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2019 Fiat 500 Lounge: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Whether you see it on the wall at an Interstate rest stop or on a small car, the message is the same: For a good time, dial FIAT 500.

In this rendering, that would be the 2019 Fiat 500 Lounge model, an upscale version of the basic two-door Italian runabout, which if nothing else comes across as cute and spunky. It arrives from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which also produces Jeeps, Chryslers, Dodges, Ram Trucks and high-performance marques Alfa-Romeo and Maserati.

2019 Fiat 500c

The 500 is quintessentially Italian, not much different in concept from the many tiny Fiat 500s of yore that have been romanticized in film and fiction. The idea was to be small enough to negotiate narrow Italian roads, economical enough to withstand outrageous gasoline prices, quick enough to handle urban traffic and maybe just roomy enough with a miniscule cargo area and constricted back seat suited mainly for groceries.

Not much of that has changed little with the 2019 model except that it’s more comfortable up front, with semi-exciting performance and entertaining handling, and modern amenities like satellite radio, automatic climate control, backup camera and turbocharged engines.

2019 Fiat 500c

The original 500 actually made its way to the United States, along with the Fiat 124 Spider convertible, rear-engine X/19 sports car and other models in the 1950s and 1960s. But the cars were plagued by rust and poor reliability, which prompted the recurring joke that FIAT stood for, “Fix It Again, Tony.”

In 1983, Fiat bailed out of the U.S. market. But after the merger that created FCA, the marque returned in 2011, and it’s been around since for fans of its bello design, recognized world-wide as the leader of automotive style, mostly on ultra-performing machines like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati.

2019 Fiat 500c

The 500 Lounge tested here, of course, does not dance in that company. Nevertheless, it has styling that has delighted generations of motorists who consider it charming and endearing. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always equated with everyday reliability and durability. Even today Fiat ranks near the top in aggravation.

Still, ratings of reliability nowadays are not what they were. In earlier days, a low ranking meant a car that had transmission, electrical or engine problems that left an owner at the side of a rural road at midnight. Now a low ranking might include some of that as well, but more often traced to a loose gasoline cap, an unfamiliar automatic transmission shifter, wind noise at highway speeds or frustration in using an infotainment system.

All of that said, the 2019 Fiat Lounge prompts affection both for its driving traits and its idiosyncrasies. On the plus side, despite a paucity of power from its 135-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which delivers 150 lb-ft of torque, it feels quick off the line with the six-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration at all speeds is enhanced if you punch the dash-mounted Sport button, which tweaks transmission shifting.

2019 Fiat 500c

Engine sounds, which deliver constant cabin noise during stoplight sprints as well as highway cruising, are pleasant to an enthusiast’s ears though annoying on a long drive. The shortage of cabin insulation also allows a tinny sound to the audio system no matter how the bass and treble are adjusted.

Negatives also include: Sun visors that are fixed forward with no way to swing sideways to block sunlight; the impossibly cramped back seat, a perforated cloth sunshade for the motorized glass sunroof which admits blistering sunlight in summer, a big adjustable steering wheel that tilts but does not telescope and no pushbutton starting, though the ignition key works as well as always.

2019 Fiat 500

The tested 2019 Fiat 500, with no increase in price, is essentially the same as the 2018 model, which introduced a number of mechanical and style improvements, including the standard turbocharged engine, performance braking and suspension systems, backup camera, rear spoiler and fog lights.

Interior appointments belie the 500 Lounge’s economy runabout classification. The tester featured white leather seats and steering wheel, and body-colored metal dashboard with matte black trim—altogether classy looking though there were no soft-touch surfaces.

Base price of the Lounge trim level is $21,240 and the bottom-line sticker came to $24,815. Options included the six-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed manual is standard), motorized glass sunroof, navigation system, 16-inch bright aluminum wheels and a Beats premium audio system, which as noted earlier could not manage a premium listening experience.

If what you need or want is a stylish, entertaining mini-car that also is OK for an occasional short trip, take a test drive.

2019 Fiat 500c

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Fiat 500 Lounge two-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.4-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 135 hp, 150 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 11 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 76/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,375 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $21,040.
  • Price as tested: $24,815.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019 Fiat 500c

Photos (c) FCA North America

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2017 Fiat 124 Spider Classica: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

And it came to pass that Triumph begat the Spitfire. And later, Mazda begat the Miata. And later still, the Miata begat the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. And all was well in the sports car world.

In biblical language, those brief statements encompass the history of affordable two-seat sports roadsters. There were many back in the 1960s, mostly from Great Britain but also from Italy, which produced the original Fiat 124 Spider.

A long drought ensued until Japan’s Mazda brought forth the modern iteration in 1990, dubbing it the MX-5. But almost everyone still uses its nickname, the Miata. Closing on a million sales over the years, it continues today in a superb fourth generation version.

Now it has a fifth column competitor in the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, which reappears after an absence of over 30 years. That’s because Mazda decided to sell the basic MX-5 chassis and other components to Fiat. Moreover, the 124 is built in a Mazda plant in Hiroshima, Japan.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1968 Fiat 124 Spider
2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1968 Fiat 124 Spider

It’s a coup for the Italian manufacturer. It gets Japanese design and build quality—sorely needed because Fiats of yore, including the 124, had dismal records for reliability despite their sexy looks.

While the new 124 reprises its attractive Italian styling, the Miata has its own exciting personality, so the choice comes down to customer preference. The cars are priced similarly.

At 13 feet 4 inches, the 124 is nearly six inches longer than its cousin, which imparts that long hood, short rear deck characteristic of muscle cars and sports cars like the BMW Z3. However, the wheelbase—the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels—is the same 90.9 inches on both the Miata and 124. The latter has more front and rear body overhang.

FT017_040SP9g9o00jj5c1k0ecj49jmvaj2maThe 124, which uses Fiat’s 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, delivers more power than the Miata’s 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque from its non-turbo 2.0-liter four-banger. But that slight advantage is mitigated because the 124 weighs around 100 to nearly 200 pounds more than the Miata, depending on the model and equipment.

There are three 124 Spider versions: Classica with a price tag of $25,990 including the destination charge, mid-level Lusso at $28,490 and top-line Abarth at $29,190. All three come with a six-speed manual gearbox. If you want to go shiftless, a six-speed automatic is an additional $1,350.

In any sports car like this, the purist’s choice will be the manual, and the 124’s does not disappoint. Though the shift linkage operates a bit stiffly, the shifter obeys the driver’s instinctive inputs, whether shifting up or down. Clutch engagement is smooth without any tendency to grab and kill the engine.

Fiat rates the 0-60 mph acceleration in the six second range, with the more heavily equipped models slightly slower than the lightweight Classica, the subject here. But all three models, either with the stick shift or the automatic, feel faster because of their tidy size.

The rear drive 124’s behavior on a tight autocross course is joyful, with near neutral balance and responsiveness to both steering and throttle inputs. In a tight turn, the car easily rotates to set up for the next corner.

Some testers have written that the 124 actually feels better planted on curving roads, with less body roll, than the MX-5. But that Miata characteristic is deliberate. Mazda engineers assert that a bit of body roll imparts a more natural handling feel. Take your choice and pay your money.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider LussoBoth roadsters have similar interiors and about the same space of 49 cubic feet for a driver and one passenger, along with a small trunk of five cubic feet. The trunk can hold enough soft sided luggage for two on a weekend but not much more.

The convertible top is manually operated with a single locking lever. When dropped for open air motoring, it settles into the body and forms its own boot cover.

On the road, with the top up, the 124’s cabin gets noisy with a combination of road, wind and engine sounds, though less so than the Miata. Engine sounds are more noticeable in the Abarth, which sings more raucous exhaust notes than its garage mates.

For a minority of motorists, there’s nothing more satisfying than top down motoring on a sunny day following a twisty, traffic free highway. Raw power doesn’t count; it’s all about driving enjoyment. The Fiat Spider 124 adds a tantalizing new choice.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Classica two-seat sports roadster.
  • Engine:4-liter four cylinder, 160 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 49/5 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,436 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/35/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $25,990.
  • Price as tested: $27,285.

 

 

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