The Fiat 500 is a cute little bambino that retains its iconic looks and appeal, easily winning over Kate Ginn in the process
There’s small and compact and then there’s the Fiat 500. This little automotive bundle is quite simply like no other car that you’re likely to see on Oman’s roads. As it’s just launched here, you won’t be seeing many out and about yet either. Hence the reaction that mine got as I took it for a spin around Muscat; from waving children to young Omani guys, who smiled and gave me the thumbs up. This wasn’t entirely due either, in my view, to the colour of my Fiat 500 – a very fetching pastel powder blue – but more down to the excitement that this compact car creates.
A Fiat 500 is instantly recognisable by its shape (a little softer around the edges than the original these days) and arching roof, down to its dinky little wheels. It’s so damn adorable to look at too, with those sweet bug eye headlights and smiling grille. Don’t be fooled, though. This dainty car is a heritage heavyweight.
We are talking a real classic that can trace its history back to 1957. Over the years, it has also been a rally champion, proving its mettle in even the toughest of conditions.
So how would it fare on Muscat’s notoriously challenging roads? To give you some idea of Fiat 500’s diminutive stature, it comes in at 3,456mm long (that’s 139 inches) and 1,627mm wide (64 inches), making it quite possibly the smallest car on Oman’s highways. Strangely, I didn’t feel that vulnerable while driving, even when sandwiched between a sewage truck and a lorry. For a small car, the 500 is heavy (just under 1,000kg) and feels solid. It can be disconcerting at first, though, to be so low down compared with other drivers but I got used to it. In fact, I quite revelled in being different from the rest and standing out in the crowd.
Inside, the cabin feels light and airy – thanks in part to a fixed sunroof, which allows light to flood in. The windscreen is larger than that found on a MINI, making for good visibility. I’m tall and yet didn’t feel cramped in the driver’s position at all. There was plenty of legroom and enough space between my head and the roof to make it comfortable.
What does take some getting used to is the 500 Dualogic gearbox. It can be set to semi-automatic, which allows you to change gears, or full automatic. I found the latter could be a bit jerky when moving up through the gears. Switching to the semi mode makes for a much smoother ride, giving the driver more control. It also cleverly shifts to a low gear when slowing right down, anticipating your next possible move. Don’t expect acceleration like lightening, but when the 500 gets going, it happily hits 120kph with no vibration or wind noise, and could clearly go faster.
It’s playful to drive with a hint of cheekiness – I loved the retro-style interior with the colour-matched shiny pastel blue dashboard. My trim (Comfort) had fabric seats, but if you upgrade to Sport, you’ll have leather seats as standard. For even more street cred, go for the cabriolet soft-top with a roof that folds right back for the ultimate open-top driving experience. For the price (starting from around RO8,000), the 500 has a good standard spec, including alloy wheels and chrome kit, elevating it above rivals such as the Smart car.
The devil, as they say, is in the details and the signors and signoras from Fiat have paid great attention to getting things right with little touches here and there, such as two-tone cloth and elegant functionality.
Now, where you are going to feel hard done by is the rear space. When it comes to getting two adults in the back, I’m sure it can be done, but it looked very snug to me. Equally, the boot is adequate but it won’t take bulky items, such as huge suitcases. To accommodate those, though, you can simply put the back seats down.
But then you wouldn’t buy a Fiat 500 for these reasons. You’d buy one for city driving – it’s an urban cutie perfect for navigating through traffic jams, tight spaces and bad parking. You’d get one for the chance to own a little piece of history and make it your own. You’d buy one for the fun of it. There’s a choice of funky body colours available – from Passione Red to Dolce Purple (Diva Pink should be arriving soon) – and a wide range of interior fabrics and leathers. You can customise your 500 with options such as stickers, wheels, badges and even key covers.
Whatever your reason may be, the Fiat 500 will do its best to make you smile.
Fiat 500 Comfort Specifications:
Engine: 1.4L 16v
Transmission: 5-speed automatic/semi automatic
Acceleration: 0-100kph in 10.5 seconds
Top Speed: 182kph
Automatic climate control
16” multispoke alloy wheels
Blue&ME hands-free system with Bluetooth technology
Leather steering wheel with audio controls
Dualdrive electric power steering
“Unmistakably Italian Style.”
“Si, per favore!”