky car dad bought you, as a kid—the envy of your friends, and your joy and pride.

The favourite toy you couldn’t get enough of; constantly wanting to pick it up and play with it, and then just fancying hugging the thing and taking it to bed for no apparent reason. And, all this childish sentiment is stirred up almost solely by the car’s design—both inside and out. It’s a tiny thing, the 500, but its road presence is gigantic.

We did have people riding in Porsches and Bentleys falling over each other to have a look at the car, after all. It also never failed to put a smile on an admirer’s face. The 500 is a rounded off design with curves aplenty, and a stark departure from the edgy and racy lines plaguing the modern car. It’s retro, drawing heavily from the original and reminds one of a time when simplicity was key.

It’s equally quaint on the inside—the dashboard is outlined with a painted plastic face and chrome button surrounds that are pleasingly old-fashioned. And, of course, you get an antique-looking stereo system; it’s as up-to-date as any in the way it works, but looks-wise, it is agreeably antiquated and fantastically cheery at the same time. The highlight of the 500’s inside, though, is its instrumentation; it might seem confusing at first with concentric circles displaying information like engine revs and vehicle speed, but with the red hue, tall fonts for numbering and an ivory background, it charms you immensely.

So much so, that I hardly wanted to look up to see where I was heading. The car does have some modern touches nonetheless— there’s a comprehensive trip computer which displays information on average speed, fuel consumption, time, etc., and a speed-sensitive steering with stereo controls. It also gets seven airbags!

In fact, it’s such a beautiful item that it hurts to find faults with it. But a few shortcomings really stand out—the position of pedals for the accelerator, brake and clutch can cause your feet to ache over longer jaunts and the interior room is at a premium as well, but it’s the seats and the jumpy ride quality of the car that really causes discomfort. It’s also not very fast, producing 75 horses from the 1.3 litre diesel engine first seen on the Swift in India. But for some reason, it’s more refined and the power delivery more linear compared to the latter. However, as I see it, the 500’s limitations are inconsequential. It is, after all, a car that brings unprecedented benefit to your soul and your street presence, and makes you fall in love all over again.

Specs engine: 1.3 litre Multijet diesel
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Max power: 75 bhp
Max torque: 144 Nm
Acceleration: 12.5 seconds (0-100 kmph)
Top speed: 165 kmph
Price: Rs 14.82 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai)

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